The beaches are jammed, the restaurants packed, the boardwalk crowded. People are happy.
But for the 80,000 vacationers stuffed into this tiny resort town of 4,000 -- and those who make their living from them -- it is time for a last bask in the sun. The summer season is over.
"After tomorrow, it'll be like a ghost town down here," says lifeguard Rick Barker as he scans a beach full of bathing suits.
David Vance says he doesn't want to leave. "It's going to be really hot in Washington," he muses unhappily.
Weekending in Rehoboth Beach, says Vance, a former congressional aide, is "like being in summer camp. I feel my blood pressure dropping when I get across the Bay Bridge."
But like thousands of Labor Day weekend vacationers, Vance must go. The lease on the three-bedroom group house he shares with seven or more friends -- "We like each other a lot," explains one -- ends Tuesday morning, It's back to work.
The group spent $4,500 on rent alone for the 15-week summer season, but all feel they got their money's worth.
"It's guaranteed fun," says Lauren Weinburg, a lobbyist for a Washington health organization. "It's a guaranteed good time every weekend."
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. "This is my first time down here, and I'm burnt to a crisp," complains John Challenger, a Washington ITT account representative sprawled on the sand with friends. "I'm going to be happy to get back into a suit."
Your skin starts to look like dried ham," adds Gerry Baranamo. "Since there's no place to go, you sit out in the sun."
Challenger and Baranano arrived here without standard accommodations. "Instead of staying in Washington, where there are beds, you go down to the beach and hope you find one," said Baranano. "It's an adventure."
The pair wound up sleeping in their subcompact car. "We reclined in the seats, and it was fine," says Baranano, pleased at having avoided the motel rates.
For those unwilling to sleep in the car, it was hard to beat the system. With demand at a peak, innkeepers raised prices accordingly.
Pat Kandler, owner of the Pirate's Cove Motel, almost a mile from the beach, charged $45 per night during the Labor Day weekend for her least expensive single room; next week, in the off-season, the same room will cost $28.
"I'm not really cheap," she concedes. "(But) you know that they'll have to take them." The fancier Henlopen Hotel, along the beach, charged $75 a night for some rooms.
Most motels also had four-day minimums for the weekend. A family leaving Monday morning, as most do, would still have to pay for that night.
Rehoboth doesn't seem to mind having priced itself out of the economy tourist market. Its businessmen and public officials speak quickly of the "high class" of people who vacation here.
The city's police force, with the help of some 20 college students hired for the season, does what it can to assure Rehoboth's prosperity. The beaches are combed at night for those who would camp out to avoid renting a room, and regulations for parking -- always tough to find during the summer -- are strictly enforced.
"They made quite a bit of money on the tickets," says motel owner Kandler. "Let's face it -- that's one part of making money off the tourists."
This summer's unusually heavy crush has made Rehoboth a lively place for the last three months.
"I've been here 16 years and I don't think I've seen anything like," said police Sgt. Charles Moore. And this weekend, the crowds of tourists let go."It was just a rowdy bunch, a drunken crew," added Sgt. Ike West. "It's the last blowout they'll have."
But in the wee hours this morning, as Officer John Bushey cleared the beach, mostly of entwined couples -- "you might find some in a compromising position," he advised -- there was little for police to do. And that made Bushey happy. "I like the winter," he said as he cruised about town after 2 a.m. "I like the solitude."