Delaware is known as the “first state” of the United States, but it should also be the first stop on your family vacation.
History and outdoor beauty meet to create endless opportunities for recreation and education.
Small yet mighty, there’s a world to discover in Delaware.
A Winterthur Fairytale
American culture is best studied in a museum, a garden, and a library. Explore all three at Henry Francis’ du Pont’s masterpiece: Winterthur. Horticulturist, collector, and visionary du Pont once wrote: “I sincerely hope that the Museum will be a continuing source of inspiration and education for all time, and that the gardens and grounds will of themselves be a country place museum where visitors may enjoy as I have.”
Amidst nearly a thousand acres of farmland and fields gentle curving paths guide you to du Pont’s jewel: the Winterthur Garden. Picture fountains, flowers, and a stone cottage straight from the pages of a fairytale. Frequent trips to Europe inspired du Pont’s gardening style. He designed the garden throughout his life, perfecting its naturalistic features across 60 acres. Now, visitors can admire his masterpiece throughout the year. To hear more about its history, hop on the narrated tram ride which runs from March to December.
Renovating the home into a museum was a labor of love, but du Pont did have the benefit of springing from one of the wealthiest families in the United States; the home consists of 175 rooms which now display over 90,000 collected objects. Exhibitions display ingenious work of 18th-century painters, furniture, and American decorative and functional objects dating back to 1640. The Museum has also newly discovered many of its objects’ creators to be enslaved people, giving the collection a voice to tell stories previously silenced.
The Winterthur Library hosts a world-class array of rare books, maps, manuscripts, and photos. It encompasses the history of the Americas dating back to the 17th century. Despite its old-world roots, Winterthur Library remains an active place of learning. Winterthur’s research and scholarship branch offers graduate programs in art conservation and material culture, training for future conservationists through the University of Delaware, and fellowships for curious researchers.
Lectures, live performances, and events keep the Winterthur festive throughout the year. You could bring the family on a woodland therapy session inspired by the Japanese practice of “forest bathing”, or discover H. F. du Pont’s secret spot for “Mixers and Elixirs” to enjoy a cocktail and live music (kids 12 and under are free). Check out the events page for more info.
Purchase tickets online, on the phone, or at the visitor’s center.
Back in Time with Fort Delaware
On Pea Patch Island rests Fort Delaware State Park. Once a harbor defense facility, this portal to the past gives visitors a glimpse into American life during the Civil War. After a breezy ferry ride across the Delaware River, you’ll be greeted by park staff members decked out in 19th-century garb. These historians and interpreters are posing as commanders, soldiers, and fort-dwellers armed with tales of the summer of 1864.
The island is almost entirely explorable. Visit the kitchen, the blacksmith’s forge, parade ground, officer’s quarters, barracks, and ordinance room. At the top of the fort rests the Goliath of cannons: the Columbiad. And, it still fires (just a blank, of course). You’ll smell the history in gunpowder and feel its power in your chest. Plus, the kids will think it’s plain awesome.
Beyond the ramparts of the fort is the natural splendor of the Heronry, one of the largest nesting grounds on the East Coast. Follow the Prison Camp trail to view the herons, egrets, and ibis which inhabit the shorelines of the Pea Patch Island Nature Preserve. Along with these wading birds, you may spy a bald eagle or osprey.
Does your family love a good scare? Fort Delaware has been the star of Ghost Hunters. Take a paranormal tour for a night of frights.
Click here to reserve your tickets and transport the family back in time to 1860’s America.
Escape to Cape Henlopen
No east coast excursion is complete without a visit to the ocean. Cape Henlopen State Park has more than six miles of coastline to offer. Trails for hiking and biking, a science museum, swimming, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, a bait and tackle store, geocaching, disc-golf, playground, pet areas, postcard-worthy lighthouses… The list goes on.
The Seaside Nature Center
You can sign up for scientific activities at the Seaside Nature Center. Museum exhibits detail the vast array of wildlife in the area. Giant touch tanks are filled with critters you can reach out and hold. They offer events for kid and adult scientists alike. Try an evening observing horseshoe crabs, morning bottlenose dolphin watching, foraging in the woods, or a squid dissection all for under $8 per person.
The Seaside Nature Center also offers a free Borrow-A-Bike program so you can cruise around the paths for two hours. It’s the best way to cover Gordons Pond Trail, an elevated boardwalk that takes you through the coast, dunes, forests, and wetlands.
Camps n’ Cabins
Stay a while with Cape Henlopen’s affordable overnight options. RV-drivers, tent-dwellers, and cabin-cuddlers are accommodated in Cape Henlopen’s campground. Check out the reservations here.