In America, we have made a tradition of our presidents decompressing near the ocean. Kennedy had Hyannis Port, Obama had Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard, Trump had Palm Beach. Joe Biden’s summer home, a three-story Cape Cod–style mini-mansion in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, promises decidedly less glamour than previous presidential beachside escapes.
When the national press decamps from Washington to Rehoboth, they will cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and drive through an hour of southern Delaware’s Sussex County. The world has been introduced to Delaware through Joe Biden, but he hails from its northern tip, a Wilmington suburb populated by the sort of people who benefit from the state’s low corporate-tax rates. The bottom half of the state, often referred to as “slower-lower Delaware” because of the local accents and general pace of life, is a stretch of rolling fields emanating the distinct stink of chicken-shit fertilizer under the summer sun.
The roadsides nearing Rehoboth are spotted with Trump signs, the beach town itself a blue bubble surrounded by red rurality. In the 2020 Senate election against Chris Coons, Sussex County voted for Republican Lauren Witzke, a former QAnon supporter who believes that the earth is flat. Earlier this year, a man from Laurel, Delaware—around 30 miles west of Biden’s summer home—carried a Confederate flag as part of the mob that sacked the Capitol.
More Jersey Shore than North Shore
Rehoboth Beach is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a mile-long strip of boardwalk lined with stores selling saltwater taffy, french fries, and hermit crabs with their shells painted. At the center of the boardwalk’s route sits Funland, an arcade and carnival-style amusement park that’s been in operation since the early 1960s. The handful of art galleries in town sell unremarkable oil-on-canvas seascapes and are outnumbered by stores selling bedazzled iPhone cases and trashy T-shirts marketed to teenagers.
As one of the town’s lifeguards, I spent three summers pulling panicked swimmers out of riptides and re-uniting lost children with their parents. The lifeguards are another fixture of the town—founded in 1921, the Rehoboth Beach Patrol will celebrate its 100th anniversary this summer.
Like all small beach towns, Rehoboth has a wonderfully productive gossip industry among the locals, and celebrity sightings are a common topic of chatter. Rehoboth mayor Stan Mills tells me, “We’re no stranger to high-profile visitors,” noting that Vice President Spiro Agnew and Chelsea Clinton are former Rehoboth beachgoers. Dave Grohl and Richard Gere are also often spotted around town.
When the Bidens are in Rehoboth, they have their favorite low-profile activities. Jill has long been a regular at a particular spin class—but now she’s joined by Secret Service agents. (Per the local gossip circuit, the First Lady was spinning in Rehoboth as recently as earlier this month.) The Secret Service agents pump iron at a gym just a block off the boardwalk. The president’s grandchildren visit a few times each summer.
The Bidens’ favorite restaurant, Fins Fish House & Raw Bar, is already predicting a big season. A manager there says, “When [Biden] comes in, it’s full of laughter, everyone gets up to say hello to him. It takes about 45 minutes for him to get to his table. People love him here.” The Bidens are at the local spot every time they’re in town. Joe likes the fresh-fish board, and varies in his tastes from rockfish to halibut.
There perhaps is the starkest difference between Biden’s Rehoboth and Trump’s West Palm Beach, where the former president held court like the Sun King.
Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who grew up going to Rehoboth, says he “hopes to make occasional visits” to the beach town this summer but that “having our president there will produce some interesting logistical challenges.”
Rehoboth’s residents are “excited but annoyed” with the early presence of the president, according to one local friend of mine. Biden lands Marine One at the parking lot that services a local beach, and “closes [the beach] down every time he comes to town.” Asked about the traffic worries among locals, Mills tells me, “It comes with the territory. Everybody needs to recognize that he is our No. 1 leader in the country.”
The Bidens bought a house in the quiet neighborhood of North Shores in 2017, for $2.7 million. The home has six bedrooms, five and a half bathrooms, and one elevator. Millionaire and former congressman John Delaney lives nearby. Zillow currently lists only one house in the neighborhood—for $9.25 million, you can count Joe Biden and his traveling army of Secret Service agents among your sometimes neighbors.
Biden will undoubtedly bestow a certain prestige on the city of Rehoboth, but any elevated status is unlikely to be noticed inside the town. Mills shrugged off suggestions that the city has earned more cachet, saying, “We are the nation’s summer capital, and one of the reasons we’ve earned that moniker is because of all those from Washington, D.C., coming to summer here.”
While the traffic Biden incurs will bring new frustration, locals are largely nonchalant. Joe Biden has walked the Rehoboth boardwalk for decades. This summer, he just happens to be the president.
Alex Thomas is a Washington, D.C.–based writer. He reports for Playboy and Men’s Health