Bring the history buffs in your family to Delaware to learn all about the charming First State—the first to ratify the United States Constitution on December 7, 1787.
Steeped in our nation’s history, Delaware seems to celebrate a historic moment each year that you can be a part of. Begin your exploration at First State National Historical Park, made up of landmarks located across the state. The New Castle Court House was built in 1732 and was the site where 13 delegates declared the independence of Pennsylvania and England in June 1776. New Castle was the state capital of Delaware, but only until 1777, when it was moved to Dover so that it would not be easily accessible to the Delaware River and potentially captured. The historic park also includes Dover Green; Brandywine Valley; Fort Christina; John Dickinson Plantation, including an exhibit detailing the site’s association with the Underground Railroad; and Old Swedes Church, one of the oldest church buildings in the country still in use as a place of worship. Part of the National Park Service, the park lets you discover Delaware’s colonial history up until the ratification of the US Constitution. It definitely helps explain why you’ll find traces of the Dutch, Swedes, Finns and English in the area and how they all interacted with Native Americans.
Delaware, as small as it is, excels in many areas. One of these is the collection of outstanding museums, notably Museum Winterthur, which currently has a DC-related exhibit on the connection between Jacqueline Kennedy and Henry Francis du Pont. When she became First Lady in 1961 and decided to create a White House worthy of a museum rather than just being a residence, she hired du Pont, an octogenarian Delaware collector. You may have seen the Tour of the White House TV show which explored the new decor. Together with renowned decorators, they aroused interest in monument preservation and interior design. There are several tour options, self-guided and guided, and you can stop by the pop-up shop selling items inspired by the restoration project.
Other museums that deserve your attention are the Delaware Art Museum; the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame; Hagley Museum and Library; The Delaware Contemporary; Rockwood Park and Museum; Delaware Museum of Nature and Science; and to make sure the little ones are kept busy, the Delaware Children’s Museum.
In Wilmington, look for a focal point for lodging, perhaps at the historic Hotel Du Pont. The 12-storey Italian Renaissance building opened in 1913 after two and a half years of construction. French and Italian craftsmen displayed their impressive talents in carving, gilding and painting. It was expanded in 1918, including the theater now called The Playhouse in Rodney Square. Be sure to check out the European chandeliers, hand-carved wood, terrazzo floors, and 12-foot-tall walnut doors engraved with peacocks and urns in the Gold Ballroom.
Cyclists should take time to explore the signposted Delaware Bicycle Route 1, which runs south-north from the Maryland border at Fenwick Island to the Pennsylvania border north of Montchanin. It goes through beaches, farmland, state parks and cities.
Since the state’s highest elevation is 447.85 feet above sea level, with an average elevation of 58 feet, this is not a strenuous drive. Portions of it are along or near the DuPont Highway, the country’s first divided highway, and several other routes are planned.
If you’re looking for something to eat while driving across the state, you can’t go wrong with family-friendly and nostalgic favorite Grotto Pizza, a chain of 20 stores in Delaware and Maryland that was founded in 1960. Long known as the beach The popular Grotto offers pizza for one and gluten-free options, as well as salads, pasta and gelato. If you’re worried that friends and pets may have missed you, browse their gift shop for jewelry, dog toys and bowls, clothing, and more.
In addition to its historical importance, Delaware is also known as the land of tax-free shopping, which means there are plenty of regular shops and outlet stores to explore. So leave room in your car when packing for your getaway.
where should we eat
Banks’ Seafood Kitchen and Raw Bar off the Riverwalk in Wilmington is open for lunch, dinner, cocktails and late night bites with a focus on seafood, of course. Since opening as Harry’s Seafood Grill in 2003, it has undergone a number of name changes until chef David Leo Banks rebranded the restaurant to his current eponymous restaurant. 101 S. Market Street, Wilmington
BBC Tavern and Grill appears to speak Southern, despite being in the northern part of the state. Look for sweet potato fries and shrimp and grits along with a sincere focus on local farms and fisheries using organic techniques. A major highlight is the restaurant’s proximity to the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science, the Delaware Art Museum, the Winterthur Museum and Gardens, and Longwood Gardens. 4019 Kennett Pk., Greenville
Where to sleep
The Inn at Montchanin Village & Spa is a historic inn that was part of the Winterthur estate. It is named after Anne Alexandrine de Montchanin, grandmother of the founder of the DuPont gunpowder company. With 28 rooms decorated with period furniture, a spa, spectacular gardens, and a forge-turned-restaurant, Krazy Kat’s, you probably don’t have to leave, but it enjoys a convenient location. 528 Montchanin Rd., Wilmington
Dating back to 1860, the Terry House Bed & Breakfast offers breakfast, classical music and a location just blocks from the Delaware River. Each of the four guest rooms has a queen-size bed, TV, private bath, secure WiFi, and porches that run along the back of the house on the first and second floors. Payment is by cash or check only. 130 Delaware St., New Castle
Numerous attractions such as estates, gardens, historic towns, restaurants and more in the Wilmington and Brandywine Valley area are included in one discount pass. The Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport (valid through October 31 with some blackout dates) gives you access to 12 top venues for one price ($49 for individuals or $99 for families of two adults and up to three children under 17) .
Looking for Biden
Joe Biden is the first president whose home state is Delaware, and his family returns there frequently, to their homes near Rehoboth Beach and in Wilmington. Here are places where you can tour the state like a Biden, or see a reference to it:
The wonderful independent Browseabout Books where you should find books about and by the President and Jill Biden, calendars, mugs, toys, coloring books and a coffee shop. 133 Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach
Secret Service agents have been known to pick up takeaway meals from Nicola Pizza, who is in Rehoboth for another summer but plans to move to Lewes. 71 Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach
From the days when Biden was doing official things, you can still find traces of him in these places where visitors often take photos:
Take a picture of yourself and family in front of the Biden Welcome Center building sign on I-95. In 2018 it was renamed. Biden Welcome Center, 530 John F. Kennedy Memorial Hwy., Newark
Biden was famous for traveling on Amtrak during the 36 years he served in the Senate. The Wilmington station (opened 1908) and designed by Frank Furness and Allen Evans was renamed the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station in 2011. 100 S. Franch Street, Wilmington
This story originally appeared in our September issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.