Two mammals return to the sea
Ocean City, NJ
I spent my summers at the beach as a kid, and as an adult, find myself called to return to the sea on a regular basis. Of my somewhat limited sampling of seaside resorts, three stand out. My childhood summers were spent on the quiet island of Ocean City, NJ - a former Methodist camp meeting ground - and to this day a "dry" community. The side effect of this is that Ocean City is quiet, safe and kid-friendly. While the water is still a little chilly for my tastes, the real draw for kids (and for many adults) is the wooden boardwalk that stretches along many miles of oceanfront, offering carnival rides, pizza by the slice, frozen custard and shops with wonderful names like "Drift in and Sea".
Cape May, NJ
At the southern-most tip of the state is Cape May, NJ. Though I have never stayed there, I have visited this enchanting community of well-preserved Victorian homes several times. Many of these have been converted into bed & breakfasts, at least one is open to tour groups. This is a great place to rent a bicycle and peddle while you gawk. There's also a nice downtown shopping district.
South Padre Island, TX
Since a trip to the Jersey shore is now over a thousand miles away, Steve and I have adopted South Padre Island, TX as our ritual "return to the sea" community. That this is the Gulf Coast and not the Atlantic Ocean bothered me until I actually got in the warm, shallow water and walked on the wide, endless beaches. After that, I was hooked. There's a wide variety of accomodations and restaurants, and some unofficial but winked at nude sun bathing at the far north end of the island. The island desperately needs some zoning to prevent the removal of any more of the dunes system by thoughtless shorefront builders and something like a boardwalk, but these are small quibbles.
The best of northern Delaware
I have come to accept as unremarkable the fact the few people are aware of the state of Delaware. I had to memorize the names of the fifty states in grade school, but this was either not the norm or I simply have a better memory than most. I can't recall ever meeting someone from, say, Montana, and responding, "Montana? Where's that? Is that up near Alaska?" But the sons and daughters of Delaware are all too accustomed to such slights.
I don't wish to sound like a flack for the bureau of tourism, but it IS possible to spend a week just in New Castle County and not be bored, and you could spend two weeks if you include the two other counties. Here's the first week:
Every Delaware school kid has been through the original duPont black powder mill complex at Hagley on the Brandywine River. In fact, I believe that knowing the constituent elements of black powder is required for residency in the state (it's charcoal, sulpher and salt petre). They don't call it the State of duPont for nothing. All that aside, this complex of old mills, water wheels, worker housing and industrial paraphenalia is quite fascinating. Plan to spend half a day.
Winterthur Museum & Gardens
Henry duPont was one of Delaware's excentric benefactors. A tireless collector of hand-crafted American furniture, he was so exacting that he often collected entire rooms - down to the wallpaper and in one case, down to the plaster. What started as the family home was added on to many times in his lifetime to house this unparallelled collection. A tour of the furniture collection will generally cover six or seven rooms chosen apparently at random. Guides also narrate a jittney ride through the gardens, although you are free to wander them yourself as well. Again, plan at least a half day's visit.
Okay, officially Longwood Gardens isn't in Delaware, but it's so close that it ought to be. Anyway, it's another duPont estate and everything touched by duPont is officially part of Delaware. We have visited a lot of aboretums, conservatories and public gardens, but there is nothing like Longwood for sheer plantlife excess.
The Nemours Estate
Finally there is Nemours, the estate of the late Alfred I. duPont. Much of the estate has been turned into a charitable hospital for children, but the home and gardens are open to public tours. It's an interesting home, inovative in many ways, and worth seeing.
The Trains of Strasburg
The Strasburg Railroad, The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania & The National Toy Train Museum
I can't now recall where we had intended going, but at the stop light, Steve said "Look at all of those trains!" and our day's agenda was rearranged. Strasburg, a little town in the Amish country of eastern Pennsylvania, has a startling collection of truely interesting train-related sights. We started with a short ride through the farm country on a steam-powered passenger train, then wandered around the grounds of the Railroad Museum, gawking at engines, cabooses, freight and passenger cars, a reconstructed roundhouse and various other railroad paraphernalia.
Down the road a mile or two, we found a restaurant housed in a collection of old cabooses. The food was a little old fashioned but good, and the cabooses are rocked periodically to simulate a train in motion - what more could you ask? A little beyond that is the National Toy Train museum which displays every imaginable gauge of toy train, some with their original, hundred year old packaging, many of them running around elaborate tracks. I'm not normally a train fanatic, but I never had a moment's boredom during our Strasburg explorations.