Best of the East Coast
Where is the best place to take the whole family? How about the best place to start a campfire? How about the best beach? Find out my picks for the best of the east coast.
April is almost over, the days are going longer, and summer will soon be here. Many people will be jumping into their trusty vehicle and heading towards the sandy pleasure of the beach. But which beach is the best? That all depends on what you are looking for. Here are my picks for the best places on the east coast.
Best Family Attraction
Lucy the Elephant, Margate, New Jersey – We start our list off with a destination that could have fallen into many categories, including strangest thing you have ever seen, but it eventually found a home under the Best Family Attraction. This prodigious pachyderm was built in 1881 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Lucy is the world's largest elephant, weighing in at 90 tons and six stories high.
While Lucy is amazing from the outside, you can, for a nominal fee, take a tour of Lucy, from her red, white, and blue toenails up to the howdah on her back. From the main room, you can see the world through Lucy's eyes by looking out the windows that double as her eyeballs. Or, if you prefer to look out another window, you can look out the “pane in her butt.” I should not have to tell you where that is located.
Strangest Museum Display
The Merman, Zwaanendael Museum, Lewes, Delaware – All of the Zwaanendael Museum is amazingly interesting. Lewes tags itself as the first town in the first state, and within the walls of the museum, early town history drips from every crevice. Built in 1931 to commemorate the 300th year since the original settlement was founded, the displays inside include the history of the settlement, as well as displays on whaling off the coast, the wreck of the HM Brig DeBraak, and the Cape Henlopen lighthouse. And then, there is the merman.
If you are familiar with Ripley's Believe It or Not, then you are likely know what type of merman I am talking about. The “Fiji Mermaids” were the creation of PT Barnum, of Barnum and Bailey's Circus fame, and a cohort. Now, you are likely to find them inside a Ripley's museum, not in a museum with some very interesting and historical exhibits. This merman could not be more out of place. They offer no explanation as to why the merman is there. It just simply is.
Best Food and Entertainment
The House of Blues, North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – Bottom line is, there is pretty much always a show either happening or about to happen at the House of Blues, be it a dinner murder mystery, or a more traditional rock and roll show. I highly recommend their Sunday Gospel Brunch, which they've assigned the catchy slogan “Praise the Lord, and pass the biscuits!” And speaking of food, the House of Blues has that, too, focusing mostly on Cajun dishes, but don't let the word “Cajun” scare you away if you don't like spicy food. They have something to satisfy everyone's taste buds.
Ocean City, Maryland – It might not be the longest boardwalk. That would be in Atlantic City, New Jersey at a little over four miles long. Ocean City's boardwalk is just over half that, at around two and a half miles. What it lacks in length, it makes up for in quality. Take your pick of restaurants, including The Dough Roller, which has a fantastic breakfast menu, and you can see the ocean over your breakfast plate. Take your pick of bars, like Shenanigans Irish Pub and Grille. Take your pick of souvenir shops, carnival games, and arcades. The only thing that could top all of this is a 140 foot tall ferris wheel. If you would like something a little more educational, check out the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum at the base of the boardwalk.
Best National Historic Landmark
Cape May, New Jersey – Not one of the buildings, the whole town. That's right. Basically the entire town is one huge national historic landmark. As well it should be, with over 600 homes, commercial buildings, and hotels. The entire town looks like something out of a model railroad. While in town, stop by the Ugly Mug Bar and Restaurant. Be sure to have them tell you the story of the mugs hanging from the ceiling. You should also take the time to drive out to Sunset Beach and see the wreckage of a concrete ship.
Best Free Attraction
NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia – Maybe it does not exactly have the prestige of it's bigger brother at Cape Canaveral, but as a fun, and free, place to take the family, Wallops packs a wallop. Located on Virginia's Eastern Shore, Wallops is the primary facility for all of NASA's suborbital programs, including weather balloons, sounding rockets, and flight research. The visitor's center, as I mentioned before, is free and houses multimedia presentations, fun photo opportunities, and a visitor's center where you can buy space food. Besides all of this, you can see a moon rock, protected inside a display case. Admission is free.
Best Thrill Rides
Wildwood, New Jersey – With two miles of boardwalk containing more amusement rides than Disneyland, it's not hard to see why Wildwood gets the award for best thrill rides, but the fun does not stop at the boardwalk. Three piers, Surfside Pier, Mariner's Landing, and Adventure Pier, have been turned into amusement parks by Morey's Piers. Morey's also operates two beach front water parks, Ocean Oasis and Raging Waters. Plus, you still get the feel of the old Jersey Shore all around you.
Best Ghost Walk
Bulldog Tours, Charleston, South Carolina – Bulldog Tours wins the honor of Best Ghost Walk for two reasons. First, the shirts the guides wear have a saying printed on the back: “If you see me running, it's not part of the tour.” Second, they offer three different ghost walks, each of which focuses around one part of the history of Charleston that only Bulldog tours can show you, because only they have been granted access to the locations at night. The Ghost and Dungeon tour takes you into Charleston's Pre-Revolutionary Dungeon. The Ghost and Graveyard tour takes you inside the gates of one of the city's oldest, and supposedly most haunted, graveyards. The Haunted Jail tour takes you into a jail that once housed pirates and Civil War prisoners. Besides the ghost tours, Bulldog also provides a tour that focuses on the dark underbelly of the history of the city, and a daytime walk through historic Charleston. They truly have something for everyone.
Best Campfire Opportunity
Avon, North Carolina – What's more romantic than a campfire on the beach? Technically speaking, you are allowed to build a campfire pretty much anywhere along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, provided that it is below the high tide line. So, why did I pick a place that is so much further south than most people who visit the Outer Banks ever go? Mostly, I picked it for just that reason, but also for the town of Avon itself, which is a gem sitting on a thin sliver of land. With an abundance of restaurants, including The Pickled Steamer, The Blue Parrot Cafe, The Froggy Dog, The Dolphin Den, and The Mad Crabber, you can take your pick of places to eat before you even try to start your fire. That way, getting the fire going isn't actually a requirement of you eating. Best of all, though, is that you are so far south on the island, the beaches are not crowded and the restaurants are filled with locals. Who could ask for anything more?
Best Wildlife Watching
Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown, Massachusetts – Anyone can slap your butt in a boat, sail you out into Cape Cod Bay, and show you a whale. What sets Dolphin Fleet apart from everyone else is the level of commitment they have to the whales. On board you will find environmentalists and captains who are truly involved in researching the animals they take you to see and educating people about them. It is like taking a whale watching tour, but seeing it all from the whale's point of view. On your trip, you have the chance to see any of a large group of sea life, including Finback, Minke, Humpback, North Atlantic Right, or Pilot whales, or white-sided dolphins and harbor porpoises.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton, North Carolina – While being the tallest masonry lighthouse in the world would usually be enough to get you on this list, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse actually gets the nod for another reason. Completed in 1870, the lighthouse at that time was located 1,500 feet from the shoreline. Between then and 1999, a constant battle raged between the forces of nature and those who wanted to protect the lighthouse from falling into the ocean. From the original distance of 1,500 feet, the ocean had reached within 300 feet by 1919, and 100 feet by 1935. Through freak snowstorms, hurricanes, island migration, and beach erosion, the giant somehow survived and, in 1999, was moved 2,900 feet at the rate of 10 feet per hour. Go see the lighthouse, climb the staircase to the top, look out over the view of the Outer Banks, and realize everything that lighthouse has been through.
Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, Key West, Florida – Let's face it. You can watch the sun set just about anywhere. But how many places in the world do they have a full blown celebration of the sunset every single night? The Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square in Key West, Florida, does just that, with street performers, vendors, artists, food carts, and even psychics for the few hours before the sunset. The main attraction, however, is still the sun sinking into the Gulf of Mexico, so make sure you do not miss that by staying too long and watching the guy swallowing swords. Please note, though, that all of the performers you see there at Mallory Square are working for tips, so if you see something you enjoy, toss them some cash. The sunset, however, is still free.
Folly Beach, South Carolina – We wrap up my list of bests with the best beach. In order for a beach to become my favorite beach, it has to have several qualities. It has to be amazingly gorgeous, have a relatively few number of people on it, have a number of great restaurants in the area, and, even though I've never surfed a day in my life, there has to be a surf shop nearby, just for ambiance.
Probably the best kept secret on the east coast, one that I might add has all the above qualities and more, is Folly Beach, South Carolina. Count in baby soft sand, only one hotel on the entire island, and a fishing pier that extends over 1,000 feet into the ocean, and you have found my idea of heaven. Available on the island are jet ski rentals, parasailing, boat charters, and kayak rentals.
Pack you bags, and don't forget the sunscreen. The ocean is calling.