Delaware: A Great First Trip to The First State
After spending day 1 of this trip exploring Baltimore, the next morning it was time to head for Delaware, Maryland’s easterly neighbor. Now, if you ask many people about this tiny Mid-Atlantic state, don’t be surprised if you hear “dela-where?” Although “The First State” isn’t well-known by your average American, several things distinguish it from other places. For starters, there’s no sales tax. That’s right, a $1 cup of coffee will be just that – $1. In addition, many of the other East Coast cities, such as Baltimore and Philadelphia are within a reasonable driving distance. The highway infrastructure looked to be very well-maintained, something that’s always a big plus. To top it all off, it was the first state to ratify the Constitution – hence its nickname. While in The First State, I visited these places – and came away with a great understanding of its past and present.
Delaware Legislative Mall
My first stop in The First State was to the Delaware Legislative Mall, located in the capital city of Dover. Located close to downtown, it is home to various governmental buildings, including the Delaware Legislative Hall and the Old State House. I started off at the Legislative Hall, the current capitol building of The First State.
Inside, both the House and Senate floors and galleries were open to the public. As someone from the nation’s 2nd most-populated state, it was neat seeing the chambers and governmental layout of another state, except this time on a much smaller scale.
Upstairs, the galleries provide a good view of the House and Senate chambers.
In the hallways outside the galleries, portraits of the different governors throughout the state’s history are displayed.
After that, it was off to the Old State House, located across the mall. Along this peaceful 5-minute walk, there were numerous statues and memorials commemorating Delaware’s fallen heroes.
The Old State House looks like nothing more than a small colonial house, but it is much more. Built in 1791, this was Delaware’s first permanent capitol building. It served in this role until 1933, when the Legislature and admin offices were moved to the Legislative Hall.
Inside, you can take a self-guided tour through the different rooms, and see how the government ran back in the early days of the country. Not only was the state government housed here, but Kent County also called this place home for a number of years.
Exhibits upstairs provide the visitor with the history of this building. Volunteers are also on hand to show you around or answer any questions that you may have.
In total, I spent around 40 minutes both at the Legislative Hall and the Old State House. These two places do a great job of highlighting and showcasing the state’s government and its unique history.
Parking: Free, available alongside the Legislative Mall.
Admission Fees: None.
Helpful Tip: Like at most state capitols, prior to entering the Legislative Hall you will be required to go thru airport-style security.
Air Mobility Command Museum
From the capitol, it was off to the other place that Dover is known for – Dover Air Force Base. Although the base is closed to the general public, the Air Mobility Command Museum is open to all and displays a wide variety of aircraft used in the airlift divisions of the USAF.
Opened in 1986, the museum houses over 30 aircraft inside its hangar, as well as on the ramp. The planes here range from various cargo jets to more exotic aircraft like the former Air Force Two!
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It was pretty neat to see this VC-9C sitting on the ramp at Dover Air Force Base. This plane served as Air Force Two for over 30 years, carrying folks like Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Michelle Obama. Presidents Reagan and Bush also used it occasionally as Air Force One while flying into smaller airports.
Several of the planes were open, allowing visitors to head inside and see the layout of these complex machines. While the cockpits are closed(except during certain events like the Open House), you can still peer thru the plexiglass.
After seeing the planes outside, head back inside to see the different static displays that talk about the history and evolution of the Air Mobility Command. Various wars and the role the AMC played in each are covered.
Ever been inside of an airport control tower? If not, you’ll get the chance to do so here. The old tower cab used by Dover AFB was moved here when the new tower got constructed in 2009. With a guide, you are allowed to go upstairs to get a birds-eye view of the ramp and base. Live air traffic control is piped in, and you can hear various military and civilian aircraft talking to the controllers as they fly thru Dover’s airspace.
Speaking of which, the ramp and tower are two perfect spots to watch military jets as they take off and land here at Dover. Prepare to see some heavy metal in action as they support our military’s logistical demands.
Parking: Free, available right outside the entrance.
Admission Fees: None, including visiting the control tower. Donations are appreciated though.
Helpful Tip: The museum is closed on Mondays, so plan accordingly.
While doing my planning for this trip, I had given some serious thought to visiting Rehoboth Beach, located on the southeast side of the state along the Atlantic Ocean. Although I decided to just stick to the attractions in Dover, seeing the signs for the beach and thinking of the relaxation opportunities there as I drove into Delaware made me change my mind. So after getting done at Dover Air Force Base, it was off to Rehoboth! The drive there took about an hour, and the closer we got to this coastal town, the more congested traffic became. This made sense, being that Rehoboth Beach is known as the “The Nation’s Summer Capital”.
After finding a spot to park in front of the many stores surrounding the boardwalk, it was off to explore. The boardwalk boasts a number of restaurants, quick-serve places, and stores, selling everything from ice cream to t-shirts.
I decided to catch up on some reading, and there was no better spot to do that than on the sand. Like at many beaches, umbrellas and chairs were available for rental at a pretty reasonable rate.
With the relatively mild weather, it was a nice few hours spent toes in the sand listening to the Atlantic Ocean waves crash on the shore. As I write this, Texas is experiencing close to 100-degree heat – and it would be nice to be back here.
Parking: Metered, available along the shops surrounding the boardwalk.
Admission Fees: None.
Helpful Tip: if you are renting an umbrella or chair, be sure to bring cash – these folks don’t accept credit cards.
The University of Delaware
Heading back north, my last stop of the day was checking out one of the state’s institutions of higher learning, The University of Delaware.
Located in the city of Newark, the university got its start in 1743, although it wasn’t classified as an institution of higher learning until 1833. UD is the largest university in The First State and offers more than 135 undergraduate degree programs. With an architectural style reminiscent of Ole’ Miss, the school has a pretty beautiful campus.
When I went, the semester was already over and many of the buildings were closed. Normally, this place would be pretty busy – since there are over 24,000 Blue Hens(their mascot) studying here. I did get a glimpse of a typical classroom/lecture hall, though.
Finding parking was a challenge – one thing UD could work on is improving signage for visitors. It was near impossible to determine where the main gate of the school was, although we did locate a spot after 20 minutes or so of just circling around campus.
While I wouldn’t recommend heading up to Newark solely to see the school, if you happen to be around the Wilmington area it’s worth the short detour. Before or after your visit, also stop by the Main Street entertainment district, just north of campus. This “downtown” area is full of restaurants, shops, as well as the university bookstore.
Parking: Parking was free on UD’s campus – the Main Street district had a self-pay lot accessible via an alleyway.
Admission Fees: None.
Helpful Tip: If you are in the mood for some Chinese food, Colorful Yun Nan, located on Main Street is what we had for dinner and was quite delicious. Check out their menu here.
Final Thoughts(aka will I be back?)
Although I arrived in Delaware not knowing anything about this state, it has earned two thumbs up from me. Aside from not levying a sales tax, this state is full of history, sights to see, and friendly people. It’s not packed like California or Florida – and has plenty of East Coast colonial charm. A next trip for me back here might be exploring Dewey Beach, located south of Rehoboth, or Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city. Or hell, maybe just a tax-free shopping spree at their local mall.