Couples + Family

How to See Ocean City, Maryland Like a Local

Just a three-hour drive from Washington, D.C., or Baltimore, you’ll find Ocean City, Maryland, straddling the Atlantic Ocean and Isle of Wight Bay. This much-beloved beach enclave, Maryland’s largest beach town, provides both a getaway to the shore and a trip back in time.

The nerve center of O.C. (as it’s affectionately known) is the three-mile-long Ocean City Boardwalk, which dates to 1902 and is lined with snack and candy stalls; buzzing, whirring arcades; and jam-packed souvenir shops that will take you back to your childhood — or even your parents’ childhoods.

Boardwalk Bites and Vintage Rides

Arrive hungry because you’ll need to do some real nutritional damage in order to have an authentic O.C. Boardwalk experience. First, hit the Alaska Stand for funnel cakes, Dolle’s for colorful pastel salt water taffy, Dumser’s Dairyland for a frothy milkshake and Thrasher’s French Fries for crispy spears doused in malt vinegar.

Ocean City, MD
Taste a bit of Ocean City history at Dumser’s. (Photo: Getty Images)

Once sated, take a spin ’round the vintage 1912 carousel at Trimper’s Rides and Amusements (calling dibs on the rooster, tiger or hippocampus), fly high above the ocean on the seaside Ferris Wheel at Jolly Roger Amusement Park, and pop into the Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum to learn about the history of local rescues and the boardwalk itself.

Play a round of pirate-themed putt-putt at Embers Island Mini Golf, or try your luck at Skee-Ball at Marty’s Playland. If you find yourself slowing down, hitch a ride on the Boardwalk Tram. Hop on or off anywhere along the half-hour route, which travels the length of the boardwalk and the Ocean City Pier.

Pause on a bench for a spell to gaze out at the Atlantic (or if you’re lucky, a spirited match of beach volleyball). Then stroll along the shoreline to get your feet wet; outdoor public showers are available when you’re ready for a rinse.

Ocean Air Awaits

If you long for the open water, consider a parasail ride with O.C. Parasail, go sea kayaking and SUP-ing (stand-up paddle boarding) with Odyssea Watersports, or climb to the top deck of one of OC Swim Call‘s pontoon boats for a seafaring nature tour.

Ocean City is a mecca for sport fishing, and half- or full-day charters can be booked with seasoned fishermen at the bayside Bahia Marina. Or simply hitch up your rod and head out to the O.C. Pier or toward the northern end of the boardwalk, the fishing lagoon at 58-acre Northside Park.

Out at sea you’re likely to find wahoo, mahi mahi, and white or blue marlin, while the Isle of Wight Bay is rich with flounder, trout and sea bass.

Feeling Crabby

Ocean City, MD
The local thing to do? Eat Maryland crabs, of course! (Photo: Getty Images)

Prefer your seafood pre-caught? Like much of Maryland, O.C. is hooked on blue crabs, and at the Crab Bag you’ll find full-spread feasts of crustaceans, coleslaw, ribs, fried chicken and, when in season, grilled corn.

In true local style, picnic tables here are spread with butcher paper, and the crabs — heavily dusted with Old Bay, eastern Maryland’s signature spice blend — are piled in the center. Armed only with mallets and Wet-Naps, your goal is to crack your way to as much crabmeat as possible.

O.C. After Dark

Be sure to catch a sunset from the bayside deck at Fager’s Island, where you can enjoy a handcrafted cocktail, an area-made brew and a free show by a local DJ or tribute band.

To dance into the wee hours, wander a few doors down to Seacrets, a Jamaican-themed sprawl of bars and stages, where you can groove to reggae, rock and pop while sipping adult slushies like the Dirty Banana, made with rum from Seacrets’ own distillery.

When to Visit

Summer is peak season in O.C. (bringing the nightly OC Beach Lights show to the boardwalk), but it’s a pleasure to visit year round.

Fall brings oysters, beach bonfires and the pre-Halloween fun of O.C.toberfest, while in winter you can bundle up lightly (temps hover at 50 degrees), bask in the glow of the Winterfest of Lights and have the boardwalk, beaches and bay largely to yourself.

Spring season gears up in early April, when early mornings are ideal for tide-pooling and hunting for shells. Ocean City will always be here for you, whenever you need a dose of seaside chill.