Updated August 19, 2022. No matter where you live in Northern Virginia, the sand and surf of an ocean beach are just a few hours away. Many of us spend the whole year saving up for precious time at the shore, but why wait? Have you considered going there on a more affordable day trip?
“Day trips are sometimes my only chance to go to the beach during the summer,” says Patti Brown, an elementary school French teacher who lives in Sterling. “It’s expensive to rent a room or house, and I don’t always have a lot of time, so I just grab a friend and pack all the fun into a single day.”
Mastering the Plan
The key to a stress-free, refreshing day trip to the shore is careful planning. For Brown, that means leaving Sterling at 5 a.m., mid-week, in order to beat rush-hour traffic and avoid weekend crowds. Brown arrives at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware, just three hours later, often first in line for its 8 a.m. opening.
“I pack the car the night before with a blanket, chairs, umbrella, a bag with a change of clothes and shower supplies, and a cooler for lunch and drinks,” says Brown. “I make sure to get a good night’s sleep, so I wake up ready to watch the sun come up over the Chesapeake Bay as we cross the bridge. It’s just glorious.”
The famed 4.2- mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge can make or break an enjoyable beach experience, so do some research before leaving. The Maryland Department of Transportation’s published motto concerning the bridge is, “Go early; Stay late.”
Bridge officials recommend that visitors travel “off-peak” when heading to and from the shore, generally before 7 a.m. and after 10 p.m. Real-time updates on major incidents are posted on Twitter. Check the website or call 1-877-BAYSPAN (229-7726). Bridge traffic can also be delayed based on unsafe wind or weather conditions. Don’t forget your E-ZPass; the bridge has converted to electronic tolling. Rates range from $2.50 to $6, depending on how your vehicle is registered.
A Convenient Destination
Our closest public oceanfront beach, Cape Henlopen State Park, sits at the point where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic, and it offers more than six miles of breathtaking natural coastline.
Visitors can change and shower at the large, centrally located bathhouse, and the adjacent snack bar offers lunch and snack items, as well as rental chairs and umbrellas. It costs $10 per car to enter the park, which is open 8 a.m. to sunset and has abundant parking close to the shore. The beach is guarded 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (although after Labor Day, this depends on lifeguard availability).
The park is home to what remains of World War II observation towers and federal defense site Fort Miles, which is open for tours. Don’t miss Cape Henlopen’s fishing pier, nature center, guided ranger tours, kayak rentals, or free bike share and groomed bike trails.
Brown says she likes to end the day with a visit to downtown Lewes or the boardwalk at Rehoboth. For less than $100, it’s easy to squeeze in a little shopping, visit an arcade, and grab a meal before heading home along Seashore Highway.
No trip back is complete without stopping for ice cream at Vanderwende Farm Creamery, 4003 Seashore Hwy. in Bridgeville, where you can watch the cows that produced the very cream you are enjoying. And don’t forget to pick up fresh peaches or ears of sweet Eastern Shore corn at Adams Fruit Market, 2239 Seashore Hwy. in Greenwood. Maybe stop for a cup of coffee, and you’ll be shaking the sand out of toes back in Northern Virginia before midnight.
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