EDITOR’S NOTE: For more beach news, traffic and weather, visit WTOP’s Summer Beach Guide section.
WASHINGTON — With its iconic boardwalk, family-friendly beaches and vibrant night life scene, Ocean City, Maryland, has become a go-to summer destination for Washingtonians.
Whether it’s your very first time visiting — or just your first time out this year — here’s a quick guide, filled with tips from locals, to help you navigate one of the mid-Atlantic’s most exciting beach towns.
Sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Isle of Wright Bay is Ocean City, home to 7,089 residents and 8 million yearly visitors.
Ocean City is best known for its wooden boardwalk, which is lined with shops, restaurants, hotels and a small amusement park. A handful of these boardwalk-based businesses have been operating for 100-plus years.
There are plenty of places where adults can let loose (Seacrets, anyone?), but Melanie Pursel, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, says expanding options for family fun has been a recent focus in Ocean City.
There are the obvious choices, such as a visit to the Jolly Roger Amusement Park or one of the many mini-golf courses, but there are plenty of free activities to keep little ones also entertained.
- Free movies: Every Wednesday night through Aug. 30, enjoy a free movie on the beach at 118th Street. There are also free movies every Monday and Friday evening at 27th Street.
- Ice cream in the park: Have a couple of ice cream lovers in your group? You’ll definitely want to make Sundaes In the Park part of your beach vacation. Every Sunday from July 9 through Sept. 3, enjoy free ice cream sundaes and live entertainment at Northside Park. This is a destination local resident Mary Schmidt strongly recommends. “Ocean City has done a phenomenal job with North[side] park. They have all sorts of activities: You can walk, you can crab, they have free family nights for movies. I think they have a huge July Fourth. If you look on the calendar, they have something scheduled almost every day,” Schmidt said.
- Nightly Light Show: New for 2017 is a nightly light show, called 100 Nights of Lights, which runs every 20 minutes from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. from May 27 through Sept. 4. Beach fireworks will also take place weeknights throughout the summer.
- Competitive castles: The annual Family Beach Olympics will be held June 27 at 27th Street from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Events include sand castle contests, tug-of-war, relay races and more.
- Wild horses on Assateague: A quick drive to check out the ponies and wildlife on Assateague Island is always a nice outing for little ones and grown-ups, alike.
- A Marine-themed museum: The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum is another great option. “It does all kinds of neat programs for kids, even for young adults, on beach safety, learning about the aquatic life — all of the different things that you see when you’re out on the beach, as well as a little bit of history about Ocean City,” Pursel said.
- Take to the water: Kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing and other water sports are also a big part of the summer lifestyle at Ocean City. Rental shops are sprinkled throughout Ocean City and Delaware, especially along the bay. Read more: Skip the sand, float into nature instead at the Delaware beaches
There’s no shortage of places to find fresh seafood, local crabs, cold beer and homemade ice cream in Ocean City — and everyone has their favorites. Check out these recommendations from WTOP staff on where to find everything from the tastiest burgers to the best bloody marys.
Be sure to check out these activities, recommended by frequent visitors and locals, alike.
- Favorite fries and beachy beverages: No trip to Ocean City is complete without a taste of Thrasher’s French Fries, a frozen rum cocktail at Seacrets and a sunset at Fager’s Island, complete with the “1812 Overture.”
- Boats at the beach: Boat fanatics will enjoy a trip to the town’s commercial harbor, which Pursel says is one of the oldest working harbors on the East Coast. “We have boats that are coming in from all over; they’re unloading here, right at our docks. That’s why our restaurants have some of the freshest seafood in the mid-Atlantic region,” she said.
- Fresh seafood at Fish Tales: Like to watch the boats and eat? Local resident John Buono recommends a trip to Fish Tales on Herring Way. “It’s a working marina. You can go down there and watch the boats come in. They cut the fresh tuna there for the sandwiches, which is one of my absolute favorites. You can sit there all day on an Adirondack chair and watch the boats come out and they’ll bring you your sandwich,” Buono said.
- Best view: Pursel urges visitors to talk a stroll under the pier at the inlet and out to the jetty area, which overlooks Assateague Island. “And very, very often, you will catch glimpses of the wild ponies from Ocean City. So you’ve got the hustle and bustle of Ocean City right there at the downtown area, and then look right over to the inlet and you’ve got the beautiful ponies running on the beach in their natural habitat.”
- Small-town charm: Need a change of scenery? The Maryland towns of Berlin and Snow Hill are a short drive away (15 to 30 minutes). Grab lunch, take a brewery tour or go on an eco-adventure while you’re there.
- Blue Angels Air Show: The annual Ocean City Air Show with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels returns June 17 and 18.
Bad weather keeping you from spending the day at the beach? There’s still plenty to do.
- Check out local art: Pursel recommends catching an event or exhibit at The Art League of Ocean City.
- Get out some energy indoors: Take the kids to release some energy at Planet Maze, an indoor facility with a climbing maze and laser tag.
“There’s plenty to do in Ocean City, even if it’s not a perfect beach day,” Pursel said.
Getting Around and Parking
Just headed to the beach for a quick trip? Here’s what you need to know about parking:
- Meters: There is plenty of parking in town, and much of it is metered along the main roads. Pursel recommends downloading the Parkmobile app, so you can refill the meter without giving up your spot on the beach.
- Lots: The Inlet lot at 809 S. Atlantic Ave. has 1,200 parking spaces and is located close to the boardwalk and beach. Information on additional lots is available here.
- Park & Ride: On busy weekends, such as Memorial Day and Fourth of July, the Park & Ride is recommended. Park your car in West Ocean City and take the shuttle downtown for $3.
- Bikes: Lots of people get around town on bikes, mopeds, scooters and by foot. Bike rental shops are scattered throughout town.
Where to Stay
Lodging at Ocean City is a real mix of hotels and home and condo rentals.
Pursel says those looking to be right in the center of the action might prefer an oceanfront room near the boardwalk or inlet. Visitors looking for more of a quiet escape will find that in the northern part of the town.
OceanCity.com offers visitors some tips for finding the perfect place to fit their needs — from pet-friendly accommodations to bayside bedrooms.
Ocean City is getting ready for its summer swell, and this year, there are a few new things to check out around town.
“Driving up and down Coastal Highway, there’s so much activity going on,” Pursel said, adding that about four or five new hotels are opening, along with a handful of new restaurants, including Rare & Rye, The Clucking Crab and Northside Pit & Pub.
In West Ocean City, a new shopping center, called The Park Place Plaza, is under construction.