From blueberry picking to sunsets on the bay, let’s explore Delaware’s charming villages.
As the slot machines ping and clang and jingle around me, I watch the flashing screen spin colorful Asian-style cartoons before my eyes: a pink Lotus flower, a sexy princess, gold coins, a laughing Buddha. I have no idea what I’m doing. I just keep pressing buttons. I think at one point I make some money, but mostly I lose. Lucky for me, it isn’t my money. I’m staying at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, and as part of my package, I get some free slot play.
I’ll admit I’m not a fan of gambling. I work hard for my hard-earned cash. But this is free money, so I give it a whirl. When all my credit is gone, I contemplate buying more slot play—not. I guess for some people gambling is a recreational diversion, the way some people like to go sailing or see a show. But it’s not for me, so I leave behind the dark, noisy casino and head to the peace and quiet of my hotel room.
Celebrating The Monster Mile
Don’t Miss 100th NASCAR Cup Series at Dover Downs in Oct. 2019
I’m in Dover, Delaware, to learn more about what makes the First State special. Located in the NE quadrant of the Delmarva Peninsula, Delaware borders Maryland to its west, Virginia to its south, and the Atlantic and Delaware Bay to the east. It’s the second smallest state in the country.
I’ve driven through Delaware numerous times en route to points northward, and once we dropped our son off at Dover Air Force base to catch a plane to his duty station overseas. Turns out there’s a lot to see in the area, as I discover when I join a group of travel writers for a Delaware’s Quaint Villages tour.
Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, where we’re staying, is the largest hotel in Delaware with 500 rooms. It’s surprisingly swanky, and my room is spacious and tastefully decorated. We meet our first morning at the Casino Festival Buffet, which offers a hearty variety of breakfast fare, including my favorite: smoked salmon with capers. After breakfast, the fun begins.
Besides the casino, Dover is also the home of the Dover International Speedway, which hosts NASCAR events every spring and fall. Today there are no race cars zooming around the track, but I get a look at the Monster Mile from the Monster Bridge, a VIP viewing area that extends over the race track. When the races are underway, the noise on the track is like “being inside an engine,” says our guide. Racing fans can even arrange to drive around the track a few laps or you can do a ride-along.
Coming up October 4-6 is the Fall Race Weekend, celebrating the 100th NASCAR Cup Series race in track history. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Monster Mile, and the weekend will be packed with driver appearances, free autograph sessions, fan activities, food trucks, live music, and of course exciting races. Not into NASCAR? From November to April, the track offers harness racing for horse fans.
From Bombers to Birdwatching
Discover History at The Air Mobility Command Museum
Next we head over to the Air Mobility Command Museum adjacent to Dover Air Force Base to inspect their collection of planes and visit the museum. Aircraft on display include cargo haulers, fighters, helicopters, a presidential aircraft, and even a bomber.
There’s also a spacious museum which focuses on USAF history from WWI to today and offers exhibits featuring artifacts the museum has collected: from aged maps to flying goggles to matchbooks. Retired vets are on hand to share their knowledge and entertain visitors with stories. If you love airplanes, history, and all things military, this attraction will keep you enthralled for hours. Best of all, it’s free!
After a driving tour of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, known for its excellent migratory birdwatching, we head to Smyrna, a cute little town for lunch at the Lemon Leaf Café, an upscale eatery featuring fine cuisine.
Housed in a 19th-century home divided into cozy dining rooms, the restaurant is impressive: white-table cloths, polite serving staff, and delicious cuisine. I wander over to the bar, which is decorated with clocks of all sizes and shapes, a reminder to eat, drink, and be merry—before time runs out!
As the capital of Delaware and the seat of state government since 1777, Dover is home to a lot of history and the state’s first urban park, known as First State Heritage Park, which links historic and cultural sites in the city. After a quick tour of the Delaware Public Archives, we visit the John Bell House, the oldest structure on The Green. A young woman dressed in colonial clothing welcomes us and tells us what life was like back in the day.
Also on The Green, the Old State House is a beautifully restored Georgian structure that served as the state’s first permanent capitol building. I love the grand dual stairways—known as a geometrical staircase–that we climb to the second floor, where the state’s legislative chambers are located. The Old State House is also home to a striking portrait of George Washington painted by a Frenchman Denis Alexander Volozan after Washington’s death.
The Johnson Victrola Museum is my favorite museum in Dover with its astonishing collection of victrolas. It’s a tribute to Delaware’s native son, Eldridge Reeves Johnson, who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. The victrolas and sound recording industry items date from the 1890s through 1929. Seeing these boxy phonographs was like a step back in time to when I was a child, and my siblings and I listened to Shirley Temple 78s on a Victrola in the boathouse of our family cottage in the Thousand Islands. “On the good ship Lollipop” was my favorite. I wanted to be on that ship.
That evening we head to Frederica and Bowers Beach, a boating community on the Delaware Bay, for a seafood dinner at JP Wharf’s, a nautical-themed restaurant overlooking the water. As we tuck into our sumptuous fare, we watch fishing boats motor past, returning from a day’s work. After dinner we take a sunset boat ride in Captain’s Lady Charters and enjoy tasting local Delaware wine and beer. Clouds cover the sky so we don’t see much of a sunset, but it’s lovely out on the water, nonetheless.
Blueberry Picking at Fifer Orchards & Country Store
Best Ever Breakfast at the Countrie Eatery
The next morning after a tasty version of crabcake benedict at the Countrie Eatery in Dover, our group heads out to the country, my favorite place, to pick blueberries at Fifer Orchards & Country Store, a Delaware family farm. First, we hop on a wagon for a tractor ride and a tour of the farm. It’s a late spring morning, and a cool dampness still clings to the earth. Soon the sun will burn up all the early-morning mist, so I’m glad we get to pick before it gets too hot.
The bushes are drooping with blueberries, so we pick our fill—and eat a few, too—before exploring the farm market, where baskets overflow with gorgeous produce: tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, squash. It’s a cornucopia of food produced right on the farm by the 3rd and 4th generations of the Fifer family.
The farm also supplies grocery stores, restaurants and schools throughout the Mid-Atlantic. I love the vibe at Fifer Orchards, which attracts thousands of visitors each year for local produce, ice cream, baked goods, U-pick experiences, and family festivals.
In Harrington, home of the Delaware State Fair, we enjoy a hearty lunch at Bonz Restaurant & Lounge at Harrington Raceway & Casino and learn a bit about the history of Harrington. Doug Poore, curator of the Greater Harrington Historical Society, entertains us with stories of the city’s past. The society runs three museum locations, which house over 50,000 artifacts, some dating back to the early 1700s.
Next stop is the cute little town of Milford, which has, among other claims to fame, a year-round community theater troupe called Second Street Players, which produces musicals, dramas, comedies, original works, children’s theater, and more. The Riverfront Theater sits on the south bank of the Mispillion River that flows through scenic downtown Milford.
I stroll along the Riverwalk, then pop into Milford Museum, where I meet a local lady who’s brought two neighbor children for a look at Milford’s past through the eyes of someone who’s seen it with her own eyes. Here I discover another claim to fame: the little wooden spoons that were once (and maybe still are) used to eat ice cream cups were invented in Milford.
The city was named Village of the Year in 2018, and I can see why. It has a cozy small-town vibe, and the cost of living is quite affordable, which makes it an attractive place for retirees. I peruse the colorful art at Gallery 37, which features pottery, jewelry, fiber, crafts, and paintings by Delaware artists, and then cool down with an ice cream cone across the street at Kings Homemade Ice Cream. Yum!
Milford hosts numerous events throughout the year including 3rd Thursdays Downtown and a Saturday morning farmers market. September 21 brings the 2nd Annual Ladybug Music Festival, a celebration of music by all-female performers. For a small town, Milford sure has a lot going on.
My Delaware getaway is coming to an end. As I check out of Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, I feel like running in the casino and telling the slots players to get out of the dark noisy cave-like building and enjoy some of the great activities Delaware’s Quaint Villages offer—like picking blueberries, watching migratory birds, cruising on the bay at sunset, discovering the past, and buying fresh produce at a farmers market.
To each his or her own, I tell myself. But I’m glad I didn’t spend much time (or money) in the casino and instead chose to get to know this scenic region of the First State. Next time I’m headed to points north, I plan to stop in by and stay a spell.
For more information, call 302-734-4888 or www.visitdelawarevillages.com.