Delaware is the second smallest state by area in the US and has the fifth fewest population. Despite its small size (you can drive the entire length of Delaware in about two hours), there are wonderful kid friendly places and activities. Many people overlook Delaware when driving through to other states or when planning family trips in this part of the country. But do yourself a favor and check out this hidden gem of a state.
My wife and I moved to Delaware shortly after getting married. At the time of writing, we have lived here seven years and welcomed two boys to complete our family. My wife and I often talk about how wonderful Delaware is for starting a family and raising kids.
There are 17 State Parks in Delaware. While that may not sound impressive, that is actually quite a high number when you consider the small size of Delaware. At only 2489 square miles, that means Delaware has a state park per 146 square miles. That is a higher density of state parks per square mile versus the vast majority of states in the US.
Here are some examples of other states’ state parks per square mile.
– New York: 1 park per 254 square miles
– Pennsylvania: 1 park per 381 square miles
– California: 1 park per 546 square miles
– Florida: 1 park per 376 square miles
– Hawaii: 1 park per 219 square miles
There is a lot of variety in the Delaware state parks. You have state parks that are along the beach such as Cape Henlopen and Fenwick Island. There are also historic-based state parks such as First State Heritage and Fort Delaware. There are beautiful forested parks such as Lums Pond and White Clay Creek. White Clay Creek is my personal favorite. It has an extensive trail system including trails for mountain biking and horses. It’s also a very popular park for fly fishing. Wikipedia has a good summary list of the Delaware State Parks.
This may seem like a strange item to list as a kid friendly activity, but many breweries do allow kids on the tours (I recommend calling to check). Many kids will enjoy the big machines and walking around followed by a nice meal. If you have an infant, he won’t know what’s going on anyway, so just wear the baby and go enjoy a fun adult day 🙂
Delaware has over 20 breweries packed into its small size, with Dogfish Head being the most well known. Breweries are spread throughout the state whether you’re up in the more populated northern parts of Wilmington and Newark, or around the more rural middle and southern parts of the state as well as the beach areas.
If you asked people about states with great beaches, Delaware wouldn’t even register. Part of that is simply because it’s not a well-known state in general outside of this area, but Delaware has some very scenic coastlines. First off, there are only 23 states with an ocean coastline (21 if just the contiguous US), and Delaware is one such state, so that in itself puts it in a specialized group. Secondly, Delaware is often overshadowed in terms of tourism and beach traffic by nearby states like New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Virginia. This is really a blessing though as Delaware beaches are usually less crowded. This makes it an ideal beach vacation destination for families. Whether you are looking for a beach with a livelier scene like Rehoboth Beach, or a quieter beach like Lewes or Cape Henlopen, or something in between, Delaware beaches can offer some sand and surf fun.
Delaware Children’s Museum
Wilmington, Delaware boasts an excellent Children’s Museum. The museum is located at the Riverfront. As soon as you enter, there is a giant netted climbing apparatus called the “Stratosphere” that kids love. The museum has a lot of hands on activities for kids to build, explore, and play. Here are a few other highlights:
– the giant tree log kids can walk and crawl through
– a great water play area
– a sports area where kids can test their balance, how long they can hang, shoot basketballs and throw baseballs
– a pretend cafe area with fake fruits and vegetables
Continuing from the Children’s Museum, let’s talk about the Wilmington Riverfront along the Christina River. The Riverfront is a revitalized project that began in the late 1990s and is now an impressive and inviting attraction for locals and tourists. The area has continually expanded since that time and now has loads of shops and great restaurants as well as attractions like the aforementioned Children’s Museum.
The Riverfront also has the Chase Convention Center, Frawley Stadium (home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Single A minor league affiliate of the KC Royals), Penn Cinema movie theater with IMAX, and an indoor trampoline park. There is also mini golf and an outdoor ice skating rink in the winter.
In my opinion, the best part of the Riverfront is the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk follows the Christina River right alongside restaurants. One of the highlights of the Riverwalk is the DuPont Environmental Education Center at the south end. If you enjoy relaxing boat rides, the Riverfront also offers the River Taxi and the Wilmington Riverboat Queen. If you or your kids are into tall ships, a short distance from the main Riverfront area is the Kalmar Nyckel, which is definitely worth a visit. They even have Pirate Adventure sails.
Wilmington Western Railroad
The Wilmington Western Railroad is an absolute hidden gem. Wilmington Western Railroad operates old fashioned steam trains running through an incredibly picturesque route. It’s a volunteer driven operation, which makes it that much more awesome. It’s hard to believe that the station is so close to a densely populated area near Wilmington and Interstate-95.
Most of the train rides are 1.5 hours round trip. At $15 for an adult ticket, it’s a very affordable way to spend an awesome day with the family. In my opinion, it’s far more worth it than the much more popular Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania less than an hour away. Don’t get me wrong, Strasburg is great too, as the area has lots of family activities. However, as far as the train ride itself, the Strasburg train rides are only about 45 minutes. If your child loves trains like my boys do, the Wilmington Western Railroad will definitely not disappoint.
Newark is home to the University of Delaware, and downtown Newark is a fun mix of shops and restaurants catering to college students, locals, and families. It’s a happening place to walk around and browse stores and grab a snack or meal at the many restaurants and food shops. The University’s campus is also worth checking out. Downtown Newark also has family friendly community events throughout the year.
Winterthur is the former home of Henry Francis du Pont located in northern Delaware. If you are not familiar with the du Pont family, Google it. They are a very prominent family in American history with a very far reaching influence in Delaware.
Winterthur’s website states:
“Today, Winterthur is the premier museum of American decorative arts, with an unparalleled collection of nearly 90,000 objects made or used in America between about 1640 and 1860. The collection is displayed in the magnificent 175-room house, much as it was when the du Pont family lived here.”
Winterthur is set amidst a 1,000-acre preserve of rolling meadows and woodlands. Designed by du Pont, its 60-acre naturalistic garden is among America’s best, with magnificent specimen plantings and massed displays of color.
Winterthur is beautiful. Just the drive along DE Route 52 to Winterthur is so scenic. This route is part of the Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway. For families with young toddlers, the house collections may not cater to the young ones as much, but the narrated garden tram ride, which is part of the general admission, is excellent and a must do.
Delaware Museum of Natural History
Located just a half mile from Winterthur, the Delaware Museum of Natural History is a good place to spend an hour or two with the kids. It’s a pretty standard Natural History Museum compared to ones we’ve been to in other states. The museum has a large bird and mollusk collection.
One very nice aspect of the museum is the outdoor trail experience, parts of which are stroller friendly. There are trails that go through wetlands and woods, so these are a nice addition to the indoor exhibits.
Air Mobility Command Museum
At the time of writing, we have not yet been to the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, but it has fantastic reviews and it’s free! If your child is into planes, this seems like a no brainer. The museum homepage says that it’s the only museum dedicated to airlift and air refueling history. There are over 30 aircraft at the museum, some of which you are able to go into. The museum also offers guided tours as well as other exhibits including interactive ones that kids will likely love.
Since the museum is located adjacent to Dover Air Force Base, it’s likely you’ll get to see some planes taking off and landing as well.
Christiana Mall and Christiana Fashion Center
If you need a low key day indoors and are itching for some tax free shopping, it’s hard to beat Christiana Mall. Yep, Delaware has no sales tax. It’s a very large mall that draws shoppers from many surrounding states looking for tax free shopping. It’s estimated that the mall draws over 20 million visitors yearly. Like any large mall, you can expect your variety of big department stores and smaller stores as well as a food court. There are also several restaurants.
Around the mall area, there are more restaurants and stores such as Dicks Sporting Goods, Michaels, Costco, and Cabela’s. Additionally, the mall area also has the Christiana Fashion Center, which is a newer developed shopping area with stores like Best Buy, REI, Marshalls and Home Goods, and more restaurants. Main Event, a large entertainment facility with bowling, arcades, billiards, and laser tag is also located here.
Don’t Dismiss Delaware
It’s easy to overlook Delaware as a vacation destination. Whether it’s its small size or its being overshadowed by its neighboring, more populous states, most people don’t even think about Delaware. The movie, Wayne’s World, even famously joked about it. But I hope this post gives you some insight into all that Delaware has to offer. Maybe you’ll consider it the next time you plan a family vacation 🙂
Have you visited Delaware and can attest to some of its great places? Feel free to share any thoughts via the comments below. Thanks!
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