The beach towels are draped on the deck. There's a damp ring of sand in the shower. Evening has fallen, and while the sunlight may be finished until tomorrow, you're still radiant and ready to conquer the "coolest" part of the day—the beach after dark.
A seaside vacation is not all about sun and surf. It's cocktails at sunset. Bonfires by the ocean. The boardwalk in all its bright, kinetic glory. We've found 30 fun and engaging ways to spend your evenings at the Maryland and Delaware beaches this summer.
The sun has delivered the ta-dah! moment nightlifers crave—sunset. Time to flip-flop to the bayfront, where tropically themed restaurants and beach bars embrace unique twilight traditions. The best known is Fager's Island (201 60th St., 410-524-5500), where the staff cranks up Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," timed to coincide with the sun's swoon—even on cloudy days. At Macky's Bayside Bar & Grill (54th St., 410-723-5565), sunset signals a Kate Smith sing-along. Order a frozen Mango Macky and join the chorus crooning Kate's rousing "God Bless America." Or view the day's dying rays aboard a yacht. The sleek 75-foot "Judith M," whose daytime gig is hauling anglers in style, departs daily at 7:30 p.m. for sunset cruises in the Atlantic (at Bahia Marina, 22nd St. and the bay, 410-251-5859).
Save The Sawbucks
You've depleted your wallet on gasoline and Guitar Hero Arcade. Now what? Fortunately, O.C. is the Sand of the Free, where four nights a week the beach becomes a no-cost family entertainment center. Watch free movies on a big inflatable screen Mondays and Fridays. Run, flex, and play in the sand at the Beach Olympics on Tuesdays. Boogie on the Beach to live music on Wednesdays. (Times, locations, and more family freebies at www.ococean.com.) Play a family miniature golf marathon at one (or all) of Old Pro Golf's four O.C. locations, pictured. Kids three years and younger play for free, and $4 extra per person buys unlimited rounds on the colorful outdoor and indoor courses (1-888-OLD-PRO1, 410-524-2645).
Munch A Bunch
No one visits the beach to diet. Embrace gastric destiny by gorging your way from one end of the boards to the other on our own Boardwalk 3.6K Evening Classic. Working north from the inlet, hit these fuel stops (with nearest cross street): The Dough Roller (S. Division St.) for fresh pizza, Thrasher's (Wicomico St.) for indigenous fries, Dumser's (Dorchester St.) for a chocolate shake (neutralizes the vinegary fries), Fisher's (Talbot St.) for classic caramel popcorn, Polock Johnny's (Talbot St.) for a corn dog—now, pop some Tums until reaching . . . the Alaska Stand (8th St.) for a juicy burger, then burn calories through the lengthy hotel district (a no-fry zone), and collapse at Candy Kitchen (28th St. and Philadelphia Ave.) for celebratory chocolate-dipped strawberries.
Practice Your Moves
Remember the "laser dance" in Ocean's Twelve? Channel your inner master thief as you slither under, over, and around a web of laser beams in Ripley's Impossible LaseRace, a cat-burglaresque interactive attraction the Believe It or Not! folks debuted last summer on the Boardwalk (Pier Building, 401 S. Atlantic Ave., 410-289-5600). Break a light beam and you forfeit points and time. Bon chance. (Open until midnight or 1 a.m., depending on the number of customers.)
Play An Adults Arcade
Love 'em or loathe 'em, one-armed bandits are the new game in town. Join the thousands who've trekked to the Casino at Ocean Downs (10218 Racetrack Rd., Berlin, 410-641-0600), which boasts 750 "video lottery terminals" (i.e., slot machines) ready to reward winners with something more spendable than cuddly stuffed giraffes. In addition to push-button slots, Maryland's newest casino offers electronic roulette and blackjack daily until 2 a.m.
Stripers and croakers and blues, oh my! Anglers can wet a line after dark at: Oceanic Fishing Pier (710 S. Philadelphia Ave., 410-289-2602) and the Route 50 Bridge.
Celebrate weekend eve with thrifty Thursday deals. The Shark on the Harbor (12924 Sunset Ave., West O.C., 410-213-0924) goes crazy over crustaceans with Lobster Lunacy dinner specials—provided local fishermen are "catching, not just fishing." Plan a girls' night out at Galaxy 66 (6601 Coastal Hwy., 410-723-6762), whose rooftop Skye Bar offers discounts on certain cocktails, or Macky's (54th Street, bayside, 723-5565), which celebrates "Little Black Dress Night" with half-price drinks.
Imbibe history and mystery in nearby Berlin. Wednesday evenings from July 6 to September 7, hunt "orbs" and other paranormal activity on Spirits of Berlin guided tours. The 90-minute walks will chill you with tales of the Witch of Assateague Island and the ghost of Stephen Decatur, the 19th-century naval hero who was born near here. (Reservations, 410-920-7200.) Afterward, quaff an EVO Primal Pale Ale at The Globe (12 Broad St., 410-641-0784), a neighborhood pub housed in a handsomely restored movie theater.
Surrender Your Keys
Driving's a drag, especially at night. Try these convenient conveyances instead: For bayside bar-hopping, hail Buzz Boat water taxi (561-512-2727; service 'til midnight); for shopping, hop the Boardwalk Tram (410-289-5311; service 'til midnight) and Coastal Highway buses (410-524-7716; 24-hour service during the summer, plus a new $3 ride-all-day fare); for late-night snacking, Just Deliveries fetches food from any local restaurant until 9-10 p.m., depending on the day (877-958-2828), and Fat Daddy's delivers its pizzas and subs until 4 a.m. (midtown, 410-524-8228; downtown, 410-289-4040).
College students and the highly energized flock to Seacrets (117 49th St., 410-524-4900) for its Jamaican vibe, potent libations, and dancing in the sand. The popular Party Block (17th St. and Coastal Hwy., 410-289-6331) packs three nightclubs (cover bands, '90s/2000s hits, techno/hip-hop) under one roof, with a pool bar outdoors. Its kid sibling, the under-21 dance club H2O (14 Worcester St., 410-289-7102), spins hip-hop. If you get your kicks singing karaoke, The Sandbar (3303 Coastal Hwy., 410-289-1558), pictured, stages a lively show with special effects. Outgrown bikini contests and foam pits? The Ocean Club at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau (10100 Coastal Hwy., 1-800-638-2100) offers Top 40 bands with no cover, and Teaser's, the tiki bar at Sunset Grille (12933 Sunset Ave., West Ocean City, 410-213-8110), rocks the harbor with live music nightly.
As good times roll into the wee hours, many restaurants keep pace. Satisfy midnight crab-cake cravings at BJ's on the Water (115 75th St., 410-524-7575), which serves surf and turf until 1:30 a.m. daily and offers late-night happy hours Sun.-Thurs. Enjoy entrees or grownup snacks like artisanal cheeses paired with fine wine at Liquid Assets (9301 Coastal Hwy., 410-524-7037), pictured, an uptown bistro and spirits shop that serves a full menu until midnight. Nibble boardwalk fries served Dublin-style at Shenanigan's Irish Pub and Grille (Boardwalk and 4th St., 410-289-7181), offering fries drenched in Guinness gravy and other Emerald Isle fare until 10 p.m.
Fenwick & the Bethany Beaches
Savor The Silence
Among them, the "Quiet Resorts" have just one abbreviated, lightly commercialized boardwalk (Bethany Beach's). That means visitors can easily enjoy a low-decibel evening if they wish. Unlike the seaside parks, which close at sunset, the municipal beaches remain open until at least midnight. So sink your toes into cool sand and listen to the waves' ceaseless rhythm. Do beachy things either forbidden during daylight (like surf fishing) or simply difficult (like stargazing). For the former, Fenwick Tackle (Route 1 and Maryland Ave., 302-539-7766) fills anglers' needs with licenses, bait, tackle, and tips.
Hunt For Treasure
Shipwrecks litter the Delaware coast, and there's no better place to learn about them than DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum (708 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 302-539-9366; open 'til 8 p.m. daily). The owner, a compulsive wreck-diver, has recovered a gazillion artifacts (precious jewelry, bits of pottery, scary medical implements), many of which inhabit this maritime mausoleum. Since local beaches still yield wreckabilia, try hunting for buried booty yourself. Invest in a metal detector at Sea Shell City (downstairs from the museum) or rent one from Gale Force Rentals of Bethany Beach (302-539-6244 or 800-321-1592). You might discover a gold coin—or a hotel guest's Rolex entombed since 1972.
Play With The Kids
Summer is made for tilting at tiny windmills and making a big splash in a little lagoon. At Captain Jack's Pirate Golf (21 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Bethany Beach, 302-539-1122), you needn't wear a cocked hat to go mini-golfing, but where's the harm, mate? The props—a giant pirate ship and skeletal sailors—will make ye feel at home. Frolic with other infamous high-seas marauders—the Vikings—at Thunder Lagoon Water Park (38960 Island St., Fenwick Island, 302-539-4027). Cool off with a languid river ride or brave the "black hole" built-for-two body slide as the amusement park's iconic Viking vessel dumps boatloads of water into the splash pool.
You'll be enthralled as top magicians perform at a charming new magic theater honoring Charles Dickens, who used to dabble in parlor trickery. Dickens Parlour Theatre (35715 Atlantic Ave., Millville, 302-829-1071) hosts "an evening of magic for the entire family" daily in a cozy theater-cum-Victorian salon west of Bethany. Its owner, resident magic man Rich Bloch, developed innovations used (aptly enough) by David Copperfield, among others. Guests get to chat with performers following the evening shows and rainy-day matinees and can also opt for a pre-show catered dinner.
While you're in a Dickensian mood, begin your holiday gift shopping at Fenwick Island's all-purpose emporium, the Seaside Country Store (1208 Coastal Hwy., 302-539-6110, open 'til 10 p.m.). Famous for its fresh fudge and kicky cheese spread, the store packs an entire mall's worth of goodies and gifts into two floors, including a Christmas shop upstairs.
Strut Your Smarts
Round up your wiseacre friends for Team Trivia nights on Tuesdays at Smitty McGee's Raw Bar & Restaurant (Route 54, West Fenwick Island, 302-436-4716). Discounted "Yuengs" and wings will help you (or not) with the brain challenges.
Keep It Sweet
From longtime favorites like Dickey's Frozen Custard (97 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach) to newcomer The Blue Scoop (Bayside Village Town Center, West Fenwick Island, 302-436-1166), your cone may runneth over this summer. Have Dickey's coat your twisty soft-serve in a layer of chocolate or order one of Blue Scoop's sundaes smothered in locally grown peaches. If you're craving snowballs, Bonkey's (35849 Atlantic Ave., Millville, 302-260-2471) has scores of flavors. Or order one "stuffed" atop a scoop of ice cream. On Indian River Bay, Serendipity (32580 River Rd., Oak Orchard, 302-945-3600) is known for its gourmet caramel-coated apples.
Dine On Deck
Surrounded by the sea and Little Assawoman Bay, Fenwick Island is one of our favorite outdoor dining spots at sunset. Order a drink to match the horizon's hue and a platter o' fresh seafood at Harpoon Hanna's (Route 54 and the bay, 302-539-3095), pictured, where tropical oasis meets modern sports bar. Catch 54 (Route 54 and Madison Ave., 302-436-8600) has a split-level personality: a fine-dining lounge upstairs, shabby-chic fish house below. Both have great views, but you'll find us below decks inhaling fish tacos with spicy mayo.
Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach & Lewes
When the sun sinks over Rehoboth Bay, it's party time in Dewey Beach. Most nightclubs attract a young (or forever young), energetic crowd, fueled by liquids frozen and potent. A quickie guide to dancing hotspots and what you'll enjoy and imbibe: The Lighthouse (Ruddertowne, 124 Dickinson St., 302-227-4333): a raw bar and Orange Crushes; Northbeach (125 McKinley St., 302-226-8673): dancing and a drink concoction called a Dewey Devil; Ponos (1306 Highway One, 302-227-3119): a light show and martinis; Rusty Rudder (113 Dickinson St., 302-227-3888): deck parties and Sunset Sippers; The Starboard (2009 Highway One, 302-227-4600), pictured: a collegiate vibe and Grapefruit Crushes.
Paddle At Sunset
Here's a hot new way to watch the sun cool down: Hawaiian-style by leisurely paddling on an extra-wide (31 inches), stand-on-top surfboard (aka paddle board). DelMarVa Board Sport Adventures offers guided Stand Up Paddling (SUP) excursions nightly from Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes (and other locales). Leave 90 minutes before sunset, paddle along calm waters, and then return as the moon rises. Dolphin sightings are common. Trips cater to beginners. Reservations required, 301-651-0542, delmarvaboardsports.com.
Step Back In Time
Give the kids a history lesson Xbox can't offer: a lantern-lit tour of a real World War II artillery battery. Several times a month, uniformed interpreters lead night visitors through forsaken Fort Miles, once a heavily armed outpost that defended the coastline 24/7. Part of Cape Henlopen State Park now, the old bunkers, gun batteries, and barracks set among windswept dunes, form a haunting backdrop for your foray. Tour cost, $5 per person; awesomeness factor, priceless. Advance registration required, 302-645-6852; for tour dates, destateparks.com/attractions/fort-miles.
Organize a chocoholics' pleasure hunt for temptation in all its forms. Alcoholic: the Chocolate Cherry, a grown-up ice cream float (chocolate and cherry vodkas, cherry juice, chocolate syrup, and vanilla ice cream) at Irish Eyes Pub (213 Anglers Rd., Lewes, 302-645-6888). Frozen: rich Dutch chocolate ice cream (dark chocolate with dark chocolate chunks) at King's Homemade Ice Cream (201 Second St., Lewes, 302-645-9425). Fruity: the Monster Apple, a juicy Granny Smith wrapped in caramel, roasted pecans, and rich chocolate, at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (Tanger Outlets, Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-0422). Guiltless: Chocolate Zen, an award-winning European-style dark chocolate gelato from Gelato Gal (20200 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-1001). Nostalgic: a "fancy-pants version" of the childhood favorite Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes featuring PB mousse-filled brown-butter pound cake with chocolate malt ganache at Salt Air Kitchen (50 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-2444).
Croon A Tune
Karaoke isn't merely a once-a-week special in Rehoboth Beach; it's a campy culture. Check out these hotspots: Frogg Pond Tavern (3 S. First St., 302-227-2234), Tuesday and Thursday nights; the Purple Parrot (134 Rehoboth Ave., 302-226-1139), Friday and Saturday nights; and Rigby's Bar & Grill (404 Rehoboth Ave., 302-227-6080), Monday nights.
Marvelous seaside state parks bookend Rehoboth and Dewey beaches: Delaware Seashore (Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-2800) to the south and Cape Henlopen (Cape Henlopen Dr., Lewes, 302-645-8983) to the north. Although both beaches close at sunset, they allow nature-lovers a peek at nocturnal goings-on via programs guided by naturalists. Bring your flashlight and go ghost-crab spotting or stretch out on the sand to enjoy a narrated look at the night sky. Advance registration required (destateparks.com).
Tour The Collective
On the second Saturday of the month, the Rehoboth Beach Gallery Collective (known as Mosaic) holds Art Walks from 6 to 9 p.m. as member galleries host special exhibits and receptions. View and buy paintings, jewelry, sculpture, glassworks, furnishings, and photography—everything from nautical paintings to funky furniture. Visit rehobothmosaic.com.
Drive Like Crazy
Not on Route One (it's usually gridlocked), but at one of the go-kart tracks along Route One in Rehoboth Beach. Midway Speedway Park (18645 Coastal Hwy., 302-644-2042) offers the most choices: five different tracks—including slick, banked, and super-8 track—and 10-kart styles for speed demons of all ages. Crocodile Mile, a track at Jungle Jim's (36944 Country Club Rd., 302-227-8444), is a nifty pint-sized version of the "Monster Mile," Dover International Speedway's NASCAR track 40 miles up the road.
Catch Live Music
Try these music varieties paired with the perfect potable: Bottle & Cork (1807 Highway One, Dewey Beach, 302-227-7272): top-notch performers from the Avett Brothers to Lifehouse with cold brews; Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats (320 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 302-226-2739), pictured: blues, roots rock, and offbeat (acoustic-surfer-folk-rock, anyone?) with house-brewed IPAs; Zogg's Raw Bar + Grill (1 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-7660): steel drum bands and Rum Runners. Or skip the alcohol and find a seat at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand, pictured left, for free concerts all summer long.