Ocean City, Maryland: A family-friendly seaside escape

Ocean City Stats
Founded: 1875
Population: 7,102
Nickname: The White Marlin Capital of the World

Ocean City has been a favorite spot for vacationers in the Mid-Atlantic region since the mid-1800s. With up to 8 million visitors annually, Ocean City becomes Maryland’s second most populated town during the busiest summer months.

With its small town charm, peaceful natural beauty and abundance of activities and entertainment from boardwalk amusements and water activities to golf and outlet shopping, Ocean City is the perfect place to spend an RTX exchange week or getaway.

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While strongly dependent on the seasons, with families flocking to the beaches during summer break and a handful of golfers sticking through the colder winter months, spring is an ideal time to visit while the weather is warming and the crowds are still relatively light. Ocean City’s famous boardwalk is a must-see for any vacationer, but there’s plenty to explore beyond the boardwalk that everyone will enjoy.

Assateague Island National Seashore

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More than 300 wild ponies live on the Assateague Island National Seashore which boasts over 37 miles of pristine beach on a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sinepuxent Bay, stretching across the border of Maryland and Virginia. The Maryland entrance to Assateaugue is only 9 miles from Ocean City. The entrance fee to the national seashore is $15 per car, which will get you a seven-day pass that is good for both the Maryland and Virginia entrances. Be sure to make Assateague one of your first stops during your Ocean City vacation so that you can get the best value for your money.

Stop at the Visitors Center prior to crossing the bridge for information on the island’s wildlife, nature trails and a suggested route for visiting the park in both states. There are several options for canoe or kayak tours and rentals, and there are also designated areas for fishing and crabbing. Spend a full day on the island, or spread your activities over as many days as your pass allows.

Don’t worry about missing the wild ponies – often there is a small herd grazing as soon as you cross the Verrazzano Bridge. The best and most scenic way to get the lay of the land is to walk the island’s three nature trails. They are clearly marked by road signs, and each has its own parking area. Use the free brochures from the Visitors Center to find out about the flora and fauna you will see on each hike.

The Marshland Walk immediately gives you gorgeous and expansive views of the bay and most likely some ponies and herons. Take the small flight of stairs near the lookout down to the shoreline, as you’re likely to see crabbers seeking their dinner. Next on the route is the Forest Trail, where you’ll need to put on an extra coat of bug spray. The tall conifers and stunning view at the lookout are worth putting up with the pesky bloodsuckers. The third trail takes you through the dunes, where part of the trail includes the old Baltimore Highway, originally built in the 1950s and destroyed in 1962 by the storm that led to the creation of the national seashore.

Know before you go

  • Wear appropriate shoes. While the three half-mile loop trails are easy, and two of them are even wheelchair accessible, the Dunes trail is completely in the sand and the high tides can create water puddles placed inconveniently on the path.
  • Obey all signs regarding traffic and wildlife. This is a nature preserve and to keep it available for people, it’s crucial to pay attention to these regulations.
  • Respect the rules about the ponies. Don’t get too close and don’t drive too fast. The Pony Patrol will be around to be sure these rules are obeyed.

What to bring

  • Camera: This is truly one of the most beautiful places on the East Coast.
  • Bug spray: Mosquitoes love the marshlands on Assateague, and they are relentless.
  • Sun protection: Most of the island is exposed to the sun and the water will reflect and magnify it on your skin.
  • Bathing suit & beach towel: The beaches are beautiful and less crowded than those on Ocean City. Bathrooms and showers are available as well.
  • Picnic lunch: A picnic area near the Marshland Walk has tables, rest rooms, a charcoal grill and a perfect view.

Outlet Shopping

If you need a break from the sun, sand and frenzy of the boardwalk; or if the weather happens to fail you on your Ocean City vacation, there’s plenty of room for retail therapy. Once you’ve had your fill of beachwear stores and sunglasses kiosks, hit up the area’s outlets.

Just a half-hour drive up the Coastal Highway is the Tanger Outlet complex in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (a tax-free state). Check with the front desk at your resort for a local coupon book, which will contain a voucher that can be redeemed for more coupons at these outlets. There are three complexes with more than 450 stores full of your favorite brands’ factory outlets – Midway (where the Customer Service Center is located), Bayside and Seaside.

If the thought of that many stores makes your head spin a little, there is a very happy medium. The Ocean City Factory Outlets are just outside of Ocean City. One mid-size complex houses about 30 stores that give you plenty of options without overwhelming you or taking up your entire day.

CIMG2124Reward yourself for bargain hunting at the Ocean City Factory Outlets with a sweet treat from the Original Smith Island Cake Company. In 2008, the Maryland State Legislation established the Smith Island Cake as the Official State Dessert of Maryland, so you know it must be delicious.

This decadent cake typically contains between six and 12 pencil-thin yellow cake layers with rich chocolate fudge icing in between.  While the original flavor is certainly popular, you can choose from slices of red velvet, chocolate peanut butter, coconut, or whatever flavors the season may inspire. Cake pops and cupcakes are also available.

Out & About: Beyond OC

There are several towns within a short drive from Ocean City that are well worth a visit. Drive north on the Coastal Highway just a few minutes to tax-free Delaware and check out quiet Bethany Beach or go a little further to Rehoboth Beach. Head inland a few miles to one of the quaint nearby towns such as historic Berlin and experience a slower pace of life that will leave you refreshed.

Bethany Beach stretches for 7 miles on the southeastern corner of Delaware, just 10 minutes from Ocean City. Head toward the town’s own small boardwalk and explore the block of eateries and shops at the ocean end of Garfield Parkway. Be sure to get a photo of the town’s famous totem pole, “Chief Little Owl,” which was sculpted by Peter Toth who has placed a similar sculpture in all 50 states and 15 locations in Canada in the hopes of promoting unity among all people.

A few miles up the coast in Rehoboth Beach – the largest of Delaware’s towns along the Atlantic – is something between Bethany Beach and Ocean City. Its mile-long boardwalk features restaurants and shops, and serious shoppers can visit the area’s Tanger Outlets. From Rehoboth, head about 14 miles inland to the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton. Free tours, pint sales, growler fills and food will keep you entertained while sampling this beloved local brew.

CIMG2105Just 10 minutes inland from Ocean City takes you to the countryside where stretches of farmland are interrupted only by small, quaint villages. Berlin is known for its Hollywood cameos as its picturesque streets have been the setting for big screen productions “Tuck Everlasting” and “Runaway Bride.” There’s no need to rush through your visit through this sleepy town. Enjoy a carriage ride, browse through the many galleries and boutiques, take a walk along the residential streets to take in the Victorian style homes, and above all, be sure to stop in at one of several curious eateries for lunch.

One lunch or dinner spot that is well worth a visit is The Globe, which clearly gets its name from The Bard’s famous theater. From the marquee advertising the day’s specials to the dark, cool entrance complete with heavy velvet curtains, there’s no question that this building’s original purpose was to entertain. Ask for a table on the stage, where they still host productions including murder mystery dinner theater events and live music.

Spending a day out and about in towns surrounding Ocean City is a great way to add variety to your beach vacation, and you just might discover your new favorite place along the way.

Spring Events & Festivals

St. Patrick’s Day: Each St. Patrick’s Day, the Delmarva Irish-American Club hosts the Ocean City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which travels the Coastal Highway from 58th Street to 45th Street. At the parade’s end, there are plenty of fun festivities including food, drink and live entertainment. Everyone is Irish in Ocean City at least one day a year! 2014 Date: March 15  145845867
Springfest: This four-day festival culminates at the south end of the boardwalk and features delicious regional food, local arts and crafts and plenty of live entertainment. While some events are ticketed, admission to the festival is free, so join locals and visitors at this favorite event that celebrates the start of spring and beach season. 2014 Dates: May 1-4 76767593

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