Dela-where?


Residents of the nation’s second smallest state often trade Dela-where? stories. 

“You’re from where?” asks the barista in Seattle or the shopkeeper in London. “Delaware. Hmm. Is that somewhere near New York?” is how it commonly goes.

As a native-born Delawarean, I can contribute my own Dela-where? story. Shortly after moving to Dallas in the early 90s, I was in a JC Penney’s picking up a few things and I paid by check. The clerk asked to see my driver’s license but didn’t think it was real because, as she said, “Delaware is part of Pennsylvania.”

Well, yes, a long time ago it was. But since 1776, when William Penn got rid of the “three lower counties,” Delaware has been on its own. And mostly ignored, except when the multitude of businesses incorporated here stop by to have an annual meeting and the Wall Street Journal takes note.

But now that Joe Biden is vice president, Delaware is on the map. Or so many Delawareans think.  In the first months after Obama and Biden were sworn in, the state tourism office was in a tizzy about the expected onslaught of visitors to Joe’s backyard.  But it’s been more than a year since the inauguration and I’ve yet to see roads clogged with out-of-state license plates.

So is Delaware worth a visit? Frankly, if Joe Biden and Delaware had been in a beauty pageant against Sarah Palin and Alaska, Delaware would have been decimated. Sandwiched in the middle of the East Coast, halfway between New York and Washington, Delaware doesn’t have glaciers, grizzlies, or humpback whales.  Alaska boasts Mt. McKinley, at 20,320 ft. the highest mountain in the U.S. Delaware’s highest point is a road that soars to a dizzying 448 ft. (only Florida can claim a lower highest elevation).  

Nonetheless, Delaware is worth a weekend visit with your family, or a full week if you plan to hit the beach. If you’re lucky enough to have kids who appreciate art and gardens, head to northern Delaware, where Biden has a house (he still returns many weekends). If you’re into swimming, birding, boating and other outdoorsy stuff, focus your visit on southern Delaware.

Northern Delaware – Fine art and flora

Northern Delaware’s top-notch museums and gardens include 300-room Winterthur Museum, Nemours Mansion and the Delaware Art Museum. Just over the state line, in Chester County, Pa., you’ll find the Brandywine River Museum (aka the Wyeth museum) and Longwood Gardens, which deservedly calls itself one of the world’s premier gardens. Joe Biden lives in the midst of what’s dubbed “chateau country,” west of Wilmington. It’s full of old du Pont mansions and new mansions, but no McMansions.  This is strictly the real McCoys here.    

If you’re a museum or garden fanatic but your kids aren’t, time your visit around a kid-friendly special event. For example, family concerts at Longwood Gardens include Stevesongs on July 30 and Roger Day on August 13. Be sure to check out the BeeAmazed Children’s Garden and three spectacular outdoor treehouses.  

Southern DelawareScrapple sandwiches, NASCAR and great beaches

You know you’ve crossed the Mason-Dixon line once you go over the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Folks down here ride in pick-ups, not the Range Rovers found in chateau country. “Yes ma’am” and “no sir” is how you’re apt to be addressed. And the house special at local restaurants is usually chicken & dumplings or scrapple sandwiches. Scrapple, for the uninitiated, is a fried pork product that has been described as “everything but the oink.”      

Plenty of people who don’t crave NASCAR and country music do flock to southern Delaware, usually for its stretch of sandy beaches that line the Atlantic. The upscale beach towns of Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany have been frequented by the Beltway crowd forever — a sign at the entrance to Rehoboth declares that the town is “The Nation’s Summer Capital.” 

Autumn can be the very best time to enjoy the Delaware beaches. The summer crowds are gone but the towns are still lively with film festivals, a Halloween “Sea Witch Festival,” triathlons, charity bike rides and sidewalk sales.

Indian summer weather tends to be the norm, not the exception, in recent years. Last October, it got so warm, I took a swim in the Bellmoor Inn’s outdoor pool one weekend afternoon. If your budget allows, stay at the Bellmoor, which features two pools, an elegant breakfast room, and spa and salon. In 2005, Michael Eisner was in nearby Georgetown for a court trial, resulting from a Disney shareholder complaint about the hiring of Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz. But Eisner chose to commute from Rehoboth, where he took over the entire concierge floor of the Bellmoor.

Where to dine? In the summer, there are a slew of good options to satisfy the pickiest Beltway politico; in the off-season, it can be tougher, unless you’re a fan of Applebee’s and the like, which clog Highway One leading into town. But southern Delawareans are friendly folk, so it’s not surprising that during the Disney trial, Chancery Court judge William B. Chandler III  told those assembled (which included, at various times, Dominick Dunne, Roy Disney and Sidney Poitier) to check out Blue Moon and Fusion, where according to Chandler, “any table by the fireplace is good.”

Beyond the beaches, there is world-class birding (if that’s your thing) at Bombay Hook and Prime Hook Wildlife Refuges. Even if it’s not your thing, try it once. Delaware is smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Flyway, that highway in the sky that starts in the Canadian Maritimes and ends around the Gulf of Mexico. 

During the peak waterfowl migration months of October and November, thousands of Canada geese, snow geese, mallard, black duck, pintail, American widgeon, wood duck and other birds feed in the marsh and meadow land of these refuges. They’re stopping in for a quick bite before getting back on the flyway — and their rest stops here are a heck of a lot more attractive than any I’ve seen on the Turnpike.   

 –Margo McDonough (In the interest of full disclosure, McDonough reports that she currently lives in Pennsylvania – however, just 2.5 miles north of the Delaware state line.)

Fun on the Cheap in New York, Philly and Baltimore


Taking your kids to the big city? Don’t drop lots of cash on Broadway shows, children’s museums and other over-priced attractions unless you know that’s what your kid really wants to do. I learned my lesson when my 12-year-old slept through Tarzan on Broadway. I’ll never blow $75 on a nap again. These days, when I take my daughter to a show, her brother stays home.   

But my family and I don’t see a ton of shows. There are just so many other things going on in New York that we can do for free or low cost. Here’s some of our favorite cheap things to do in New York, Baltimore and Philly:

Baltimore

Inner Harbor

There’s always something new to see and do at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For little or no money you can: ride the carousel, which is located near the Science Center; get some exercise on a paddleboat ride; and watch the ever-present street performers. If you plan to splurge on admission tickets, we think the Maryland Science Center is a better bet than the National Aquarium. Not only is it considerably cheaper, it’s a heck of a lot less crowded. Break for lunch with a shake and burger from Johnny Rocket’s.

Fell’s Point

You can drive directly to Fell’s Point but if it’s a nice day, take the water taxi over from the Inner Harbor. The kids will love the 10-minute ride. This waterfront neighborhood is filled with funky coffeehouses and interesting restaurants – at least some of which are happy to pull out the kids’ menus and crayons. Take a walk down the block-paved streets and over to Broadway Market. Kids of all ages will enjoy drinking in the sights and sounds at Broadway, which is the nation’s oldest public market.

Baltimore Museum of Art

Every Sunday is “Free Family Sunday” at the BMA, which is located on the campus of John Hopkins University, Every week features a different activity, including sketching tours and hands-on art workshop. When you’re ready to tour the rest of the museum, check out a Funpack, a self-guided kit that encourages kids to dress up, sketch, and sing their way through the galleries. For more info call 443-573-1700 or go to www.artbma.org.

New York City

People Watching and Window Shopping

One-man bands. Society matrons dripping with bling. Hipsters in thrift store fashions and old-school sneakers. There’s no better place for people-watching than New York. It’s also a great place for window-shopping, which doesn’t cost a penny. When you’re ready to spend a little cash, here’s what we suggest: 

  • The Ferris Wheel at Toys ‘R Us in Times SquareTake a spin on the 60-foot Ferris wheel and get a bird’s eye view of the store’s 20-foot tall T-Rex.
  •  A bag of goodies from Dylan’s Candy Bar. Ralph Lauren’s daughter, Dylan, now has six candy stores nationwide. The best is the flagship store on Third Ave., chockfull of candy-themed clothes, notepads, jewelry, scents, and, of course, actual candy.
  • A new accessory from the American Girl store. Little girls and grown-up girls will love wandering through the American Girl store, located just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center. Resist buying a doll but treat your little girl to a new accessory for her current doll, or to one of the American Girl paperback books.

Sports Museum of America

If you have sports fans in your house, make this museum your one splurge.  (Tickets are $24 for adults; $17 for kids 6 to 15 and free for kids under 6.)  The museum opened its doors a few years ago, and has quickly become a huge hit.  It’s chockfull of interactive exhibits that lets kids get a taste of what it’s like in the big leagues. For example, the Goalie Eye’s View lets them experience what it feels like to have pucks flying at them. There’s also a slew of memorabilia, like the original Heisman Trophy and Michael Jordan’s “Dream Team Jersey.”  Sports Museum of America, 26 Broadway, 212-747-0900, www.sportsmuseum.com.

Philadelphia

Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell 

Visitors from all over the world come to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. But many of us who live nearby never get around to seeing them. Vow to take your kids to these free, educational (and surprisingly fun) historic sites one weekend soon. It’s all about hands-on history as your kids become archaeologists digging for artifacts, construct their own 18th century journals, or learn how to play a glass armonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin.        

Penn’s Landing and Dave & Buster’s

In 1682, Penn’s Landing is where William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, docked and came ashore. These days, Penn’s Landing is all about good times — there are concerts, wine-tasting events and festivals  every summer weekend (and lots of spring and fall weekends). Check out the Irish-American Festival June 6, America’s Taste of Philadelphia Festival July 25- 27 or the Super Scooper Ice Cream Festival Aug. 3-4. For more info, go http://www.delawareriverwaterfrontcorp.com/.  A stone’s throw away is every arcade lover’s dream – Dave & Buster’s, wits its gazillion games, from classic skee ball to virtual reality games. You don’t have to spend a bushel of cash – one mom told us she gave her three kids $25 to split at D&B’s and they made it last for two hours. It can be done! For more info go to www.DaveandBusters.com.

Ride the Ducks

Head to the Ducks for a history tour that will make your kids quack up. The Ducks are amphibious trucks that take you through Philly’s historic district and down South Street, but best yet, for a ride on the Delaware. The drivers mix corny stories with their tales of history. The kids are sure to love the duck-lip-shaped quackers that they’re encouraged to blow at strategic times throughout the tour. Call Ride the Ducks at 877-88-QUACK or go to www.phillyducks.com.

–Margo McDonough