By Marty LeGrand
Opening photo by Jon Bilous

Travel & Outdoors

Water, Water, Everywhere

We've rounded up 12 destinations—from seashores to spas—where H2O is the way to go.

By Marty LeGrand | Opening photo by Jon Bilous

Wherever you’re headed this summer, chances are you know the formula for a relaxing getaway: Just add water. Salty or fresh, briny or chlorinated, water revives our spirits and refreshes our bodies. It eases the summer sun’s intensity. It’s why swimming, boating, surfing, and waterparks were invented. We’ve rounded up 12 destinations—from seashores to spas—where H2O is the way to go.

All beach towns boast sun, sand, and surf, but within those parameters, there’s plenty of diversity. So whether you’re looking for quaintness and quietude (Cape May) or vibrancy and variety (Virginia Beach), we’ve got an oceanside oasis to recommend. Oh, and if you think we forgot about Ocean City, then you must not know us, hon.


On the beach and an Orange Crush in Ocean City.

On the beach and an Orange Crush in Ocean City.

Ocean City

Go: Baltimore’s go-to getaway is better than ever, the pulsing beat of its neon nightlife matched only by the lulling rhythm of the rolling Atlantic surf.

Stay: Watch the sunrise from your balcony at stately Dunes Manor Hotel & Suites (2800 Baltimore Ave., 800-623-8188).

Enjoy family-friendly benefits (full kitchens, kids’ activity pool) at Hilton Ocean City Oceanfront Suites (3200 Baltimore Ave., 410-289-6444).

New oceanfront suites at Hotel Monte Carlo & Suites (11th St., 410-289-7101) will open this summer, as will two bayside Marriott hotels, Residence Inn (300 Seabay Lane, 410-723-2222) and Fairfield Inn & Suites (2501 Philadelphia Ave., 410-289-5000).

Driving Distance: 147 miles, 3 hours (via Route 50); 179 miles, 3.5 hours (via I-95 and Route 1)

Best Beach: North Division Street (more elbow room)

Eat/Drink: Try the crab bisque at foodie fave Hooked (8003 Coastal Hwy., 410-723-4665) or duck tacos at Shotti’s Point (3505 Coastal Hwy., 410-390-3951), the Federal Hill sports bar’s new O.C. location.

NFL fans will cheer Northside Pit & Pub (12701 Coastal Hwy., 443-664-7482), an offshoot of the original barbecue emporium/Ravens bar, and expansion of Steelers haven Buxy’s Salty Dog Saloon (2707 Philadelphia Ave., 410-289-0973) to include Dry Dock 28, a craft pizza restaurant.

And don’t forget the classics: an Orange Crush at Harborside Bar & Grill (12841 S. Harbor Road, 410-213-1846) and Thrasher’s French Fries on the boardwalk (401 S. Atlantic Ave. #1, 410-289-7232).

Do: Jolly Roger at the Pier’s latest diabolical ride, the Kraken (401 S. Atlantic Ave., 410-289-3031), is a tentacled contraption that whips riders over the water. The new (and free) 100 Nights of Lights is a nightly music-and-searchlight show that illuminates the boardwalk’s southern skyline.

On Aug. 23, Maryland’s quintessential beach resort and America’s quintessential beach band team up when Mike Love and the latter-day Beach Boys perform at the convention center (4001 Coastal Hwy., 800-745-3000).


Cape May architecture and the Cape May Lighthouse.

Cape May architecture and the Cape May Lighthouse.

Cape May, New Jersey

Go: This Atlantic-cooled island off the southern tip of New Jersey is America’s oldest seaside resort and a well-preserved Victorian magic kingdom of grand hotels, gaslights, and gingerbread houses.

Stay: Vacation in Gilded Age grandeur at the 200-year-old oceanfront hotel Congress Hall (200 Congress Place, 609-884-8421), or the Queen Victoria Bed & Breakfast (102 Ocean St., 609-884-8702).

Foodies will enjoy Carroll Villa Hotel (19 Jackson St., 609-884-9619), a boutique inn that’s home to Cape May’s trailblazing restaurant, The Mad Batter (609-884-5970).

Driving Distance: 154 miles, 3 hours

Best Beach: The Cove (good surfing, great views)

Eat/Drink: A buttermilk short stack at The Mad Batter (as in pancake) is a no-brainer.

Check the chalkboard for locally sourced lunch specials at cozy Louisa’s Café (104 Jackson St., 609-884-5882).

Afternoon tea is an actual thing in Cape May, so swing by Carriage House Café & Tearoom (1048 Washington St., 609-884-5404) for a cuppa and a scone.

Or go hang with surfers and lifeguards at The Rusty Nail (205 Beach Ave., 609-884-0017), a pooch-welcoming beach bar.

Line up at Enfin Farms’ roadside stand for fabulous artisanal breads baked by a 2017 James Beard Award nominee (609 Sunset Blvd., 609-884-1277).

Do: Savor some suds on a free tour of Cape May Brewery (1288 Hornet Road at Cape May Airport, 609-849-9933).

Don’t miss the mansion-turned-museum Emlen Physick Estate (1048 Washington St., 609-884-5404), the circa-1850s Cape May Lighthouse in Cape May Point State Park (609-224-6066), or the guided trolley tours that explain town history (609-884-5404).


Fresh brew at Three Ships Coffee in Virginia Beach, Bald Cypress Trail in First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, The Cavalier in Virginia Beach.

Fresh brew at Three Ships Coffee in Virginia Beach, The Cavalier in Virginia Beach, Bald Cypress Trail in First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Go: In addition to being Virginia’s largest city, Virginia Beach is situated on the horn of Virginia, allowing it to offer shores on both the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. These sandy stretches include three miles of resort beach and boardwalk known as “the strip.”

Stay: Enjoy seaside rooms and dining at Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront (3315 Atlantic Ave., 757-305-9000). Beach Spa B&B (2420 Arctic Ave., 757-578-1008) offers hearty breakfasts and an array of spa services just blocks from the beach.

The much-anticipated reopening of The Cavalier (4200 Atlantic Ave., 757-425-8555) is slated for early fall, following a $75-million restoration of the Y-shaped oceanfront hotel.

Driving Distance: 254 miles, 5 hours

Best Beach: Oceanfront (wide and clean, with a separate boardwalk and bike lane)

Eat/Drink: For fresh seafood and local charm, try Tautog’s Restaurant (205 23rd St., 757-422-0081), housed in a renovated cottage near the boardwalk.

Locals treasure Three Ships Coffee (607 19th St., 757-321-9371), a coffee bar/roastery in the city’s arts district.

On the strip, The Bee & The Biscuit (1785 Princess Anne Road, 757-689-6243) serves delicious brunch fare in a cozy setting.

Do: Take a dolphin-watching boat tour from Rudee Tours (Rudee Inlet, 200 Winston Salem Ave., 757-425-3400) or head to the nearby Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center (717 General Booth Blvd., 757-385-3474) to see aquatic life in a more controlled environment.

Save time to visit Sandbridge, an isolated barrier peninsula adjoined by Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (4005 Sandpiper Road, 757-301-7329).

And be sure to squeeze in a wade at First Landing State Park (2500 Shore Dr., 757-412-2300), a historic stretch of Chesapeake Bay shoreline where English colonists first set foot in 1607.

  • GO WITH THE FLOW

    Not sure which destination is right for you? Follow the flow chart to find your vacation paradise.

    Tap to Expand

The natural setting for summer camps, lakes summon childhood memories of sailboats, swimming, and s’mores by the campfire. Our picks feature resort-based adventure (Deep Creek Lake) and elegant lodging and dining (Lake Wallenpaupack). Or, for a bit of both, take the waters at medicinal springs that have a presidential pedigree (Hot Springs).


Deep Creek Lake, ice cream from Lakeside Creamery at Deep Creek Lake.

Deep Creek Lake, ice cream from Lakeside Creamery at Deep Creek Lake.

Deep Creek Lake

Go: Maryland’s largest lake buzzes with powerboats and Jet Skis, while numerous coves provide quiet water for swimming, kayaking, dock fishing, or lake-watching from a porch rocker. Mountain breezes keep things cool, and come July 4, DCL celebrates with a boat parade and Fire on the Mountain, a pyrotechnic display from atop Wisp’s summit. Doesn’t get much more Appalachian all-American than that.

Stay: Under new management, Lake Pointe Inn (174 Lake Pointe Dr., McHenry, 301-387-0111) provides luxury B&B accommodations on the lakefront. Lake cruises are a popular guest perk.

Rooms at LakeStar Lodge (2001 Deep Creek Dr., McHenry, 301-387-5596) offer lake and mountain views and décor by local artisans.

The sustainably built hillside cabins at Blue Moon Rising (89 Blue Moon Rising Way, McHenry, 240-442-5287) feature cozy kitchens and quirky architecture.

Driving Distance: 179 miles, 3 hours

Public Beach: Deep Creek Lake State Park (with picnic area, boat launch)

Eat/Drink: Wood-fired flatbread pizzas, microbrews, and mountain views make Mountain State Brewing Co. (6690 Sang Run Road, McHenry, 301-387-3360) a popular hangout.

Tackle the titanic Marsh Mountain Burger (with fried pickles, candied bacon, a fried egg, and more) at Ace’s Run (20160 Garrett Hwy., Oakland, 301-387-6688).

Chocoholics will dig Lakeside Creamery’s Muddy Creek sundae (20282 Garrett Hwy., Oakland, 301-387-2580).

And remember, it’s not a Deep Creek Lake vacation until you’ve quaffed a blended frozen drink at Honi-Honi Bar (19745 Garrett Hwy., Oakland, 301-387-9100).

Do: Wisp Resort Mountain Coaster is a thrilling, 28-mph ride down 3,500 feet of mountain slope (296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, 301-859-3159).

Speaking of inclines, June’s Garrett County Gran Fondo (garrettcountygranfondo.org) is a slate of cycling races up and down Western Maryland’s peaks. Races range in length from the manageable 25-mile Garrett’s Greatest 25 to the are-you-kidding-me? 200-kilometer Diabolical Double.


The Ledges Hotel near Lake Wallenpaupack, horseback riding, and blueberries at Paupack Blueberry Farm.

The Ledges Hotel near Lake Wallenpaupack, horseback riding, and blueberries at Paupack Blueberry Farm.

Lake Wallenpaupack, Pennsylvania

Go: Nestled in the lake-studded Poconos, the 13-mile-long Big Lake features swimming, fishing, Jet Skiing, parasailing, paddleboarding, and just about any other water sport you can think of. Six recreation areas also beckon campers, hikers, and friends of the forest. Protip: Stop first at Pocono Mountains Visitors Center (2512 Route 6, Hawley, 570-226-2141) for maps, info, and even free loaner fishing gear.

Stay: The posh adults’ spa The Lodge at Woodloch (109 River Birch Lane, Hawley, 800-WOODLOCH) offers nature-based stress relief with botanical treatments, aqua garden soaking pools, and a new float therapy cabin.

Its sister lodgings, Woodloch Resort (731 Welcome Lake Road, Hawley, 800-966-3562), accommodate families beside a private lake.

In town, the boutique Ledges Hotel (119 Falls Ave., Hawley, 570-226-1337) occupies an 1890 glass factory overlooking a stunning waterfall.

Driving Distance: 232 miles, 3.5 hours (via I-83 and I-81); 226 miles, 4 hours (via I-95 and I-476)

Public Beach: Palmyra Township Beach (lifeguards, plus 1.8-mile lakeside trail)

Eat/Drink: Sample locally sourced entrees like lamb with blackberry-red wine sauce at Pocono Restaurant in the English Arts & Crafts-style Settlers Inn (4 Main Ave., Hawley, 570-226-2993).

Casual, nautically themed The Dock on Wallenpaupack (205 Route 507, Hawley, 570-226-2124) serves fresh seafood and classic comfort foods. Enjoy river gorge-ous views and savory small plates at Glass, the Ledges Hotel’s wine/tapas bar.

For simple sweetness, visit Paupack Blueberry Farm (184 Gumbletown Road, Paupack, 570-226-9702), which offers pick-your-own fruit, baked goods, and ice cream.

Do: A local history-and-scenery cruise with Wallenpaupack Scenic Boat Tours (2487 Route 6, Hawley, 570-226-3293) provides a great introduction to the area.

Wally Lake Fest, a summer’s-end blowout Aug. 25-27, includes a regatta, a boat parade, and Wallypalooza floating-stage concerts.


Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs, Lake Wallenpaupack sunset.

Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs, Lake Wallenpaupack sunset.

Hot Springs, Virginia

Go: There’s a reason 23 U.S. presidents (and lots of regular Joes) have journeyed to this Allegheny Highlands hamlet since 1766. Its mineral-rich, naturally warmed springs are the stuff of naturopathic legend.

Stay: The Omni Homestead Resort (7696 Sam Snead Hwy., 800-838-1766) operates two springs: its luxurious on-site spa garden and the historic Jefferson Pools in nearby Warm Springs, named for VIP soaker Thomas Jefferson. A destination resort, the 2,000-acre Omni Homestead offers 483 rooms and suites, indoor and outdoor spas, two championship golf courses, and a host of activities that includes a new zipline tour.

The spas are the main attraction, especially the Serenity Garden, an adults-only retreat featuring the famous geothermal pools and a soothing river-stone reflexology walk. Indoors, the Aqua Thermal Suite offers multi-sensory showers and ah-inducing treatments like the Herbal Cocoon (spa appointments: 877-479-8517).

Driving Distance: 249 miles, 4.5 hours (via I-70 and I-81); 256 miles, 5 hours (via I-95 and I-64)

Classic Spa Treatment: The Homestead’s 50-minute Mineral Springs Mud Wrap

Eat/Drink: Choose from Homestead’s numerous venues. The jackets-for-gentlemen Main Dining Room (540-839-7563) serves classical fare (Châteaubriand, trout almondine) and the Gold Brick Sundae, an irresistible mountain of vanilla ice cream mud-wrapped in a decadent, hard-chocolate shell.

Sample Southern-influenced farm-to-table cuisine at Jefferson’s Restaurant & Bar (540-839-7552). Other options include a popular pizzeria housed in an 1893 casino, a coffee shop with house-made doughnuts, a links-side eatery offering “golf-inspired comfort food,” and small plates at the lobby bar.

Do: A time-honored, POTUS-approved Jefferson Soak at Jefferson Pools bathhouses (11 Bath St., Warm Springs, 800-838-1766) is a must.

For a night out, check the calendar at the Garth Newel Music Center (403 Garth Newel Lane, 540-839-5018), a year-round chamber music venue with a house piano quartet and frequent guest performers.

  • Take Flight: 8 Great Getaways

    We get it. Your wanderlust pushes you beyond local boundaries. Leave your car behind and expand your vacation horizons with a nonstop flight from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport to one of these watery destinations. You’ll be in new waters before you can say “Marco Polo.”

    Tap to Expand

When the nation’s largest estuary is your next-door neighbor, why wouldn’t you indulge in its briny waters, blue crabs, and boating lifestyle? Whether it’s a fashionable Eastern Shore retreat (St. Michaels), a Western Shore boaters’ mecca (Solomons Island), or a historic hamlet in Tidewater Virginia (Irvington), the Chesapeake Bay makes for a refreshing staycation.


Chesapeake Restaurant at The Tides Inn in St. Michaels.

St. Michaels

Go: If the Chesapeake Bay is indeed The Land of Pleasant Living, this Eastern Shore town could be its capital. Home to a genteel world-class resort and second home to many urbanites, laid-back-but-sophisticated St. Michaels showcases bay culture, cuisine, and history.

Stay: Facing the Miles River, The Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond (308 Watkins Lane, 410-745-2200) provides deluxe accommodations, landscaped gardens, a fine-dining restaurant, and a spa/fitness center.

One of several old homes-turned-B&Bs, The Old Brick Inn (401 S. Talbot St., 410-745-3323) offers elegant guestrooms and an innkeeper-curated selection of bottled wines.

The water views from Black Walnut Point Inn’s cozy cabins are stunning (4417 Black Walnut Point Road, Tilghman Island, 410-886-2452).

Driving Distance: 79.5 miles, 1.5 hours

Best Boat Trip: Let Capt. Ed regale you with bay factoids and lore on a cruise by Chesapeake Skipjack Sailing Tours (213 N. Talbot St., 410-745-6080).

Eat/Drink: Gina’s Café (601 S. Talbot St., 410-745-6400) is a tiny jewel with a bohemian vibe and Southwestern fare, including to-die-for seafood nachos heaped with crabmeat.

Bistro St. Michaels (403 S. Talbot St., 410-745-9111) serves creative New American cuisine with Parisian ambience.

Get steamed bay crabs, steamed clams, and Eastern Shore sides at The Crab Claw (304 Burns St., 410-745-2900).

Or take the historic Oxford-Bellevue Ferry to renowned chef Mark Salter’s Robert Morris Inn (314 N. Morris St., Oxford, 410-226-5111) for gourmet Chesapeake fare.

Do: The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (213 N. Talbot St., 410-745-2916) and its Hooper Strait Lighthouse are must-sees.

Afterward, stroll Talbot Street—which is lined with intriguing shops, cafes, and historic homes—and then sample small-batch rums and whiskeys on a tour of Lyon Distilling Co. (605 S. Talbot St. #6, 443-333-9181).


Golf course at The Tides Inn in Irvington, Solomons Victorian Inn on Solomons Island, and Cove Point Lighthouse on Solomons Island.

Golf course at The Tides Inn in Irvington Solomons Victorian Inn on Solomons Island, and Cove Point Lighthouse on Solomons Island.

Solomons Island

Go: Piers filled with recreational and fishing boats, a major maritime museum and historic seafood plant, and a nearby naval air station give this small island on the lower Patuxent River its nautical flavor.

Stay: Enjoy an elegant respite and three-course breakfast at Solomons Victorian Inn (125 Charles St., 410-326-4811), once a yacht-builder’s mansion.

Facing a quiet cove, Back Creek Inn (210 Alexander Lane, 410-326-2022) features lovely gardens, charming rooms, and full country breakfasts.

Sleep with history: Rent the restored and modernized light-keeper’s lodgings at the 1828 Cove Point Lighthouse (3500 Lighthouse Blvd., Lusby, 410-326-2042, ext. 17).

Driving Distance: 82 miles, 1.5 hours

Best Boat Trip: Wm. B. Tennison (410-326-2042, ext. 41), the Calvert Marine Museum’s vintage oyster dredge boat takes passengers on a 1-hour tour past Solomons Island’s harbor, the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge.

Eat/Drink: Intimate C.D. Café (14350 Solomons Island Road, 410-326-3877) serves innovative seafood like grilled ahi tuna with grilled shrimp chimichurri.

Try the scallop and crab entree at yachting-themed Dry Dock Restaurant (245 C St., 410-326-4817).

Lotus Kitchen (14618 Solomons Island Road, 410-326-8469) is a local favorite for breakfast, lunch, light dinner, and killer Key lime pie.

Slake your thirst with Ruddy Duck Brewery’s seasonal ales (13200 Dowell Road, Dowell, 410-394-3825) or mai tais at imbibers’ mecca The Tiki Bar (85 Charles St., 410-326-4075).

Do: Hunt for fossilized sharks’ teeth at Calvert Cliffs State Park beach (10540 H.G. Trueman Road, Lusby, 301-743-7613).

Explore more recent history at the Calvert Marine Museum (14200 Solomons Island Road, 410-326-2042), where you can tour two lighthouses, watch boat-builders, learn about local seafood processing, and observe playful river otters.


Corkscrew sculptures greet you at The Dog and Oyster Vineyard in Irvington, the marina in St. Michaels.

corkscrew sculptures greet you at The Dog and Oyster vineyard in Irvington, the marina in St. Michaels

Irvington, Virginia

Go: A steamboat stop in the 1800s, this small town on Virginia’s Northern Neck has become a popular destination once more. It is home to a world-class resort catering to golfers, boaters, and spa-goers, and to one of the East Coast’s most romantic inns.

Stay: The Hope and Glory Inn (65 Tavern Road, 804-438-6053) offers three ultra-romantic lodgings: cheery rooms in an 1890s schoolhouse, garden cottages on the schoolhouse grounds, and “tents”—Gothic-style cottages—at the inn’s vineyard.

On beautiful Carter’s Creek, The Tides Inn (480 King Carter Dr., 800-843-3746) boasts spacious rooms and suites, a deep-water marina, an 18-hole golf course, a full-service spa, and activities from s’more roasts to on-site sailing lessons.

Driving Distance: 157 miles, 3 hours (via Route 3E)

Best Boat Trip: Faded Glory, Hope and Glory Inn’s classic Chesapeake workboat (804-438-6053), takes passengers for cruises along the town’s “main street,” aka Carter’s Creek.

Eat/Drink: The Tides Inn’s Chesapeake Restaurant (804-438-4489) offers fresh seafood, Southern hospitality, and splendid creek views.

Under new ownership, Trick Dog Bar & Bistro (4357 Irvington Road, 804-438-6363) upholds its reputation for refined local dining.

Hope and Glory Inn’s Dining Hall (804-438-6053) serves locally sourced, fixed-price dinners, and its vineyard, The Dog and Oyster (170 White Fences Dr., 804-438-9463), serves award-winning wines paired with Byrd’s Seafood Co.’s fresh seafood, like Rappahannock River oysters.

Do: The Dog and Oyster is but one of the many wine-producing properties in the region. Visit others on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail (chesapeakebaywinetrail.com). Attractions like the Steamboat Era Museum (156 King Carter Dr., 804-438-6888) and the 1735 Christ Church (420 Christ Church Road, Weems, 804-438-6855) reflect rich Tidewater history.

The first Saturday of each month, shop the Irvington Farmers Market (98 King Carter Dr., 804-480-0697) for artisanal food products, handmade crafts, furniture, clothing, and local art. The 100-vendor-strong marketplace, which also offers live music, was voted the best farmers’ market on Virginia’s East Coast in 2015 by Virginia Living magazine.

On sultry afternoons, there’s nothing more refreshing than hours of immersion at one of the region’s ultra-cool waterparks. Foster family togetherness at an all-in-one destination (Hershey), double dip at the seashore (Rehoboth Beach), or mix leisure and learning (Williamsburg). Just be sure to take the plunge this summer.


Hersheypark, treatment products at The Spa at The Hotel Hershey.

Hersheypark, treatment products at The Spa at The Hotel Hershey.

Hershey, Pennsylvania

Go: The Boardwalk, the beach-themed aqua-musement portion of Hersheypark (100 W. Hersheypark Dr., 717-534-3900), offers Chocolate City visitors more than a dozen ways to keep it chill: wave pools, water slides, a lazy river, waterworks, a bodyboard wave, and five twisty tube rides with names like Vortex and Whirlwind. Hersheypark admission includes Boardwalk attractions, roller coasters, and other rides, including a new pick-your-thrill-level drop tower.

Stay: The amusement park has two on-site hotels: The Hotel Hershey (100 Hotel Road, 844-330-1711), a luxury resort boasting elegantly appointed rooms, suites, and cottages, and the family-oriented Hershey Lodge (325 University Dr., 844-330-1802), which offers rooms and suites for up to eight guests, plus a kids’ activities pool.

Driving Distance: 90 miles, 1.5 hours

Best Ride: Tidal Force, a wave-spewing splashdown coaster

Eat/Drink: Each hotel provides varied dining options. Try cocoa-dusted scallops at The Circular (717-534-8800), Hotel Hershey’s upscale restaurant overlooking the Hershey Gardens.

End your meal at Harvest (717-534-8800) with the house specialty dark chocolate cream pie.

Fire & Grain (844-330-1802), Hershey Lodge’s newest restaurant, serves re-imagined comfort food. The Bears’ Den is its popular sports bar/grill.

Looking to leave the hotel entirely? Enjoy pub grub and tasting tours at Tröegs Brewing (200 Hersheypark Dr., 717-534-1297).

Do: The Hotel Hershey’s high-end amenities include The Spa at The Hotel Hershey (717-520-5888), which offers the Whipped Cocoa Bath and other chocolate-influenced treatments.

Making your own candy bar at Hershey’s Chocolate World (101 Chocolate World Way, 717-534-4900) seems like an act of edible civic pride.


Dolle’s Candyland in Rehoboth Beach.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Go: Waterparks at the shore might seem superfluous, but Rehoboth’s parks offer a refreshing break from sand and surf. Driving Distance: 121 miles, 2.5 hours (via Route 50); 151 miles, 2.5 hours (via I-95)

Stay: Newly renovated, The Avenue Inn (33 Wilmington Ave., 800-433-5870) offers spacious rooms for couples and families, plus an organic spa and indoor pool.

Kids 14 and under stay free at Oceanus Motel (6 Second St., 302-227-8200), a motel with an outdoor pool close to the beach.

Near Jungle Jim’s and Tanger Outlets, Holiday Inn Express (19953 Shuttle Road, 302-227-4030) gives family discounts: Children 19 and under stay free.

Driving Distance: 82 miles, 1.5 hours

Best Ride: Anaconda, Jungle Jim’s signature serpentine water slide

Eat/Drink: Check out the daily blackboard specials at local favorite Big Fish Grill (20298 Coastal Hwy., 302-227-3474).

Small plates and craft beers are highlights at The Blue Hen (33 Wilmington Ave., 302-278-7842), a new restaurant by two of Rehoboth’s top restaurateurs.

For sweeping views of the Atlantic and the stunning Indian River Inlet Bridge, visit Big Chill Beach Club (27099 Coastal Hwy., Bethany Beach), an outdoor eatery slated to open this summer.

For snacks, keep it casual and munch caramel corn from Dolle’s Candyland (1 Rehoboth Ave., 302-227-0757).

Do: The largest water park, Jungle Jim’s (36944 Country Club Road, 302-227-8444), features a lazy river that meanders past a wave pool/patio, children’s sprayground, tipping buckets, kiddie pool, and several water slides.

White Water Mountain (18645 Coastal Hwy., 302-645-8064) has two pools, spraygrounds, and several water slides.

Letting the kids loose at Shell We Bounce (20699 Coastal Hwy., 302-727-5416), an indoor palace of inflatable bounce houses, should burn off whatever excess energy the waterparks haven’t sapped.


Family fun at Water Country USA in Williamsburg.

Family fun at Water Country USA in Williamsburg.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Go: Better known for its preserved 18th-century village, Williamsburg is also an epicenter of theme-park fun, featuring both the state’s largest waterpark, Water Country USA, and the ever-popular Busch Gardens.

Stay: Golf-centric Kingsmill Resort (1010 Kingsmill Road, 757-253-1703) on the James River offers luxury guestrooms plus multi-room condominiums and riverfront cottages.

Amenities include golf, a spa, a pool/beach/lazy river complex, on-site dining, and free shuttles to the waterpark. Rental villas at Marriott’s Manor Club at Ford’s Colony (101 St. Andrews Dr., 757-258-1120) accommodate families with full kitchens, an activities center, and movie theater.

Driving Distance: 191 miles, 3 hours

Besyt Ride: Colossal Curl, a scream-inducing, multi-person ride with a wicked-high wall

Eat/Drink: Food venues at the theme parks serve light fare, kids’ treats, and frozen drinks. For a grown-up meal, reserve the chef’s table at up-and-comer Cochon on 2nd (311-106 Second St., 757-229-1199) and enjoy a personalized multi-course dinner.

Close to both amusement parks, The Whaling Company (494 McLaws Cir., 757-229-0275) serves fresh seafood in a nautical atmosphere.

In Colonial Williamsburg, order gourmet sandwiches (don’t forget the house dressing) at The Cheese Shop (410 W. Duke of Gloucester St., 757-220-0298).

Do: If you spend a day in Colonial Williamsburg (101 Visitor Center Dr., 888-965-7254), you can tell yourself the vacation had educational value.

Reward your studiousness with a two-park ticket to enjoy Busch Gardens (1 Busch Gardens Blvd., 757-229-4386) and Water Country USA (176 Water Country Pkwy., 757-229-4386), which offers 43 acres of rides, pools, lazy rivers, and children’s splashgrounds. Highlights include a large wave pool, fast- and slow-paced rivers, and Rock ’n’ Roll Island, a family water-adventure center. Popular thrill rides include Big Daddy Falls for tubers and Vanish Point for body sliders.

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