Set right on the Atlantic Ocean, Maryland’s ideal location lets you enjoy nearby adventures on beaches, bays and bar stools, as well as in bakeries — and even a bit of outer space.
Each of these five Ocean City day trips offers opportunities to explore the mostly laid-back (but occasionally explosive) landscapes of the sprawling Eastern Shore.
Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and Virginia
South of Ocean City, this 48,000-acre nature lover’s paradise is rimmed with quiet beaches, estuaries and salt marshes, but its main attraction is a band of wild horses descended from the 17th-century steeds of British colonists.
To see them from a safe distance, spread out a beach picnic (there are no food services here), rent a canoe or kayak from Assateague Outfitters, or take to any of the four miles of bayside bike paths that ring the park.
Assateague has two visitors centers/entrances: The Maryland District is 15 minutes’ drive from Ocean City, and Toms Cove is about an hour farther, in Chincoteague, Virginia. Entrance fees vary throughout the year, and you should be prepared to walk or bike into the seashore preserve itself, as it’s a car-free zone.
Ten miles west of the beach, the small town of Berlin may be best known for its many antique stores, but it’s practically an antique itself. Here you’ll find 47 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, most beautifully preserved and dating to the late 19th century.
Go for a self-guided stroll of the adorable downtown and then refresh yourself with a truly local beverage. Berlin’s Maryland Wine Bar offers Maryland-made wines (from popular vineyards like Bordeleau and Black Ankle) by the glass or bottle, as well as their own dessert wine made from vidal grapes.
If beer’s more your thing, stop into Burley Oak Brewing Company for house-made brews like Rude Boy and Aboriginal Gangster, as well as various fruit ales. For a booze-free treat, try their hearty in-house root beer.
Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware
About an hour north of Ocean City on the Delaware coast, the small town of Lewes is home to the sand dunes, swimming beaches and the shore birds of Cape Henlopen State Park.
Declared one of America’s first public lands in 1682, the 5,200-acre park offers an 18-hole disc golf course, a year-round fishing pier, and from late spring through mid autumn, surfing swells at Herring Point.
The Seaside Nature Center lends bikes for use on trails, like the three-mile Bike Loop, which includes the Fort Miles Historic Area (which has a 15,000-square-foot underground bunker from World War II) and the five-mile Junction and Breakwater, which follows the path of the old Penn Central railroad, passing coastal marshes and conifer forests.
Walking trails allow you to experience the area’s dunes, pine trees, salt marshes, ponds and, when in bloom, wildflowers like beach heather and pink lady’s-slipper.
Wallops Island, Virginia
Feel the need for some space, with or without the kids? NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is one of only four rocket launch locations in the U.S., serving the International Space Station and other out-of-this-world missions.
About an hour and a half’s drive from Ocean City and four miles from the facility launchpad, the Wallops Island Visitor Center features free admission; exhibits on aeronautics and orbital, sub-orbital and sounding rockets; and an adjacent field with bleachers for launch viewing. Be sure to consult the launch schedule before your visit.
Throughout the year public programs at Wallops Island include films and presentations on the solar system, opportunities to set off model rockets, and a chance to peek through high-powered telescopes at the constellations in an Eastern Shore night sky.
Smith Island, Maryland
Nine miles offshore from the fishing village of Crisfield, the Chesapeake Bay’s Smith Island produces two things: America’s finest soft-shell crabs and Maryland’s official dessert, Smith Island Cake.
Traditionally consisting of nine layers of yellow cake, chocolate frosting between each layer and on top, this treat can be found at the island’s Bay Inn Restaurant and Bakery. While on the car-free island, look out for egrets, ibis and osprey, and visit the Smith Island Heritage Center to learn about the Cornish watermen who first settled here back in the 16th century.
Smith Island is reachable only by boat between May and October. From Ocean City, drive an hour and 15 minutes to Crisfield’s Somers Cove Marina and then take a roughly 45-minute boat ride. Smith Island Cruises generally departs from Crisfield at 12:30 p.m. and allows you to spend two and a half hours on the island, while Smith Island Charters enables you to book private trips with more flexible schedules.