Things to Do

A Brief History of Beach Communities Near Washington

A Brief History of Beach Communities Near Washington

From their founding as Victorian-era church camps, our area’s seaside getaways have stripped Washington down to its essential parts, with Capitol Hill and Foggy Bottom types clubbing up in their bungalows for beery barbecues and political gossip while midlevel staffers—the elect have long retreated up the coast to Cape Cod and the Vineyard—pursued small-d democratic pleasures along the boardwalks.

In other ways, beach culture forged ahead of our workaday world: Weekend traffic was born more than a decade before Beltway traffic, when the first span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was completed in 1952. The freedom afforded by distance and make-do housing arrangements gave gay Washington cover, and life in that community bloomed—if not sooner, then more ardently than it did back home in the capital. Not coincidentally, it was the 1981 opening of Rehoboth’s Blue Moon, a Friday-evening first stop for gay vacationers, that brought finer dining to the beach, where fried clams and the fries at Thrasher’s in Ocean City had long been considered culinary high points.

Now, as the original midcentury Washington refugees have grown old and their succeeding generations have become less tethered to their offices, beach towns are becoming for many a year-round retreat, changing again as they survive on being timeless.

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Paul O'Donnell

Freelance writer Paul O’Donnell is @paulwodonnell on Twitter.