The First State is loaded with great summer fun places and activities. We checked out a few of them for you.
While many folks head straight to the beaches for the vacations or weekend getaways, Delaware is loaded with tons of places off the beaten path that offer unique experiences and fun. The following are just a few.
Auburn Heights Preserve
WHERE 3000 Creek Road in Yorklyn
HOURS Auburn Heights opens up the grounds on the first Sunday between June and November for Steamin’ Days, where guests can ride the trains and select vehicles, check out a “firing demonstration” of a vintage Stanley Steamer, and enjoy the lush scenery
WHAT’S THERE Scale-sized trains you can ride around the grounds, tours of a grand turn-of-the-century mansion and one of the largest collections of working steam-operated vehicles in the world are what you’ll find at the Preserve at Auburn Heights,.
You’ll also find one of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s larger interconnected systems of trails, linking the preserve with other area attractions, like the Center for Creative Arts and Dew Point Brewing.
The preserve also includes the Marshall family home and carriage house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, site of the first Stanley automobile dealership in Delaware; a museum building housing a collection of vintage automobiles; a 1/8-size live steam railroad operating on the property; and roughly 250 acres of surrounding park land.
The legacy of Auburn Heights begins with the Marshall Family, whose love of the dawn of the automotive era lead father and sons to assemble an impressive collection of steam operated cars and other devices – like an antique working popcorn popper.
Mt. Cuba Observatory
WHERE 1610 Hillside Mill Road, Greenville
HOURS Family nights are scheduled from late spring to early fall on Friday at 8:30 p.m., visit the website for complete schedules and times.
WHAT’S THERE View the beauty of the night sky at Mt. Cuba Astronomical Observatory, Delaware's only public observatory, and enjoy a variety of public programs where scientists assist visitors in studying the mystifying elements that make up the cosmos.
Tucked away in the hills of Greenville, the observatory opened its doors in 1963, with funding from the du Pont family, including Irénée du Pont, who was part of the original foundation.
Mt. Cuba began with the DuPont Company’s interest in the Russian satellite Sputnik, with engineers so fascinated by Earth’s first artificial satellite that they had an observation area built at the DuPont Experimental Station.
It was also created with a nod to pioneering astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, a native Delawarean.
Mt. Cuba features two domes – one for its 61-centimeter (24-inch) Cassegrain telescope, made by Tinsley Laboratories, and a second one to house its 11.5-centimeter (4.5-inch) refracting telescope originally built in 1887.
Mt. Cuba also hosts public nights on select Monday evenings at 8 p.m. These programs include discussions and illustrated talks on astronomy, planetarium programs, and the opportunity to view the planets, moon and other objects through the telescope weather permitting.
Family nights are opportunities for families with younger children to see and learn about astronomy by looking at and enjoying the sky.
Due to limited parking and seating at the observatory, admission is by reservation only.
WEBSITE www.mountcuba.org for a complete schedule.
Wilmington and Western Railroad
WHERE 2201 Newport Gap Pike, Wilmington
HOURS For train times and schedules, go online to wwrr.com
WHAT’S THERE Originally chartered in 1867 to move goods from the mills along the Red Clay Creek to the Port of Wilmington, the railroad is now under the Historic Red Clay Valley Inc., which began leasing the tracks from the B&O for weekends beginning in 1966.
Having celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016, the volunteer-run WWRR now provides thousands of guests each year with rides through some of the region’s lushest landscapes.
Folks can even rent the “Doodlebug,” a restored 1921 self-propelled railcar used for commuters on the old Pennsylvania Railroad.
The railroad also offers a variety of special events throughout the year, including a Veteran’s celebration each fall, and a ride with Santa during the holiday season.
The WWRR is the seventh oldest standard gauge heritage railroad in North America and is the oldest tourist railroad operated entirely by volunteers, according to their website.
Wiso’s Crabs Local History Museum, Delaware City
WHERE Fifth Street (Route 9) at the canal, Delaware City
HOURS 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Open until 8 p.m. Fri & Sat.
WHAT’S THERE Right along the old Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, Wiso’s sells crabs and seafood. What you don’t see until you park is the Local History Museum display covering the town, the C&D Canal, Forts Delaware and DuPont and more.
While you're waiting for your order, read about the town and its surroundings.
NEARBY The restored African Union Cemetery, resting place for five Civil War veteran U.S. Colored Troops, is a short walk from Wiso’s along the Delaware City Canal Trail. It is now a park, owned by the Mt. Salem church and the town government.
The trail connects to the Mike Castle Trail, follows the C&D Canal, and crosses the state to Chesapeake City, Md. It's a favorite with hikers and bicyclists.
Historic Houses of Odessa
WHERE Old Bank at 2nd and Main Streets in Odessa
HOURS Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.– 4:30 p.m., and Monday by reservation.
WHAT’S THERE Tours that included a guided walk through the heart of Odessa, including the Foundation’s five main properties, outbuildings, gardens and grounds.
Middletown Historical Society Museum
WHERE 217 N. Broad St., Middletown
HOURS Friday, 9 a.m. -3 p.m.; first and third Saturday of the month, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; third Wednesday of the month, noon to 4 p.m. All other times by appointment. Call Alison Matsen at (302) 378-8265 or (302) 740-5544 to schedule a time.
WHAT’S THERE A permanent exhibit takes a look at the Middletown Academy 1827-1929 and the evolving education system, private, public and boarding schools in Middletown. Admission is free.
Charles E. Price Memorial Park
WHERE 950 Levels Rd., Middletown
HOURS 7 a.m. to sunset daily
WHAT’S THERE The 100-acre park features walking trails, nine pavilions of various sizes, an 8-acre catch and release fishing pond, a dog park, playgrounds and wide-open fields for playing pick-up games of any kind. The dog park features 5-acre and 3-acre fenced-in areas for large dogs and small dogs respectively. There are also benches and water fountains for people and doggies in the dog park area. Pavilions 4, 5, 6, and 7 are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but Pavilions 1, 2, 3, and 8, must be rented. To rent a pavilion or for more information, call 378-2711 and ask for Krystal. Admission to the park is free.
3 Palms Zoo and Education Center
WHERE 924 Blackbird Forest Road, Clayton
HOURS 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week, weather permitting
WHAT’S THERE A wide variety of animals, including barnyard species that visitors can get close to and feed such as goats, llamas, alpacas, geese, pigs, rabbits, sheep and a donkey. Wild animals can be seen such as raccoons, a coyote, foxes, vultures and a screech owl. More exotic animals at the zoo include alligators, snakes and giant tortoises. Zookeepers and co-owners Matt Shaffner and Dan Stonebreaker offer reptile shows in the summer on Saturdays at noon, weather permitting. All the animals have been rescued or were surrendered pets in need of a home. Some of the animals needed a place to live after rehabilitation from an injury. Admission is $5
Smyrna Museum and Plank House
WHERE 11 S. Main St., Smyrna
HOURS 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturdays
WHAT’S THERE Owned and operated by the Duck Creek Historical Society, the Smyrna Museum is in a building known as The Barracks, the site of the Civil War draft lottery in Smyrna. An ongoing exhibit includes information about Smyrna’s role in the Civil War. Other displays include antiques, photos and memorabilia about schools, firefighters, police, businesses and toys, along with paintings of historical figures. While the town is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, the museum has items on exhibit from Smyrna’s bicentennial 50 years ago. In back of the museum is the reconstructed Plank House, which dates back to 1790s, an example of a simple one-room wooden house with a fireplace and loft, with furnishings reflecting the time period. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
WHERE 2591 Whitehall Neck Road, Smyrna
HOURS Half-hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset. Visitors center open weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and also weekends in spring and fall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
WHAT’S THERE Gravel roads to observe nature by vehicle or bicycle, hiking trails, boardwalk trails, observation towers and a visitors center with displays and information about wildlife at the refuge. Admission: $4 per vehicle, $2 per bicyclist or hiker. Season passes available. Admission to visitors center is free.
St. Jones Reserve
WHERE 818 Kitts Hummock Road, Dover
HOURS Dawn to dusk, Monday through Saturday
WHAT’S THERE A two-mile nature trail is a part of the St. Jones Greenway, with a quarter-mile boardwalk over the salt marsh that connects the Reserve with the adjacent Ted Harvey Wildlife Management Area. The St. Jones Center for Estuarine Studies at the Reserve offers hiking trails, hands-on interactive activities and exhibits. The St. Jones Center is open for 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Admission is free.
Bowers Beach Maritime Museum
WHERE 3357 Main St., Bowers Beach
HOURS 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day
WHAT’S THERE Guests will find nifty artifacts of Bowers, the Delaware Bay and the watermen of the area at the Maritime Museum. Additionally, the museum will be part of the annual pirate festival, the Bowers Beach Buccaneer Bash, on Memorial Day weekend. The free event is a throwback to the state’s swashbuckling heritage. It features pirate reenactment groups, nautical bands, games, vendors and more. The fest will be held this weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.
Barratt’s Chapel & Museum
WHERE 6362 Bay Road, Frederica
HOURS 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday; 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., Saturday
WHAT’S THERE For the most post part, Barratt’s Chapel looks as close to what it did two centuries ago. Built in 1780, the chapel is a house of worship that’s also known as "The Cradle of American Methodism." Pioneers Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury met there in 1784 to establish the Methodist church as an independent denomination. Admission is free.
The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village
WHERE 866 N. Dupont Highway, Dover
HOURS Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
WHAT’S THERE The museum showcases the history of agriculture and agriculture-based activities in Delaware. Inside displays include a log cabin, tractors and farm equipment. Outside, original buildings from the 1800s have been relocated and reconstructed to give visitors an authentic taste of life from that period. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for students, $5 for military, $3 for youth (ages 4 to 17), children under 3 are free.
WHERE Off Route 24 between Laurel and Dagsboro
WHAT’S THERE Drifting amongst the majestic knobby knees of bald cypress trees and under a canopy of loblolly in Trussum Pond makes one lose track of time, as if you’ve traveled back to when humans were sparse and Sussex County was largely a swampland that resembled the Deep South. Pickerel, largemouth bass, blue gill and black crappie – not to mention various amphibians and birds - all make their home in the about 60-acre pond. You won’t find another fishing atmosphere like it; it’s a unique experience unlike any other in Sussex. There is no boat ramp, so pond access is limited to canoes and kayaks.
WHERE The island is tucked away within the Indian River Marina and accessible by a short boardwalk.
WHAT’S THERE Burton Island has managed to remain a hidden gem despite being located smack in the middle of Delaware’s busiest beach communities. Burton Island features an easy, 1.5 mile walking trail that offers spectacular views of the Indian River Bay, interspersed with thick woodlands and a variety of wildlife (diamondback terrapins nest here). Leashed dogs are allowed. Here’s a tip you’ll want to follow: wear bug spray.
WHERE Take Slaughter Beach Road off Route 1 or follow Route 36 to Bay Avenue
WHAT’S THERE Along Sussex County’s northern coast, there are some less-crowded, off-the-beaten-path beaches that offer a quieter experience. The sleepy Slaughter Beach is usually dotted with fishermen and dogs, and unique in that the sea floor is covered in rocks and shells, making the coastline a beachcomber’s dream. Turn over that pile of seaweed – there’s likely a large welk shell underneath. Beautiful stones and sea glass can be found as well. Slaughter Beach is also a horseshoe crab sanctuary, so you’ll find no shortage of them.