Lively and sun-splashed, Ocean City is where much of the Eastern Seaboard heads for summer trips "to the shore," or "down the ocean," as Maryland locals say. Think of it as a slightly scruffy 10-mile seaside bungalow, sporting frothy surf and a vintage boardwalk lined with arcade rides, mini-golf courses, and tacky souvenir shops. Ocean City's beaches, restaurants and strip of coastal highway are so packed during the summer that three months of every year the place becomes the second-largest city in Maryland -- only Baltimore has more people.
The beach at OC is long, crowded and free to the public, and everything you'd expect from a spot where tawny sand meets bracing saltwater surf. There's never a shortage of space, and it's clean -- the town manicures it regularly. It's open to a multitude of water sports, from swimming and surfing to kayaking. Sunsets are impressive -- the occasional pair of playful dolphins can be seen offshore as evening shadows expand ashore.
Things to Do
There's no avoiding Ocean City's jugular: the 3-mile boardwalk. Hotels belly up to its bustling edge, some of them dating back to the 1920s -- and restaurants, ice-cream stands, and T-shirt emporiums fill in the gaps. At the boardwalk's end, near the circa-1926 fishing pier, indulge in amusement rides and a huge Ferris wheel. Head out for a golf outing on one of the city's 17 courses. On Coastal Highway, shopping centers and shops vie for your attention -- and cash.
Eating and Drinking
You won't have to dress for dinner; a casual atmosphere prevails. As you might expect, seafood is the top draw, and in this part of the country, blue crabs rule. Order yours in meaty cakes or steamed in spices and tackled with mallet and knife. The local blues are ornery sorts in the water, but ever so sweet fried in batter and plated up with sides of slaw and fries. Classic salt-water taffy is a seaside staple.
Nightlife and Entertainment
High-season Ocean City has almost as much nightlife as it has sand. Sip cocktails at one of hundreds of beach and bay-side bars, from classy to dive. Singles can head to the multitudes of bars, nightclubs, and lounges. Miniature-golf courses are all the rage for after-dinner family recreation, and some are real doozies -- tee off in Renaissance castles, African safaris, and pirate ships.