History, scenery, quaint towns, outstanding eateries and the engineering wonder of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge are yours to enjoy, on one of America’s classic driving trips. Named for the three states that comprise the peninsula, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, technically, the peninsula is now an island, since the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal has cut it off from the mainland of the USA. Today more than 40 per cent of the shipping traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore reaches that city via the canal.
Begin your drive down the Atlantic Coast of the Delmarva Peninsula in Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city, famous for its surrounding DuPont-related destinations such as Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Hagley Mills and the Nemours mansion. To read more about Wilmington, see the Continue Your Drive Into Delaware section of our article about following the Brandywine River.
Take Route 1 south, to Newark, famous for the University of Delaware and their Fighting Blue Hens. The city was founded in 1694; Main Street is well worth exploring with its shops and restaurants. For dining, try Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, Bamboo House or the Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant. There are many ancient historic buildings in Smyrna and you are lucky if you end up in the town on a Saturday morning, when the The Smyrna Museum is open. Otherwise, have a drive around town to see some of the many places on the National Register. Sheridan’s Irish Pub is a favorite eatery.Dover is Delaware’s state capital. There are some special museums here, including the Johnson Victrola Museum and the Air Mobility Command Museum. You can visit the John Dickinson Plantation to get a look at Colonial life. You can also tour the Old Statehouse, and the Governor’s Mansion and grounds. Racing fans will head to the Dover International Speedway. Just down the road in Milford there are some good dining options, including Mama Maria Italian, Abbot’s Grill, and Meding’s Seafood for the quintessential crab shack experience. Lewes was founded in 1691; the town has charming old buildings and shops, and its showpiece is the beautiful Cape Henlopen State Park, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay. For a truly nautical side trip, take the Lewes – Cape May ferry over to New Jersey and back again.
Rehoboth Beach is an appealing seaside town with a traditional Boardwalk, offering just enough of the old time nostalgia. Rent a bicycle surrey and drive the boardwalk. Buy some Dolle’s Salt Water Taffy and see it being made; you cannot miss their big sign. Day or night, this is among the best family-friendly boardwalks on the east coast. Bethany Beach is Rehoboth’s quieter seaside sister with a smaller boardwalk all its own; it is still one of Delaware’s best-kept secrets for vacationing.
The middle slice of the Delmarva Peninsula belongs to Maryland and is usually dubbed “The Eastern Shore”. Ocean City, Maryland, is a popular and lively beach and resort town. The beautiful beach and the 3-mile long Boardwalk are the main attractions here. Stroll, take the tram, or find a bench to enjoy the passing parade. For a good meal, the Sahara Café offers breakfast and lunch.
Near Snow Hill, visit Furnace Town, the old bog ore iron furnace, in the heart of the Pocomoke Forest. Also see the 1800’s village, with docents as trades-persons, demonstrating blacksmithing, broom making, spinning, weaving, and printing. It is a small village the whole family will enjoy. Furnace Town is open on a limited schedule, so plan ahead. For a meal that is also a musical experience, reserve an event at the Blue Dog Café. Pocomoke City has the small, kid friendly Delmarva Discovery Center Museum. Try the Riverside Grill for good food with a great view. On the state line between Maryland and Virginia, the world class attractions are the fabled wild ponies at Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland) and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (Virginia). One must travel on the mainland to journey between the National Seashore in Maryland and the National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. Assateague Island National Seashore maintains a 2-mile stretch of road on the island that travels through the state park in order for visitors to reach the National Seashore. A new visitor center is on the mainland before visitors cross over the bridge to get to the island. At Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge’s Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center, exhibits give a history of the refuge and explain the many animals and plants. Hours are: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., spring, fall, and winter, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in summer, seven days a week. The Virginia herd of wild ponies is owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. They hold a carnival during Pony Penning to raise funds, when the Virginia herd is rounded up for Pony Penning and auction. Pony Penning started as a way for livestock owners to claim and harness their loose herds. By the 1700s it had become an annual July event. Hint: Read the famous “Misty” books by Marguerite Henry before you visit the wild ponies. And be careful; beautiful as they are, wild ponies do kick and bite. The red and white striped Assateague Lighthouse is a feature of the Virginia end of Assateague Island. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains the Light as an active navigational aid, and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is responsible for the lighthouse. You can go to the top of the lighthouse (consult the visitor schedule). Chincoteague is known for its fresh and tasty seafood from restaurants such as Bills Seafood, Captain Zack’s Seafood, and The Crab Shack. Continuing southward through the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula, space enthusiasts will want to visit the Wallops Flight Facility Visitors Center. In addition to the impressive Accomac courthouse, there are many fine old historic buildings to appreciate in the area. About 20 minutes south of Accomac, in Exmore, Virginia, the John W. Chandler House, also known as Mears House, is a historic home built in 1889-1890; this large two-story, Queen Anne style house is a local landmark. The Exmore Diner is a popular throwback to a bygone era. El Maguey offers excellent Mexican food. A visit to the Yellow Duck Bakery is essential for those with a sweet tooth. Eastville has a fine old Historic District with over 300 contributing buildings, ranging from 1731 into the 20th century. Look for the courthouse (1731), the clerk’s office (c. 1750), Park Hall (c. 1750), Eastville Inn, Ingleside (c. 1810), Hickory Grounds (c. 1825), Maria Robins House (c. 1799), the Old Brick Store (c. 1820), Abdell Funeral Home (c. 1870), Edward Holland House (c. 1870, 1900), and Ailworth Hall (c. 1900), as well as the Eastville Mercantile, James Brown’s Dry Goods, and Cessford—an historic plantation. Charming Capeville offers you the Custis family tombs and Arlington Archeological Sites. Your visit includes archaeological features ranging from Accomack Plantation, the first English settlement of the Eastern Shore in 1619, to probable tenant or slave quarter features dating to the second half of the 18th century. The site also includes the foundations of the original Arlington mansion, begun in 1670 and demolished in 1720. That Arlington served as the ancestral home of the Custis family of Virginia, whose more famous Arlington House is the center of the National Cemetery bearing the same name overlooking Washington DC. It all began here. At Kiptopeke the wonder of migratory birds can be seen every fall as millions of songbirds and monarch butterflies, and thousands of raptors converge there, during their flight south. Plan to visit the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge’s Visitors Center to learn more. The Delmarva Peninsula offers one more grand dramatic adventure. Opened on April 15, 1965, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was named “One of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World”. It is one of the great drives in the USA. The bridge and tunnel comprise 23 miles. The majority of the route is over the water on approaches causeways and bridges, but dramatically, parts of the drive are submerged so you actually drive beneath the Bay. Parallel above-water structures have been built starting in the 1990s, with the parallel tunnel portions yet to be completed. So the roadway narrows down to one lane in each direction for the tunnel portions. Along the way you can anticipate seeing a wide variety of water birds, such as Northern Gannet, America White Pelican, Brant, King Elder, Harlequin Duck, Peregrine Falcon, American Oystercatcher, Black Tailed Gull, Little Gull, and Red-Breasted Merganser. As you emerge from the tunnel at Thimble Island, be sure to stop at the Virginia Originals and the Chesapeake Grill to have a meal as you enjoy the awesome view where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Bay. You will love watching ships pass through the channel while dining. It is a unforgettable conclusion to your memorable drive along the Delmarva Peninsula’s Atlantic Coast.
And there’s more to come! Look for the sequel to this Delmarva Peninsula driving trip in September, when we will explore the quieter Chesapeake Bay side of the peninsula, visiting the narrow necks and islands there, as you drive the nation!