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Whether you’re in search of buried pirate treasure or just want a gold mine of a beach destination, Fenwick Island, Delaware, has it all.
Don’t worry about needing a boat or ferry because Fenwick Island isn’t an unbridged island.
Actually, it’s not even an island or a barrier island.
It looks enough like a barrier island that we won’t go into coastline geography because there’s far too much more to discuss.
Fenwick Island is a coastal town that borders Maryland and is just nine miles from the robust beach bash in Ocean City.
Despite that, Fenwick Island offers a “quieter side” of beach life, as are nearby South Bethany and Bethany Beach.
I’m a lighthouse lover, and I was surprised to see an island lighthouse, 1/4 mile from the shore.
As it turns out, this location was a higher point than the beach and much more stable.
Let’s get some giggles out and note that the western edge of Fenwick Island is Little Assawoman Bay.
For what it’s worth —Assawoman Bay is pronounced exactly as it looks.
It’s an Indigenous word for “midway fishing stream.”
Yes, the other side of the bay in Maryland is called Big Assawoman.
Fenwick Island is legendary for its buried treasure left by pirates who used Assawoman Bay to stalk and pillage approaching ships.
There’s a museum here that displays the pirate practices, and some are quite shocking.
While Fenwick Island provides a serene beach retreat, watch for the ghost of a bonneted woman named Zippy, who beachcombers while she waits for her husband to return from his watery grave.
Warnings & Dangers in Fenwick Island
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk here, with very few crimes over the past decade and a lot of great things to do.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
DART is the bus system that gets around Delaware. There is a seasonal bus that goes between all the beach towns, including Fenwick Island. Taxis, rideshares, and rental cars are other options. There's a low risk no matter how you choose to get around.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
There hasn't been a pickpocket or purse snatching in Fenwick Island for at least a decade. The risk is low, but there's always potential in a beach community. Continue to practice good safety steps and limit what you carry.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
You'll need to be wary throughout the year, as it is always either hurricane season or nor'easter season. Plus, flooding problems hit this area often, even during a long rainy day. Treat it as medium risk and stay weather aware at all times.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
I can't stop laughing because after I searched the crime data for robberies in Fenwick Island (none in the past decade), I then went to a news story search for "Fenwick Island" and "Robbery." The very first result was an article about the pirates that used to pillage this region in the 1700s. All signs point to a low risk.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
This is another low risk, but you should stay aware of nationwide terrorism advisory concerns. Closer to Ocean City starts a more robust tourism region. It's just good to stay informed and be aware of mass shootings and domestic terrorism. The best thing you can do is report anything suspicious.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Most scams here target residents, like fake state police phone calls demanding money. As a visitor, you should use caution if you're renting a home and know the signs of common rental scams. You can read those on the Delaware Attorney General's website.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here for women, but always keep your guard up. The closer you get to Ocean City, the more rowdy the crowds will be. One story that stuck out to me was a group of women staying in Fenwick Island who met some guys in Maryland. They asked for a ride home, and things got creepy. The women got out of the car safely but were followed home. That led to the one violent crime reported in 2021. Shots were fired, but nobody was hurt, and the jeep in the driveway was set on fire. Ladies, don't get in a car with strangers, okay?
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. If there's an issue with tap water due to flooding, water main pipes, etc., that would be communicated through the town's social media sites.
Safest Places to Visit in Fenwick Island
The Fenwick Island city website has great information for visitors, more practical than “things to do.”
Visit Delaware and Visit Delaware Beaches are the names of websites devoted to tourist attractions and accommodations.
Fenwick Island has bayside and seaside attractions, with nearly three miles of the beach being Fenwick Island State Park.
Here you can enjoy plenty of activities, like fishing, chasing ghost crabs, kayaks, horseback riding (Nov. 1 – April 30), surfing, and hiking.
Be sure to schedule times to watch the sunrise over the ocean and sunset over the bay.
On the other side of the bay, the state park division also oversees Assawoman Bay State Wildlife Area.
Watch out for biting flies in the heat of summer.
They can be relentless.
I actually write about this so much that the internet ad gods that watch over me showed me a new line of clothing from L.L. Bean that is insect repellant.
Look for the “Insect Shield” trademark on clothing.
Fenwick Island does have a public beach outside the park with a traditional boardwalk filled with shops.
You can find water activities from parasailing to fishing tours to surf rentals and lessons.
Pirate boat tours are available, but you won’t be diving for treasure.
You will get a comical and exciting lesson in pirate history and a pirate sash.
The DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum has more than 10,000 artifacts of pirates, shipwrecks, and nautical treasures.
With the infamous pirate Blackbeard having walked and stalked this very land, how can you afford to miss this stop?
The Fenwick Island Lighthouse is right along the Delaware and Maryland border on the Delaware side.
It’s open for seasonal hours, but plan a morning trip since it’s usually closed after 12:00 pm.
If you’re afraid of heights, this lighthouse is just 87 feet tall.
Compare that to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is 193 feet tall.
Another iconic Fenwick Island attraction is the Viking Golf & Go-Karts / Thunder Lagoon Water Park combination.
Check for multi-day discounts.
Even if you plan just to go once, beaches can be closed because of water quality issues, and this is a great backup plan for a second or third visit.
If you’re scuba certified and want to go searching for treasure, check with the local surf shops or contact the state park for the best sites.
Places to Avoid in Fenwick Island
There aren’t dangerous neighborhoods here or bad parts of town.
That’s a good thing because you wouldn’t have much of an escape route if there were since it’s a long, narrow stretch of land surrounded by water.
It’s important to respect the vastness of the ocean at the beach.
There are no barriers or breakwaters here to keep the surf from pounding the shore.
Even on a perfect summer day, a small craft advisory can still make a kayak ride dangerous.
Follow the National Weather Service for Philadelphia (PHI), as it covers the Delaware beaches.
During hurricane season, follow the National Hurricane Center for storm development.
If there is a hurricane watch or warning in effect, leave.
I lived near Siesta Key, Florida, for many years, and you don’t want to be on a (sorta) barrier island during a storm.
Even if you don’t get injured or trapped, you’ll be without clean water, power, or supplies.
Don’t wait to evacuate either, as the main road out of town has terrible traffic on a good day, much less when people are rushing inland.
Gas stations will likely have no gas, either.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Fenwick Island
- Fenwick Island has its own police department. You can find them on Facebook @FenwickIslandPD. The non-emergency phone number is (302) 539-2000.
- Sign up for CodeRED notifications through the city’s website. This will get you severe weather alerts and other important safety information.
- The Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) monitors the water quality along the beaches from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Check the results online before you go to the beach, or check for the advisories posted at the beach.
- Fenwick Island has its own beach patrol, and lifeguards are on duty from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm in the summer.
- Parking permits are required to park near the beach from May 15 through September 15. You can purchase a pass at the town hall or through the ParkMobile app. If you aren’t a resident with a blue hangtag parking pass, you will be limited in where you can park. Having a parking permit doesn’t guarantee you a space if the parking areas are full.
- A juvenile curfew is in place from midnight through 6:00 am. Anyone 17 and younger must be with a parent or on the way to/from work to be legally in public areas or businesses during that time frame.
- This is a high-traffic area, and bicyclists and pedestrians need to use extra caution. Bicyclists must always ride with the flow of traffic. Pedestrians should walk against the flow of traffic. Do not assume that cars will stop for a crosswalk. Always confirm with eye contact (and a friendly wave) before crossing the street.
- If you want to buy souvenirs or supplies, Delaware does not have a sales tax. That means the price listed is the price you’ll pay. In Maryland, the sales tax is 6%.
- Driving on the beach is only allowed in designated areas for those who have a surf fishing license. To get that license, you’ll need to show proof you know how to (literally) dig yourself out of trouble on the beach.
- Bird nesting areas on state park and local beaches will be protected under federal law. You might notice an area sectioned off, or the entire stretch of the beach might be closed. Leave nesting birds alone and never let a dog near them.
So... How Safe Is Fenwick Island Really?
Fenwick Island is a very safe place to visit as far as crime rates go.
While most years have no violation crimes, the city hasn’t seen more than one violent crime in a year since 2006.
Well, since 2000, if you don’t count the “crime wave” of 2005 with two violent crimes.
Theft rates are uncannily low.
Since 2013, there haven’t been more than 12 thefts in a year.
Over the past five years, bicycles have been the top theft target, with an average of three a year.
Water safety and weather comprehension are the two most important skills to have here.
Download the Sharktivity app to track shark sightings along the coast.
Bring a first aid kit with supplies to lessen the sting of a jellyfish, clean wounds after swimming in the ocean, and tick removal tools.
How Does Fenwick Island Compare?
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International visitors need a passport and visa. Some people are eligible for a visa waiver, but that depends on the country of origin. Start the process on the U.S. State Department website. Please take note of what your country allows you to bring back. For example, some countries won't let seashells from other countries through Customs.
Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here. Exchange currency at home to get the lowest fees, but make sure you're under the limit of cash you must declare at Customs or be prepared to declare it. Cash, money orders, and traveler's checks exceeding $10,000 USD must be declared.
The summers are wonderful, but you'll want a jacket or hoodie for the cooler nights. Bring sunscreen, water shoes, hats, and bug spray. You'll need full-length shirts and pants for much of fall and spring. Winter can get to freezing temperatures, so don't let the word "beach" make you think it's warm all year. This isn't Miami, ya know?
The Salisbury, Maryland airport is the closest option and is less than 30 miles away. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. are all about 100 miles in the other direction.
Travel insurance just makes sense when you're visiting a prime tourist destination that can get hit by dangerous weather and evacuated. You should also consider supplemental health insurance if your own health coverage doesn't extend to the United States.
Fenwick Island Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Delaware - Safety by City