BETHANY BEACH

Stylish Serenity Now

Executive Chef Michael Johnston is busy in the kitchen of the Bethany Beach restaurant Sedona.
Executive Chef Michael Johnston is busy in the kitchen of the Bethany Beach restaurant Sedona. (Art Baltrotsky Ftwp)

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Friday, May 19, 2006

If there is a resort that epitomizes the "shabby chic" style, it would be Bethany -- which isn't all its fault. What began, like Rehoboth, as a church retreat, with small, neat homes and a natural tendency to low volume levels, has in the past decade easily lured the more affluent, less bar-bound and even less purely beach-bound (in the sense of tan-line competition) vacationers who love the views and can spend a lot of money and window glass climbing over and above one another to get them.

Luckily, there are still long-timers who inhabit the neat rows of homes just off the beach, who walk to the post office on pine-needly paths and who, even on their old one-speed bikes, remember to stop at the stop signs.

So, yes, this is the yuppie beach but not a trendy one; with less for teenagers, perhaps, than for their younger siblings -- it retains an essential sweetness, after all -- and plenty of family-style eateries for the three-generation reunions and enough upscale fare (and decor) for those escaping adults who feel no need to cook for themselves.

FRIDAY

8 p.m. Dinner at Sedona is almost a destination in itself, and with a 70-seat maximum, it's best to reserve in advance. But it's almost as much fun to hang out in the bar and watch the kitchen staff at work (26 Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-539-1200). Pan-seared scallops with bacon grits and trumpet mushrooms are always a good bet.

10 p.m. Stroll over to the Parkway restaurant (114 Garfield Pkwy.; 302-537-7500) for a last glass of wine and some easy-listening music (this is Bethany, not Dewey, beach music). And wind up with a look out over the ocean from the boardwalk; this is when the meaning of "quiet resort" kicks in.

SATURDAY

8 a.m. Bethany is decidedly pedestrian-oriented: The shoulders along Pennsylvania Avenue and the side streets are extra-wide, Route 1 is crisscrossed with walkways and the speed limits are taken very seriously (as are parking regulations); and so the morning perambulation is a tradition here. Kick-start your day with a cappuccino at the Artful Bean (20 Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-541-8160) and join the strollers along the boardwalk or just up and down past the sweet, old homes midtown.

9 a.m. Order a to-go breakfast burrito or egg and cheese torta (scrambled eggs with Monterey Jack and cheddar on a Portuguese roll) from the Baja Beach House Grill (109 Garfield Pkwy.; 302-537-9993). Then walk back up to the boardwalk and breakfast with the dolphins.

10 a.m. With so low-key a commercial center, Bethany's beach is never terribly crowded, although families with plastic-pail-age children will probably be out early. But this is a particularly lovely time to wade in or stretch out on the sand, before even what "busy" noise there will be kicks in.

Noon You won't have been able to avoid the aroma of barbecue around the boardwalk, so you might as well surrender to lunch at Bethany Blues (6 N. Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-537-1500). Locals know that if the line is long, it's quicker to carry out from here. But if your car is nearby, and you like the outdoor table effect, head out Route 26 to Bootsie's gravel-lot barbecue hutch, two miles west of Route 1 in Ocean View (302-539-9529).

1:30 p.m. Shopping may be a passion in Rehoboth, but it's just a pastime in Bethany Beach and, for the most part, as perambulatory as morning coffee. (It's also nearly as dependable, as most shops tend to stay put.) Of All Things! (26 N. Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-539-0891) offers a mix of whimsical and downright smart modern home accessories and gifts. Japanesque (16 N. Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-539-2311) has long kept those less-than-perfect beach bods looking slim and chic in linens and handkerchief hems. Pitter Patter (18 N. Pennsylvania Ave.; 302-539-8712) is the beachwear answer to Gap Kids.

3:30 p.m. Sure, it's only midafternoon, but there is something in that adage about sea air and appetites, and Surf's Up (100 Garfield Pkwy.; 302-539-5742) has been turning out cheese steaks for nearly a quarter-century. Who are you to fly in the face of tradition?

4 p.m. Speaking of flying, Kites Tails and Toys (101 Garfield Pkwy.; 302-537-5920) stocks both beginner's and veteran pilots' kites, plus water guns, novelties and flags. Pick your weapon and then take on the ocean drafts.


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