Sunrise over the beach at 142nd Street.
Welcome to the City
Ocean City. It’s a name that might conjure up many images: white sandy beaches, pounding surf, soaring gulls, and fruity frou-frou drinks served garnished with delicate paper umbrellas and juicy pineapple wedges. Ocean City, Maryland, delivers on its name in these respects, but as with any popular tourist haunt it has a flipside too. Crowded beaches, clogged roadways, and boisterous underage partiers are all factors that are de rigueur from May through September. These distracters ruffle locals, but don’t seem to make a dent in the influx of tourists seeking to escape the metropolitan areas of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.
Ocean City is best described as a town of contradictions. During the summer months its population swells exponentially, making it is the second-largest city in Maryland (behind Baltimore). Yet, during the off-season it is a sleepy island of blinking traffic lights and shuttered businesses. It sells itself as a “family resort,” yet its bars and nightclubs greatly outnumber the kid-friendly miniature golf courses and water slides. The result of this incongruity is that Ocean City is a mecca for minivans packed high with children and inflatable rafts, as well as 20-something singles looking for nothing more than a good time.
This diversity has its advantages. Nestled between the souvenir shops and all-you-can-eat buffets are some quality restaurants and relaxation spots. Also, anyone seeking a respite from tourists donning flip-flops and tanks tops can escape to the quieter Delaware beaches, the natural refuge area of Assateague Island, or historic Berlin, all of which are within a short driving distance.
So wondering what to do, or where to go? I’ve lived in and around Ocean City for most of my life and can offer a few suggestions. One note: It’s really easy to find your way around Ocean City. Coastal Highway is the main road running the length of the island, with numbered streets running perpendicular to it. Turning right or left off Coastal Highway will lead you to water, either the ocean or the bay. Therefore, instead of giving addresses, I’ve identified locations by what street they are closest to and which side of the island they are on.
Where To Stuff Your Face
& Consume Tasty Libations
If you’re seeking a top-notch meal that you’ll be reminiscing about for days, try The Galaxy Bar & Grille (66th St, bayside) or Sole Grill & Sky Bar (127th St, bayside). Both have innovative menus featuring a wide variety of options for every palette, and Sole Grill has the only sushi bar in Ocean City.
If sunsets are what you’re seeking, try Fager’s Island (60th St, bayside) or Macky’s Bar & Grill (54th St, bayside) – both are situated on the bay and have great menus. Other bay-front restaurants with a relaxed feel that offer tasty drinks are Mellow Beach Barefoot Restaurant & Sunset Bar (46th St, bayside) and Seacrets – Jamaica U.S.A. (49th St, bayside). If possible, visit Seacrets on the night of a full or new moon for their LunaSea and DarkSide celebrations and be sure to try their “Pain in de Ass” concoction.
If you came to Maryland seeking crabs (the steamed, heavily spiced kind), then head to Waterman’s Seafood Restaurant (West O.C. on Rt. 50, across from Wawa), Crab Alley (West O.C. on Golf Course Rd), Hooper’s Crab House (West O.C., just before the Rt. 50 bridge on the bay), or one of the Phillip’s Seafood Restaurant locations (13th St, oceanfront; 21st St, oceanside; 141st St, bayside).
And finally, if you love a good margarita (as I do), drop into Tequila Mockingbird (130th St., bayside), a Mexican bar and grill that stocks over 60 brands of tequila.
Looking To Do More
Than Fry Your Skin On The Sand?
Let me get the whole email/Internet access question out of the way first. As of today, there is only one cybercafÃƒÂ© in Ocean City: Byte Size (41st St, oceanside). There is a county library branch on 14th Street, but they do not offer Internet access yet.
For those of you that want to try surfing of the watery kind, I’m afraid to report that the waves tend to be a bit flat during the summer (unless a hurricane is passing through). If you want to gear up and look the part anyway, head to Cloudbreak Board Shop (58th St, bayside) or K-Coast Surf Shop (78th St, bayside). If you want to check the conditions before you leave, the Ocean City Surfing Resource Center a good place to start, complete with water temperatures, wave and tide charts, local weather forecasts, and daily surfing beaches.
If other activities interest you, Sailing, Etc. (46th St, bayside) offers windsurfing lessons and rentals, while Bayside Rentals (West O.C., in the marina just before Rt. 50 bridge) can hook you up with waverunners, jet, power, and pontoon boats, or take you parasailing up to 1,200 feet over the ocean or bay. If that’s not high enough, the Skydiving Center (at the Ocean City Airport, West O.C.) should do the trick, dropping you from a plane thousands of feet above the beach.
On the more serene side, Coastal Kayak (just north of O.C. in Fenwick Island and Bethany Beach) offers sailboat and kayak rentals, as well as guided eco-tours. Bikes may also be rented – try Mike’s Bikes (downtown at N. Division St) if you’re in south O.C., or Fenwick Islander Bike Shop (just north of 146th St, oceanside) if you’re in north O.C..
For the less active, there are many miniature golf courses along Coastal Highway with themes ranging from dinosaurs and medieval castles, to space aliens and booty-seeking pirates (one of my favorites). There’s even an indoor course with an aquatic theme (68th St, bayside) for those that like to putt in air-conditioned comfort. Bargain shoppers will enjoy the Ocean City Factory Outlets (West O.C. on Rt. 50) which houses 40 outlets including Ann Taylor, Nine West, Tommy Hilfiger, Bass, Levis, and Harry & David. Horse lovers and gamblers can head over to Ocean Downs Racetrack (West O.C., just off Rt. 50 on Rt. 589/Racetrack Rd) where you can see (and bet on) live harness racing June 30-Sept. 2, on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday nights. If movies are your thing, there are three theatres in town: R/C White Marlin 5 (West O.C.), Gold Coast Mall (114th St, bayside), and Carmike Cinemas Sun & Surf 8 (143rd St, bayside).
Campers and nature lovers have options too. Assateague Island National and State parks are just a few miles from west Ocean City and offer beautiful natural beaches, campgrounds, hiking trails, and opportunities to see the wild ponies made famous by Marguerite Henry. There are also several areas north and west of Ocean City that are worth exploring, including Assawoman Wildlife Refuge and the Delaware Seashore parks. This web site offers some helpful information on these areas and camping in the Ocean City area.
Another great escape from the crowds at the beach is the historic town of Berlin, Maryland (less than ten miles west of Ocean City off of Rt. 50). You may recognize its storefronts and houses as those in the fictional town of Hale in “The Runaway Bride“. The shooting of that Julia Roberts flick must have gone well, for Disney just used Berlin as a backdrop this past April for its upcoming film “Tuck Everlasting.” While there, have a cup of coffee and check out the art gallery at the Globe Theatre, and be sure to have a meal, or even spend the night, at the Atlantic Hotel.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.