Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
When he was a senator, President-elect Joe Biden was known for his frequent Amtrak trips back to his adopted hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. It's hard to blame him for his attachment to the place. With just 70,000 residents, Delaware's largest city has a cozy, small-town appeal. Wilmingtonians are down-to-earth, friendly, and perhaps too humble because here, in their sleepy stretch of the Northeast Corridor, they're sitting on riches that travelers can revel in.
In recent years, as redevelopment infused new life into downtown and the post-industrial waterfront, Wilmington has become a lure for companies like Goldman Sachs, which are bringing young professionals with them. Restaurants, nightlife, and outdoor spaces are springing up to accommodate the newcomers, and though COVID-19 has slowed business (check with locations before visiting), Biden's upcoming presidency promises to boost Wilmington's cachet.
Now's the time to get a taste of the place as its star rises. Just a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C. and New York, and only 25 minutes from Philadelphia International Airport, it's an excellent weekend getaway. Like Joe, you can take the train, but with attractions spread out across the surrounding Brandywine Valley, it's even better with a car.
In the mid-20th century, Wilmington was a company town — everyone worked for DuPont. Today, the former DuPont headquarters, a 1913 Italian Renaissance high-rise, is the epicenter of a revitalized downtown. Part of the building is dedicated to Hotel du Pont, a restored grand dame with spacious rooms sporting city views. The hotel's fabled Green Room, where movers and shakers dined for decades, has been transformed by Philadelphia chef Tyler Akin into Le Cavalier, a French brasserie with North African accents and an excellent natural wine list. There's more great dining nearby, including on the other side of the building in the DE.CO food hall, where offerings range from banh mi to chicken and waffles. A walk south on Market Street turns up culinary gems, including Farmer & the Cow for burgers and boozy milkshakes; La Fia, a bistro from James Beard semifinalist Bryan Sikora; Green Box Kitchen, a vegetarian spot staffed by at-risk youth; and Wilmington's most exciting restaurant, Bardea. In 2019, chef Antimo DiMeo's innovative Italian cooking garnered a James Beard semifinalist nod for best new restaurant.
At cocktail hour and late into the night, tipplers gather at Torbert Street Social, an indoor/outdoor spot shaking up excellent craft drinks. For fresh-tapped brews, stop into Stitch House Brewery or Chelsea Tavern. In non-COVID times, The Queen, a restored 1916 theater, and the 140-year-old Grand Opera House are the places for live entertainment.
Before becoming a politician, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki spent two decades transforming a derelict shipyard on the Christina River, a winding tributary that spills into the Delaware River at the city's eastern edge. Nowadays, the Riverfront is a vibrant hot spot. Slurp oysters at Banks' Seafood Kitchen or Big Fish Grill, grab Drop Squad Kitchen's vegan soul food, or sample the fare of acclaimed chef Michael DiBianca at Ciro Food & Drink before a round of mini golf in the summer or a spin on the ice rink come winter. You can also throw axes at Constitution Yards in the warm months, or snuggle around its fire pits when it's cold out. If culture's your bag, The Delaware Contemporary houses thought-provoking art.
Just don't miss a stroll or pedal on the Riverwalk through the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge. The DuPont Environmental Education Center at the preserve's edge rents bikes (on hold during COVID-19), and you can ride the eight-mile Jack A. Markell Trail to New Castle. Founded in 1651, this town is home to Federalist house museums, including the Read House, a 14,000-square-foot mansion surrounded by gardens and offering neighborhood walking tours.
Wilmington is so small that it's just a 20-minute drive to the sylvan countryside, made famous by the Wyeth family. Built out in glass and steel from the bones of a historic mill on Brandywine Creek, the Brandywine River Museum of Art displays hundreds of paintings by the Wyeths and other American artists. En route, Kennett Pike offers shopping and sites galore. Most notable is the estate of Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur, which has 90,000 objects of decorative art displayed across 175 rooms, plus 1,000 acres of forests, rolling hills, and formal gardens. Leave time to peruse the local shops, too. In Centerville, Adorn Goods offers contemporary homewares, while Found curates antiques and Crystal's Vintage & Costume Jewelry sells old-timey bling. If you're fond of Joe Biden's preppy style, dress yourself at the Wilmington Country Store in Greenville, not far from the soon-to-be president's own estate.
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