A Day at the Beach: Rehoboth Beach, Lewes -- Eat, Shop and Hike

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 22, 2009

I count myself in that underrepresented minority of travelers who love the ocean and loathe the beach. I'm intensely drawn to the majesty and romance of the sea but have no patience for sitting bored and sunburned in the sand.

So at the top of my itinerary for a overnight Delmarva excursion was a hike around Burton's Island Trail in the Delaware Seashore State Park. I knew I would want to stretch my legs after the 2 1/2 -hour drive, and I had read that the loop offered stunning views of Rehoboth Bay.

"Nope, that's closed," said the kindly ranger in the park office when I arrived and asked for directions. "They're working on the bridges."

But the detour was hardly for naught. If I hadn't been turned away, I might not have found the Secret Cove of Kite Surfing. From the periphery of Route 1, I glimpsed a flock of bodies skipping and leaping on top of the water, tugged along by their kaleidoscopic kites. There were more than a dozen surfers and at least as many spectators who, like me, were compelled to veer into the bayside parking lot and watch the air-and-water ballet.

Finally pulling myself away, I headed into Rehoboth Beach, Del., just in time for the Mosaic gallery collective's Second Saturdays art walk. Armed with a map of the 10 downtown galleries, I strolled from the Ward Ellinger Gallery, with striking modern paintings by a local artist, to the Heidi Lowe Innovative Jewelry Studio, which lived up to its name. And naturally I found myself wandering into a zillion other shops in between. It's amazing how much you didn't know you needed until you find yourself in the retail hub of a tourist town. Blown-glass balls said to scare away witches? Of course! Technicolor soaps shaped like rocks? I'll take three, please.

As the sun began its retreat for the day, I made my way to the water. There were still families soaking up those last few rays, jumping in and out of the frigid waves, finishing off sand castles and examining the remains of a small shark that had washed ashore.

"Wait! It's still alive," someone yelled.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" responded the swelling crowd, as if on cue while shooting "Jaws V."

It wasn't, but the tides bobbed it along nicely for effect.

After dodging a perfect early evening downpour, I headed to one of Rehoboth's newest restaurants, Salt Air. Tucked behind the main drag on Wilmington Avenue, it's a collaboration between two of Delmarva's best foodies: restaurateur Jonathan Spivak and chef Nino Mancari. The restaurant is a sophisticated but welcoming spot with soft lighting and lots of polished blond wood. True to its name, Salt Air has a fish-heavy menu, but my "Butcher's Plate" of cured meats and sausages was delectable -- just as you'd expect from a chef with a diagram of a pig tattooed to his forearm.

I ended my evening with a stop at Vine, a cozy wine bar so small you'll probably find yourself happily wrapped into whatever outrageous conversation is already underway. I laughed and sipped for an hour, then got some great sleep at the Atlantis Inn across the street.

Before heading back to the congestion of the city, I zipped over to Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes. It was my maiden voyage to this seaside sanctuary, and I can see now why the place is beloved. After the hyper-stimulation of an arcade-and-ice-cream-stuffed boardwalk, it's a relief to see stretches of untouched sand and stunning ocean.

I sidestepped turtles and waved at a deer, hiking the park until my legs began to protest. At the top of the tallest dune between Maine and North Carolina, I took one last long look at the rolling water and -- satisfied -- turned to go.

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