Located throughout Kent County, Delaware surrounding the state capital of Dover, are a number of small villages, each with its own special charm. Come stay a few days and capture the history of the area, or just lie back and relax in one of the elegant bed & breakfast hotels under the spell of small-town magic.
Stay overnight, then start the day at the AAA-rated Dover Downs Hotel & Casino with a filling breakfast at the Festival Buffet. Then head out back (ticket lobby near parking lot E) to the adjacent Dover International Speedway for an up-close guided track tour ($7) of the “Monster Mile.” You’ll see the Monster Monument up close, sit in the exclusive Monster Bridge and look for your favorite driver’s signature on the signed seats, and pretend you’re the race winner in Victory Plaza.
Grab lunch at U.S. 13 Grill for anything from Italian to burgers, then head out to visit the John Dickinson Plantation, the boyhood home and gardens of one of America’s Founding Fathers, John Dickinson, a signer of the U.S. Constitution.
Make sure to visit the Air Mobility Command Museum to view more than 30 aircrafts including the massive Lockheed C-5 Galaxy and the Air Force Two DC-9, the former presidential airplane. Visit during Open Cockpit Days, held on 3rd Saturdays, April through September. View artifacts from 9-11 in a touching memorial and a spectacular museum.
Finish up the evening at Restaurant 55 for a gourmet burger and craft brew or Michele’s Restaurant, an upscale steak and seafood restaurant at Dover Downs Hotel, then head into the casino for 24-hour gambling, games and top-level entertainment.
For breakfast, try the Countrie Eaterie along the banks of the Silver Lake before heading over to First State Heritage Park, the historic center of downtown Dover, and the first urban “park without boundaries” linking Dover’s historical and cultural sites. The seat of Delaware government since 1777, Dover’s cluster of historical sites include the John Bell House (ask about the country’s first “murder by mail”), the Old State House, The Green, and the site of the Golden Fleece, the tavern where the U.S. Constitution was ratified. You’ll find costumed historic interpreters at most of the historic sites around Delaware.
Be surprised by the Johnson Victrola Museum and learn about local inventor E.R. Johnson and the beginnings of the sound recording industry, alongside an amazing collection. See an actual Grammy award, named after his gramophone. For lunch, stroll to the nearby Grey Fox Grille & Public House.
In the afternoon, drive to Smyrna’s Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge a National Park where more than 15,000 acres of protected tidal salt marsh is home to hundreds of bird and wildlife species. Choose from a 12-mile wildlife drive, five walking trails and three observation towers, and bring binoculars for up-close viewing of the many species of birds including snowy egrets, orioles, herons, songbirds, ducks, geese, and bald eagles. In September and October the Canadian and Snow geese and ducks arrive in numbers for their fall migration.
Visit Historic Belmont Hall, a Georgian-style Colonial mansion and gardens built in 1773 by Thomas Collins, a storied Delaware politician. View the signatures of visitors from olden days on the upstairs walls.
Kent County is also home to a thriving Amish community. Tour the countryside admiring the farms and see how many Amish buggies you can spot. (Tip: You can tell it’s an Amish home when it doesn’t have shutters on the windows.) Visit Spence’s Bazaar & Amish Market or Byler’s for Amish specialties. Stop off at 4th-generation, family-owned Fifer Orchards Farm & Country Store for fresh-off-the-farm goodies and hand-dipped ice cream.
End the evening at Brick Works Brewing & Eats (gourmet burgers & craft brews) or Boondocks Restaurant (seafood) in Smyrna.
Check into the lovely Causey Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Milford, the Greek Revival Georgian-style home of former governors and notable citizens situated on three acres of lush gardens.
Walk the quaint village of Milford with its beautiful Victorian architecture and stroll the mile-long Mispillion Riverwalk to view public art and visit one of the many shops, art galleries and studios like the Mispillion Art League and Gallery 36. Launch a kayak into the Mispillion River to spot herons, osprey and bald eagles. For lunch, head to the fishing town of Bowers Beach to JP’s Wharf Restaurant & Bar for local, fresh seafood, burgers, salads and more.
Head over to Harrington to see the Harrington Railroad Museum and Messick’s Agricultural Museum. But call ahead to arrange a tour. Harrington is also home to the Delaware State Fairgrounds and the Centre Ice Rink with its new ice bumper cars. October hosts its Wine & Beer Festival and Harness Racing. Try your luck at the slot machines at the Harrington Raceway & Casino.
Back in Milford, visit the new distillery EasySpeak Spirits or Mispillion River Brewing, and end the evening with dinner at Meding’s Seafood or Abbott’s Grill and a performance at the Riverfront Theatre.
Surrounding the tiny capital city of Dover, Delaware is filled with quaint villages abundant with shopping, dining and entertainment options. You’ll find that many of these historic sites and museums are free, and shopping in Delaware is always tax-free! Be sure to put the popular villages of Bowers Beach, Dover, Felton, Frederica, Harrington, Leipsic, Milford, and Smyrna on your agenda. Be aware of your driving speed, however, as you enter these small towns. However friendly, the local police are very conscientious about their speed limits.
All photos credit: Linda Barrett