The Quiet Resorts, Delaware
Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, Delaware, like to call themselves "The Quiet Resorts." Crowds throng the busy boardwalk in neighboring Ocean City, Maryland, but the pace is slower in these small towns. Children bicycle along the main street in Bethany and race to haul kites aloft on the beach.
The two towns got their first lodging chain last year when a Holiday Inn Express opened, but almost 80% of visitors stay in rented beach houses. "We've kept it family oriented. It's nice to see stretches of open beach," says lifelong resident Amy Vickers, who runs the Seaside Country Store with her husband, Stephen. Pint-size customers line up at the counter to buy old-fashioned rock candy, licorice, and homemade fudge.
There aren't any go-cart tracks or bungee towers in Bethany and Fenwick. Dale Clifton, owner of the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum--one of the area's biggest tourist attractions--doesn't even bother to charge admission. Nautical treasures, recovered from ships that wrecked off the Delmarva shore, fill the museum. Precious cargo from the Faithful Steward still washes up along Coin Beach, north of the Indian River inlet. The ship sank in 1785, with 400 barrels of British coins aboard. Dale holds one of the barnacle-encrusted relics in his palm to show what the coins look like before they are cleaned. "People often pick up coins on the beach, without knowing what they are," he says, "and skip them back into the water."
Tranquillity is the true treasure here. I saw a sample of it one afternoon when I stopped at Bethany Beach Books, one of a handful of local booksellers. In front of a sunny bay window at the back of the shop, a woman who looked like Katharine Hepburn sat on the floor patiently showing a large book of seashore photography to her granddaughter, a girl of about 3, not old enough to read. They both sat barefoot, oblivious to the world, lost in the pleasure of each other's company.