WASHINGTON — For many people, Labor Day weekend is when summer comes to an end.
The long weekend marks the time when many businesses at the beach often close down until the following Memorial Day. And things will start to slow down, to an extent, next week. But over the years, the mid-Atlantic beaches have become a year-round destination.
In fact, those who live there will tell you September is the best month of all to visit.
First off, the air and water temperatures are both perfect for enjoying the sand and surf. At the same time the beaches will be a lot less crowded. For that reason alone, September is among the favorite months of the year for locals.
“The old cliché that on 5 p.m. Monday of Labor Day weekend, you could shoot a cannon off down the boardwalk and not hit anybody? I remember when that was true,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.
“That’s certainly not the case today. September is actually a busier month than June. The weather is the best; the ocean is its warmest; a lot of activities continue.”
It’s also the time of year that things ending in “-fest” start to happen, too. Meehan rattles off bike-fest for motorcyclists and wine-fest as two examples of events that’ll still bring people to the beach. Sandwiched between them is Sunfest, a festival capped off this year by a performance with Eddie Money.
“There’s different ways to utilize the beach,” he said. “Once we get into September, we relax some of the restrictions on the beach. [For example} you’re allowed to take your dogs out on the beach.”
Bikefest kicks off Sept. 15, bringing Harley riders and other motorcyclists to the beach for concerts, bike shows, and easy cruising that whole weekend.
A week later is Sunfest, which is Ocean City’s unofficial kickoff to the off-season.
The last weekend of September is marked with what Meehan calls Winefest, or Wine on the Beach. About two dozen wineries and a handful of breweries from around the mid-Atlantic are confirmed to be at the ticketed event, which allows you to walk the beach and sample some of the region’s best adult beverages.
Up Coastal Highway in Rehoboth Beach, the town moved the annual Sandcastle Contest to Sept. 10 from its usual August. But October is when other events are held to draw people to the beaches even when the weather becomes less than ideal.
In mid-October the annual Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival is held, with restaurants and bars all over hosting jam sessions and performances, to go with several other concerts held at different concert venues throughout the region. In all, there are dozens of different acts being featured in places from Lewes down to Dewey Beach.
The last weekend of October is when Rehoboth holds its annual Sea Witch Festival, celebrating Halloween. There’s a 5K race, horse shows and concerts at the bandstand. But the main event is the big Halloween Costume Parade held every year. That’s followed a week later by Punkin Chunkin, a competition that started with leftover jack-o’-lanterns and has roved around southern Delaware over the years and is now held in Bridgeville, about 45 minutes west of the beaches.
There are “a lot of things now that bring people here on a year-round basis,” said Meehan, as he also recited off indoor youth sporting events, including soccer tournaments and cheerleading competitions held in the winter months.
“It’s about being in a place you’re comfortable, safe, a lot of amenities,” said Meehan. “A lot of good restaurants, good hotels, and being able to go outside and enjoy the beach even when it’s a little cold.”
Meehan said he can judge the crowds in mid-winter by the crowds at Thrasher’s French Fries on Saturdays and Sundays.
“The line at Thrasher’s French Fries can be 300 people long in January,” said Meehan. “I often take a picture and post it on the mayor’s website just to show people ‘Hey, we’re alive and well here in Ocean City.’”