When is the best time to drive to the beach?

It depends on which beach you are visiting. For the Delmarva beaches (Lewes, Del., to Chincoteague, Va.), assuming you are leaving on a weekend, the best way to avoid heavy traffic is by going very late Friday or very early Saturday. The heaviest beach drive times are after work Friday until 9 or 10 and Saturday morning from 9 to 2. If you are heading to the New Jersey beaches, the same times apply. But if you're taking the Cape May-Lewes Ferry (800-643-3779), you will need to factor the ferry schedule into planning your trip. And if your destination is Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks, leave as early Friday afternoon as possible to avoid the I-95 quagmire. Saturday morning traffic is usually light to those destinations.

How far are the beaches?

Lewes is the closest, at 119 miles from downtown Washington. Next closest are the rest of the Delaware beaches: Rehoboth (122), Cape Henlopen (123), Dewey Beach (123), Bethany Beach (127) and Fenwick Island (134). Ocean City, Md., is 137 miles away, and Assateague's at 141. Farther down the coast, Virginia's Chincoteague is 164 miles away, and Virginia Beach is 208.

Are there any alternative driving routes?

For the Delaware and Maryland beaches, Assateague Island and Chincoteague: You cannot avoid U.S. 50 or the Bay Bridge, but once you are over the span, there are some alternatives (unless you are going to Rehoboth Beach or Lewes, in which case you are stuck with the Routes 404/18/9 corridor). If you are going to Bethany Beach or south, take Route 404 to Georgetown, then head south on Route 113. Turn east on Route 26 for Bethany Beach, Route 54 for Fenwick Island, the Route 90 bypass for North Ocean City, Route 50 for downtown Ocean City, Route 376 and then south on Route 611 for Chincoteague. If your destination is Assateague Island National Seashore, take U.S. 50 east and south to Salisbury, then U.S. 13 south to Route 175 east to Assateague Island.

How do you go about renting a house or condo?

At one time this was a cumbersome task, requiring you to call around New Year's to get beach rental brochures. Now the houses and condos are just a click away. Since many of the Web sites are managed by the local chambers of commerce, you may need to click on the members' links to get a list of rental agencies. Many of these agencies have search engines to help you find the right home, or you can just call one of the rental agencies directly. To save money, travel before Memorial Day or after Labor Day (though the weekend rates don't fall as much as they used to, so plan a midweek off-season trip). Beach house rental rates drop dramatically after mid-September.

How far in advance should I plan my stay?

The sooner the better. Don't expect many last-minute deals on hotels or at B&Bs during the season. However, the agencies that rent beach houses often start offering discounts on houses and condos if weeks remain vacant. Check about a month before the week you wish to go.

In general, what are the rules regarding surfing, bodyboarding, inflatable rafts, etc.?

They vary from beach to beach, but generally bodyboards and rafts are okay most of the time. Surfing is usually restricted to certain beaches and/or hours of the day. Check with the local beach authority for regulations. Other rules common to most mid-Atlantic beaches: no pets, no fires, no alcohol, no glass containers, no driving on the beach. Some popular beaches place limits on surf fishing (either by time of day or distance from sunbathers).

How can I get more information about the beaches?

For beach weather forecasts, live traffic reports, live beach cameras and an interactive map of regional beach resorts, visit www.washingtonpost.com/beachguide.

The following phone numbers and Web sites can help you find more information on lodging, attractions, special events and other information:

Delaware

Bethany Beach/Fenwick Island -- 302-539-2100 or 800-962-7873; www.bethany-fenwick.org.

Lewes -- 302-645-8073; www.leweschamber.com.

Rehoboth Beach/Dewey Beach -- 302-227-2233 or 800-441-1329; www.beach-fun.com.

Maryland

Assateague Island -- Assateague State Park, 410-641-2120; www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/assateague.html.

Assateague Island National Seashore -- 410-641-3030 or 410-641-1441 (Toms Cove area near Chincoteague, 757-336-6577); www.nps.gov/asis.

Ocean City -- 800-626-2326; www.ococean.com.

Virginia

Chincoteague -- 757-336-6161; www.chincoteaguechamber.com.

Virginia Beach -- 757-437-4919 or 800-822-3224; www.vbfun.com.

Kites fill the sky in front of the Kite Loft on Fifth Street in Ocean City.