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Is It Time to Reconsider Dewey Beach?

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Is It Time to Reconsider Dewey Beach?


By Dave Eppes

Local Realtors will tell you that there has always been a price premium for Rehoboth Beach when compared to Dewey Beach.  The main reason is Dewey’s reputation as a party town.  I have owned homes in Dewey Beach since 1988, so I feel as if I know a thing or two about life in Dewey Beach.

Thinking back, the “Party Town” reputation was richly deserved.  In the early years I am quite sure I was part of the problem.  The beach was an open keg party on weekends.  My friends and I would partake on the beach all day, close a local bar and then head to Grottos to end our night.  I’m sure we disturbed more than our share of neighbors!  Thankfully, drinking on the beach during the summer season was outlawed in the 80’s, and my liver is forever grateful.

After marrying and having children of my own, I decided to become part of the solution to making Dewey Beach a more family friendly environment by supporting local law enforcement initiatives. I was lucky – as I grew up, Dewey Beach was growing up with me.  I was recently chatting with one local business owner and we had both noticed the same thing this season – Dewey Beach is crawling with children and families!  Not just on weekdays, but all week long.  In the ocean block of McKinley Street, where I live, owner-occupants and family rentals dominate.  Most of us know each other and it is very much a neighborhood feel.  It is very comforting to see how our town has transitioned and continues to do so. Turnstone has recently built new homes on Hayden, Chicago, St. Louis, Bayard and Cullen streets.

Don’t get me wrong – Turnstone loves building in Rehoboth, Lewes and Bethany and we have no doubt that these quieter communities will remain the preferred option for most buyers.  But Dewey Beach is growing in popularity.  For someone considering a home at the beach it is probably time to reconsider Dewey Beach.  Here are the main reasons why this town should remain on your radar:



Rehoboth Beach has made a concerted effort to foster its small-town charm and dissuade construction of “McMansions”. The result has been significant restrictions on what you can build on a standard 50 X 100 lot.  Rehoboth is also attempting to maintain and enhance its tree canopy resulting in extensive restrictions on removing trees.  While Dewey does have a floor area ratio restriction it is much more generous than in Rehoboth.  The biggest house you can build today on a standard Rehoboth lot is about 2,800 square feet.  That’s plenty for most people, but large families often want more.   In Dewey that same lot can support  between 4,500 to 6,000 square feet of living space depending on the lot’s zoning.  Dewey is also more generous about how big your driveway can be which is a big deal when you are entertaining family and friends.  One downside is Dewey does charge a steep building permit fee equal to 3% of building cost.



Dewey’s motto is “A Way of Life”, but it is really two ways of life – one on sand and one on the water. The Rehoboth Bay is always alive with boats, jet skis, paddle boards, kayaks, kite boarders, sailboats and so one.    Regretfully my family did not discover the boating life until about 10 years ago.  Now it is a staple of our summer weekends.  Having the ocean, bay and marinas all an easy walk from any location in Dewey Beach is a luxury that is hard to replicate.  Although it’s called the Rehoboth Bay, there are no public marinas in Rehoboth from which you can access the bay.  Dewey features two large marinas where boat owners can lease slips on an annual basis.  If you’re a boat owner, or think you may want to be someday, you should consider Dewey Beach for your new home.



Unlike Rehoboth, Dewey Beach allows beach bonfires (permit required) and kids love bonfires!  I can’t even count all the fires we had when my kids were growing up.  Eating s’mores, listening to the Beach Boys and throwing/wearing glow sticks are forever ingrained in their childhood memories.  On Monday nights the town shows a kid movie on the beach at Dagsworthy Street.  Dewey is generally more lenient about throwing footballs and Frisbees than the other resort towns although this is at the discretion of the lifeguards.  The town recently issued a permit for a putt-putt course to be constructed on Route 1.  Skim board camps and sailing lessons are all within walking distance.  And of course, kids love boating and tubing.  Oh, and when your kids get a little older they will visit you often because twenty and thirty somethings all want to be in Dewey for the nightlife!



Every day at 5:00 pm the lifeguards blow their whistles signifying the end of their shift.  I’ve never actually witnessed it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some “Dewey dogs” who are conditioned to grab their leashes when they hear those whistles.  Within 30 minutes there is a big dog party on the beach!  Dogs are allowed on the beach year-round, but only before 9:30 and after 5:30 in the summer season.  They do not have to be on a leash but must be “under your control”. 

Rehoboth and Bethany forbid dogs on the beach at any time during the summer season.  Your four-legged friend will be very happy that you chose Dewey Beach!



Dewey has plenty of easily walkable dining options.  Although Two Seas is the only true fine dining available, there are several great options for more casual fare with more popping up every year.  Best crab cakes in Delaware – Woody’s.  Great food with a healthy flair – Gary’s. Oysters and a martini – Starboard Raw.  Best burgers at the beach – Hammerheads.  Hawaiian themed fare with live music – Nalu.  I could go on and on.  Let’s be honest though - Dewey will probably never have the breadth of fine dining options that Rehoboth can offer.  But thanks to Uber and Lyft you can be walking in the door of any Rehoboth restaurant within fifteen minutes, and never have to jump behind the wheel and worry about the parking hassles of Rehoboth Beach. 



Even though I’m an old creaker now, I still enjoy live music.  The ability to walk over to the Cork, Rudder or Starboard and catch a set on a whim is a major feature for me.  The Bottle & Cork Jam Session on Saturday afternoons is an all ages affair and still a social phenomenon.  Same with Love Seed at the Rudder on Thursday nights, Wednesday nights at the Starboard and Sunday Funday at North Beach.  As I write this there is a line around the block to see the country act Aaron Lewis at the Bottle & Cork.  Aside from great music, some of the venues are located on the best real estate in Sussex County.  Great tunes, a refreshing cocktail, breathtaking sunsets, a cool bay breeze and a seat overlooking the Rehoboth Bay is something that Rehoboth will never be able to offer! 



Ocean block residents generally agree that not having a boardwalk is a net positive.  If we want the boardwalk, we’ll jump on the Jolly Trolley or grab an Uber to Rehoboth.  But not having the crowds, parking hassles, noise and smells of the boardwalk thrust upon us every day is something we can happily accept. 



The northern third of Dewey is often referred to as Rehoboth by the Sea.  With no commercial zoning, this area has a totally different feel.  It is quieter and more reminiscent of the quintessential beach neighborhood.  Walk or bike south and you are quickly in Dewey, head north and you’re in downtown Rehoboth in no time.  Most of the lots in Rehoboth by the Sea are on leased land, but the availability of very long-term leases makes building a new home there a viable option. 



Rehoboth, Lewes and Bethany are wonderful beach towns, each with their own unique character and offerings.  But, for a significant subset of beach buyers, Dewey might just be where you will be happiest.  It’s definitely worth exploring!  Call me if you would like to learn more about this special place I call home. 302-227-8876