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Beach guide: Delaware's hidden treasures

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Certain beaches, restaurants and stores on the Delaware Shore seem to land on everybody's "must-do" list. But there are also plenty of places and activities that get less attention. Maybe they're a few miles from the shore, or take place midweek, or don't have splashy ad campaigns, but each of the treasures listed below has its own charms. Maybe they'll become part of your "must-do" list.

1. Freeman Stage

This outdoor performing arts venue, four miles west of Fenwick Island, has been wowing audiences since it opened in 2008. Most performances are free, though there might be a charge for special events like the July 6 performance from Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes ($25). Guests bring chairs, blankets and picnic fare, and can buy sandwiches, beer, wine and other treats at the concession stand. This year's season runs from late May to mid-September and includes an Elvis tribute (June 21), the Chesapeake Brass Band (July 5) and a performance by the First State Ballet Theatre (Aug. 30). freemanstage.org

2. Marine tours

Yes, it's fun to explore the shore and its animal life on your own, but a few insights from the experts can make the experience more rewarding. From June through August, the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment offers free tours every Friday, starting at 10 a.m. on the Lewes campus. Best for ages 12 and older, the tours begin with a 20-minute video showing some of the projects being undertaken by students and staff. Participants then get up-close views of a tropical reef tank, a Global Visualization Lab showing how researchers are learning about the ocean and exhibits on research taking place in extreme marine environments, from the very deep to the very cold and very hot. http://www.ceoe.udel.edu/getinvolved/tours-lewes.shtml

3. Farmers' market

Every Tuesday from noon to 4 p.m., through October, Grove Park in Rehoboth Beach becomes a lively open-air market, with about two dozen vendors selling local cheese, produce, cupcakes, jams and much more. Try gourmet rice pudding from Sap's Puddin, handmade Italian pastries from Pasqualini's, organic vegetables from Greenbranch Farm, and organic salads and wraps from Hobo's. Live music and cooking demonstrations are part of the experience. Info: rbfarmersmarket.com

4. Free family movies

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society shows free family-friendly movies at dusk throughout the summer at the Lewes Canalfront Park in Lewes. Bring your own chairs and bug spray. This year's schedule includes "The Great Outdoors" (June 27), "The Muppets" (July 25) and "Big Miracle" (Aug. 5). Dewey also shows movies Monday nights in July and August, starting at 8:30 p.m. Enter the beach at Dagsworthy Street. rehobothfilm.com

5. Wednesday night bonfires

Kids can roast marshmallows, play games and dance to music at the Wednesday Night Bonfires, held each week at Dewey Beach, from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. The weekly event starts June 22 and runs through Aug. 29, excluding July 4. Bring marshmallows and glow sticks, and enter the beach at the Dagsworthy Street entrance.

6. Junction and Breakwater Trail

This 6-mile biking and walking trail connects Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, traveling through coastal marshes, forests and open fields. Interpretive signs provide information on plants and animals you'll pass along the say. Access the trail, which is primarily crushed stone, at Hebron road in Rehoboth Beach, or in Lewes opposite the Cape Henlopen High School or from Gills Neck Road near the Hawks Eye community. destateparks.com

7. Beach, park yoga

Grab your yoga mat and water bottle and head to Dewey Beach between West and Cullen streets for an hour of spiritual and physical rejuvenation. Sessions led by Kaya Wellness Center instructors are held Memorial Day through Labor Day, weekdays except Wednesday, starting at 8 a.m. The cost is $11, with $1 going to the Dewey Beach Lifeguard Fund. If you prefer a park setting, Lewes Canalfront Park hosts Yoga by the Canal, featuring Dimitra of Dimitra Yoga and Soul Yoga Studio, on Sundays through Sept. 15. Class begins at 8 a.m. and is free, although donations are accepted. kayawellnesscenter.com and lewescanalfrontpark.org.

8. Shipwreck museum

Shipwrecks and our fascination with them didn't start with the Titanic. Dale W. Clifton Jr. has collected thousands of artifacts from shipwrecks around the world, including coins, weapons, china, keys and even an hourglass. In 2001, he founded the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum, which showcases the items in frequently changing exhibits. The museum, at 708 Coastal Highway in Fenwick Island, is open to the public, free of charge, daily from June through September, on weekends only from October through December, and Saturdays in April and May. discoversea.com.

9. Ecological preserve

This 150-acre James Farm Ecological Preserve in Ocean View, just a few miles west of Delaware beaches, is open to the public at no charge and has three miles of walking trails that take visitors through seven habitats and end at a sandy beach with a stunning view of the Indian River Bay. The preserve is a great place to spot wildlife, including deer, ducks, birds and horseshoe crabs. http://www.inlandbays.org/visit-us-james-farm-ecological-preserve/.

10: Cape Henlopen

This beachy state park in Lewes hosts many fun events, including kayak trips, fishing tournaments and campfires. One of the most popular is the dolphin watch, offered once a week in the summer. Naturalists lead an educational discussion and answer questions about the bottle-nosed dolphins as participants search for them from the Hawk's Watch Overlook. Registration is required, and the cost is $2 per person. Children must be accompanied by a paying adult. The park is also home to two swimming beaches, an 18-hole disc golf course, basketball courts, a bath house and a concession stand. destateparks.com.

5 myths about Rehoboth

1. The main food groups are seafood, candy and beer. Though Rehoboth Beach is justifiably well known for its seafood restaurants, homemade fudge and taffy, and the excellent ales at the Dogfish Head Brewing and Eats, the culinary scene offers much more. In recent years, several restaurants with a farm-to-table focus have opened, and more are on the way. Ethnic food is also gaining popularity. For example, the Cultured Pearl Restaurant and Sushi Bar (www.culturedpearl.us/) serves Asian food, Dos Locos (doslocos.com) satisfies cravings for Mexican fare, the Irish Eyes Pub and Restaurant (irisheyespub.com/rehoboth) serves, you guessed it, Irish food, and Lily Thai Cuisine brings the complex flavors of pad Thai and larb gai to the beach.

2. For tax-free shopping, it's all about the outlets. For most people, a trip to Rehoboth isn't complete without a day of discounts at the sprawling Tanger Outlet Centers. While there's nothing wrong with scoring a $4.99 button-down at The Gap, Rehoboth also offers a wealth of locally owned shopping options. A few to try: Odysea (odyseabeach.com), which sells fun and unusual clothes, accessories, housewares and other items; the Rehoboth Toy & Kite Company (rehobothkite.com), selling colorful kites, flags, wind socks, windmills, mailbox covers and more; Quiet Storm (quietstormsurf.com), selling equipment and clothing for surfboarding and skating; and the Candy Kitchen Shoppes (candykitchen.com), selling house-made fudge and taffy, as well as retro candy and chocolate, gifts and toys.

3. Rehoboth is only worth visiting in the summertime. "People come all year long," said Carol Everhart, CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, adding that fall is one of the more popular times because the ocean is still warm. About 60 percent of Rehoboth Beach businesses stay open year-round, though the ones on the mile-long boardwalk are more likely to close in the harshest weather because they are most exposed to the elements, said Everhart. Visiting Rehoboth Beach in the off-season means fewer crowds and better deals on lodging. Another enticement is annual events such as a sidewalk sale every May and the Sea Witch Halloween & Fiddler's Festival at the end of October .

4. For the optimal beach experience, plan on arriving at 10 and leaving at 4. "The locals can tell you that 4 to 7 at the beach is the best time," said Everhart. The light is beautiful, the sun is less powerful, and "you're going to have a really open beach to walk," she said.

5. Parking is a hassle. The parking meters in Rehoboth's downtown take only quarters. That means carrying quarters or getting change, and keeping track of the time left on the meter — not always a priority when enjoying a meal and a few drinks. Visitors will welcome Parkmobile, a mobile service that is already being used in Boston, Washington and other cities. It allows users to pay by smartphone, and even to create text alerts to indicate when the meter is about to expire. The system works when users download a free application to create an account. The service charges the same rate of $1.50 per hour for parking. Drivers who don't want to use the system can still feed the meters with quarters, Everhart said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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