Delaware Wilmington Downtown & Riverfront

Wilmington, Delaware
Despite being jet lagged from a returning flight from Munich, Germany, Thursday morning was another travel day. This time, for Wilmington, Delaware for a friend’s wedding at this posh men’s club dating back almost 200 years. I joked that I only agreed to attend as a date because I had really wanted to go to Longwood Gardens (that plan was foiled due to lack of transportation but there’s always another time now that I know how easy it is to get there!).

The Amtrak train from Penn Station, NY is only 2 hours for the local train, whereas the Acela Express is 1 hour and 40 minutes. The price difference was over $50 difference and I thought it didn’t seem worth it, considering I would most likely be asleep or playing games on my phone.

This would be my second time on the Amtrak train. It seems odd that the amount of times I’ve taken high speed trains in Europe is over twice the amount I’ve taken in the US.
Wilmington Train Station

Rainy but warm New York changed to a muggy and cloudy Wilmington. Amtrak drops you off at the bottom of their “downtown” area before the riverfront. It was quite empty, despite the tall glass skyscrapers with blue lit Chase emblazoned across–you can see the building from quite a way.

After walking a short distance up the slope of King Street, which many people found scary (hey, New Yorkers, we go everywhere by foot or public transportation…I also am cheap and refuse to spend anymore money than needed; rather save my money on food), the Hilton Doubletree stands on N. 8th Street. The hotel is a bit dated and an odd smells greet you–a very sterile hotel smell.

I feel a bit spoiled and underwhelmed after coming from the grandiose Hotel Grande Suisse Majestic to the Hilton Doubletree Hotel.

Once the bags were dropped, we took off for a quick lunch. Turn left on N. 8th Street and head towards N. Market Street where many new restaurants are slowly opening up and lining the street waiting for non-existent patrons. Market Street is known for its colonial and historical buildings dating from pre-revolutionary war, founded by the ever pious Quakers. You’ll find some Friends Meetinghouse throughout the town, though most have been abandoned. If you turn right onto Market Street, you’ll see the Grand Opera House, a converted Masonry building, its front facade made to look like a French Beaux Arts, classical Parisian neoclassical design. The symmetrical layout with its opulent and decorative motifs looks down superciliously on the passerbys, cobblestones taking up 2 sidewalks and a street, as if sweeping its presence to be known.

Grand Opera House

Directly across the street, Chelsea Tavern sat in its shadow, but not without some claim to fame. Boasting 22 beers on tap and a variety of burger, lunch there was a light fare of corn and crab dip (there were more cream than corn of crab) and grilled shrimp salad, à la southwestern style with buttermilk ranch dressing.

Chelsea Tavern

After the respite, Brew Ha Ha is one building down, offering gourmet and artisanal coffee, espresso, latte, and cappuccino. It’s a far cry from an authentic Italian bar but it makes up its bland American tasting coffee with some good desserts.

Brew Ha Ha

Evening was dinner rehearsal so an actual tour of Wilmington was on delay until Friday morning.

The night had a beautiful weather to walk back from the dinner rehearsal and one will see, downtown Wilmington is not throwing Thirsty Thursdays with music and people milling about. It seems all the people who work at those tall skyscrapers run home at 6PM.

Downtown Wilmington at night

You would think big corporations inject economy to the city but it seems to be a leech on a city, offering jobs but not developing or bringing cultural life and activity into the heart of the city. Nightlife in Wilmington is non-existent in downtown area but it gets a bit more bustling by the riverfront.

Needless to say, as a minority, you will see a wide gap in diversity where the well off are at one location and the struggling, at another. It’s a bit hard for me not to notice and be upset by it.

Friday morning, downtown is dead as ever. On the way back from dinner, I had spotted another coffee shop in an area called LoMa Coffee. Can you guess? It stands for Lower Market [street]. The city is trying to inject some form of development in culture and atmosphere by way of cool and hip slangs, in other words, trying to gentrify the city littered heavily with poor condition and project homes. The coffee here is much better than Brew Ha Ha and the service is much quicker. This turned out to be the go-to morning spot for us.

LoMo Coffee

You will also find the Delaware Historical Museum and Society. An awning covers Market Street to welcome visitors, each side of the street boasting historical buildings. It seems well taken care of but like the rest of the street, also very un-traveled and visited.
Delaware Historical Society

As everyone else was preparing for the wedding, I had this bright idea to walk the entire length of the Riverfront. I planned to see as much of Wilmington as I could–on foot–before heading home. Wilmington is more of a car city so you’ll see everything you need in less than half a day, if you had a car.

Continuing down Market Street, a large boulevard called M.L.King Street divides struggling downtown to the posh river side. Beyond the Amtrak railings above, beautifully manicured streets invite you in, old factories converted to a market space, treating the old and functional space into a spot for locals to meet, eat, shop, and chat.
Riverfront Market

Fridays appear to be a slow day in Wilmington. I saw 1 person walked by me every 5-10 minutes on the riverfront, which is a beautifully laid out boardwalk along the Christiana River, more like a brown water canal meandering along a marshland banks. A river taxi can take you up and down the river. There is even a cute red/white locomotive steam boat, offering Thursdays and Fridays dinner cruise. Reservation, of course, is required. I will have to try that if I ever return to Wilmington on those days.
Riverwalk, Wilmington

The walk is not on Google maps. Google will try to sell you another route. Don’t listen to it. The signs and banners, as well as the laid out path will allow you to meander alongside the river for about a mile before climbing a bridge towards the DuPont Environmental Education Center.

Along the way, you’ll feel like you’re on the High Line in New York, except there’s no traffic or people sunbathing. Wild trees, shrubs, plants grow in abundance. Birds, animals, and on occasion, snakes, roam the area, despite the brick laid edges and cemented pavement.
Riverwalk, Wilmington

DuPont Environmental Education Center is a natural marshland habitat that visitors can explore on wooden pathways to avoid actual interaction with the animals. Be warned. Despite the view being rather bleak and marshy, it smells like mudfish and/or dead fish had been baked into the mud.
DuPont Environmental Education Center

The afternoon ended with lunch at Big Fish Bar & Grille. I was thoroughly surprised and happy about the crab cake. The waitress was appalled when I asked if there were fillers. No bread crumb. All crab meat and it was so good. The clams, on the other hand, were a bit small. They also served this amazing free dip, smoked tuna with mayo and relish. It’s a must try.
Big Fish Bar & Grille

At this point, I rushed back to prep and to catch the shuttle for the wedding. It was a romantic fairy tale outdoor wedding, purple accents abound. I will be the first to point out, I was 1 out of 2 minority but everyone was warm and welcoming. I sometimes forget that outside New York, diversity is few and far between. But a wedding is all about the couple, right? And they looked so happy and lovely. And the weather held out beautifully for the ceremony.

Wishing all the best for the newlyweds.
Brian and Leah's wedding