There are lots of reasons to head for Delaware in the autumn, from collecting shells and sea glass on the beach to a calendar filled with festivals celebrating music, folk traditions, and beer and wine. Shopping districts in the region’s historic downtowns feature unique stores offering unusual, personal ideas for holiday gifts. And given that Delaware has no sales tax, it’s an added incentive for crossing the Bay Bridge and heading east for some early holiday shopping.
Food and drink are popular themes for the fall festivals. Cheesetoberfest, on Oct. 4 at the Fordham & Dominion Brewery in Dover, is a cardiologist’s nightmare, but it’s a cheese-lover’s nirvana. Restaurants, bakeries, and cheese mongers participate in competitions making grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. (cheeesetoberfest.com)
The following weekend, Oct. 11, is the annual Delaware Wine and Beer Festival in Dover. Now in its fifth year, it’s on the list of the “Top 100 Events in the U.S.” according to the American Bus Association. It is the only event in Delaware that brings together all of the state’s vintners, brewers, and distillers. Both tasting and full pour tickets are available, and there’s a discount admission for designated drivers. This year’s festival features a home brew competition. (delawarewineandbeerfestival.com)
If you can’t wait, take a spin on the new Good Libations Tour that includes two wineries, two breweries, and a distillery in Kent County. Download a free passport at goodlibationstour.com.
Not exactly food, at least not eaten, the internationally famous Punkin Chunkin moves to Dover Speedway, Oct. 24-26. Contestants fire pumpkins from catapults, hoping to break the world record. The contraptions are examples of engineering genius gone berserk, and with hydraulic designs worthy of NASA. Bring earplugs. All the money raised by the crazed chunkers goes to charities. (punkinchunkin.com)
Holiday shopping and entertainment
You can experience history in the first person at the 18th-Century Market Fair on Nov. 1 on The Green in Dover. One of the largest and most interesting living history days anywhere, the fair includes reenactors who create the market fair atmosphere. You’ll also see examples of daily life in the Colonial period by meeting with a cartographer of the pre-GPS age, a tavern keeper, beer brewer, powder horn maker, and linen weaver. Revolutionary War reenactors will demonstrate the military drills of George Washington’s army. (destateparks.com/heritagepark)
As the season moves toward the end-of-the-year holidays, the events take on a more festive feeling. Both Dover and Milford invite visitors to enjoy entertainment and good shopping on Dec. 6. Milford’s restored riverside downtown is worth a visit just to amble through the village. Its shops stay open during the annual Holiday Stroll, and there are carriage rides and entertainment as well. No sales tax in Delaware means you get a gift while buying gifts. Check out the fine art at Live Cheap & Make Art Studios and Gallery 37. Irish Rose has Celtic crafts and gifts and Blooming Boutique has handbags, shoes, and accessories. You’ll find vintage candies and confections, such as fruit slices and Charleston Chews, at Sugar Bee. EcoChic bills itself as an “eco-living boutique.”
Downtown Dover welcomes Santa at the Home for the Holidays parade on Dec. 6. The prior week there will be caroling, tree lighting, and live entertainment. Distinctive merchants in the shopping district include Suds Bar Soap and Essentials, with its array of handmade soaps and toiletries, contemporary crafts at Beyond Dimensions, and Delaware-themed gifts at The Delaware Store. The state’s largest and oldest occult and metaphysical store is Bell, Book, and Candle. There’s even a Farmers Christmas on Dec. 6 at the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover.
Smyrna, about 12 miles north of Dover, is another small market village which has restored its classic downtown and includes interesting small businesses and shops. Painted Stave Distilling, located in a 1940s-era former movie theater, produces handcrafted small batches of spirits: two vodkas, gin, and cornwhiskey. Ronny’s Garden World and Christmas Shop has decorations, greenery, and holiday gifts.
For more information
Kent County Tourism: 800-233-5368, visitdover.com