While warmer months in Southern Delaware offer incredible opportunities for outdoor recreation, winter in Sussex County provides a great chance to enjoy our community when both the temperatures and crowd sizes drop. Yes, it's a bit chilly, but it is also a perfect time to enjoy some of the best spots around – with plenty of free parking!
Let's begin this armchair tour in Lewes, the First Town in the First State. Named by William Penn after a small hamlet in Sussex County, England, Lewes was the original county seat before that designation went to Georgetown in 1791. This provincial coastal town had a few turns in the national spotlight, but it has always retained its small-town charm. The history of Lewes is filled with hardship and victory, heartbreak and triumph. Today, Lewes stands proud as one of the most beloved towns in the region.
At the heart of Lewes is the beautiful Zwaanendael Museum. Built in 1931 as a near-replica of the town hall in Hoorn, Holland, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the first Dutch settlement, the Zwaanendael houses a bountiful collection reflecting the town's maritime history. Relics from the HMS DeBraak and the Roosevelt Inlet shipwreck are displayed throughout the two-level gallery, and the museum's historic interpreters tell tales of sailors and adventurers who made their mark on the small town as far back as 1631 when it was known as Zwaanendael (Valley of the Swans).
The Zwaanendael Museum also showcases photographs of Delaware lighthouses and an aerial study of the dramatic changes in the shape and size of Cape Henlopen over the last several decades.
Of course, no trip is complete without paying respect to the Zwaanendael Merman. This weird and wondrous creature is a local fascination that will linger in your thoughts long past your visit.
The newest addition to the town's impressive history and heritage scene is the Lewes History Museum at the Margaret H. Rollins Community Center on Adams Avenue. This large, airy space displays paintings and photographs of centuries of Lewes life, Native American artifacts, family collections, furniture and even a boat! Guides at the museum share stories of Lewes folklore – from pirates to privateers and soldiers to statesmen.
Newer shopping venues you'll want to check out include The Brush Factory on Kings, on the western side of Kings Highway. The Brush Factory provides unique shopping from over 30 local artists and merchants specializing in vintage furniture, handcrafted candles, boutique clothing, local designs and beach-themed décor at a variety of price points to fit every budget. Take your time and appreciate the unique artistry that each vendor brings to their space. Be sure to visit an older favorite, too. Pop into Sand N Stones on Front Street to check out one-of-a-kind sea glass and natural stone jewelry. Many of these locally designed and handcrafted pieces can be customized to your specifications. In addition to this exclusive jewelry, Sand N Stones also offers nature gifts, local photography, books, prints and notecards.
There is no shortage of incredible food offerings in Lewes. A new addition to the long list of popular Lewes eateries, The Station on Kings recently opened its doors to rave reviews. Enjoy innovative sandwiches and salads, or coffee with a delicious bakery treat in the atrium dining area that feels bright and cheery even on an overcast day. The newly opened café and market also offers an assortment of kitchen wares, imported specialty foods, beautifully scented lotions and handcrafted pottery.
If you are feeling social, another recent addition is Big Oyster Brewery on Kings Highway. The fun-filled atmosphere and natural wood décor will chase any chill out of the air. The wide variety of house-brewed beers is skillfully paired with casual comfort food. A must-do at Big Oyster? Check out the bathroom. Yep, you read that right – using the facilities at the barn-style brewery is a truly unique experience. You'll almost believe you're in the great outdoors!
If you're in the mood for a more intimate setting, Kindle Restaurant on Bank Street downtown hits all the right notes with a warm ambience to stave off a chilly winter evening. The dark wood bar and cozy design add to the charm and hospitality. Kindle is a terrific place to relax with your favorite wine – it offers an extensive selection of wines by the glass. A local favorite with popular nightly specials, Kindle delivers savory American fare with a French flair.
As always, safe travels, and please watch your speed as you travel through our small towns. Speed limits are enforced. To do more armchair exploring of Southern Delaware, go to www.VisitSouthernDelaware.com, then go take a ride.
Jody Dengler is co-owner of Sun Otter Tours. Read more Tourist At Home columns at www.beachpaper.com/tags/tourist-home.