Ten miles of white sand and surf await you at the Atlantic Ocean resort town of Ocean City, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. With a long history of commercial and recreational fishing, and a year-round population of about 7,000, Ocean City (OC) is a bustling beach bum paradise. During the summer months, a sea of people floods this oceanfront town to enjoy the beach, bay, and treasured wetlands.
Situated on a barrier island, technically (but rarely) referred to as Fenwick Island, OC is known as the “White Marlin Capital of the World.” The Assateague Island National Seashore, Assateague State Park, and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge are all nearby.
OC will please everyone from the naturalist and night owl to the sun worshipper, water bug, and cuisine connoisseur. Water sports, boat cruises, family activities, fine dining, romance, fishing, and the famous three-mile boardwalk are just a few reasons why vacationers come back year after year.
Ocean City Municipal Airport (OXB) is 2 nm southwest of the town of Ocean City, and about 36 nm southeast of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area Special Flight Rules Area (DC SFRA). If you’re not familiar with SFRA procedures, it’s best to give it a wide berth. The thin sliver of beach just offshore from the airport is the Assateague Island National Seashore; it is separated from the mainland by the Sinepuxent Bay inland waterway. This island extends south to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Pilots are requested to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet AGL above these areas.
When arriving from the north, pilots can fly to the west or east to avoid the Philadelphia Class B. On the east side, transition the Atlantic City (ACY) Class C on the coast, 73 nm north-northeast of Ocean City and then fly south along the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Just south of Cape May County Airport (WWD), you’ll have to cross the 10-nm-wide mouth of Delaware Bay between Cape May Point and Cape Henlopen before continuing to Ocean City. On the west side of the Philadelphia Class B, you can fly direct to Claremont Airport (58M) and then continue 83 nm south-southeast to Ocean City. Make sure to remain outside the DC SFRA, which is depicted on the sectional chart and defined by a 60-nm radius around the DCA VOR-DME, unless you have received the appropriate flight training for the DC SFRA.
Pilots arriving from the south should use caution in the vicinity of the Wallops Flight Facility (WAL), a private, controlled airport 27.5 nm southwest of Ocean City. The facility launches rockets through the restricted Areas 6604A and 6604B that are to the south.
Ocean City has two runways: 4,072 x 75-foot Runway 14/32 and 3,204 x 75-foot Runway 2/20. The airport can be very busy on weekends, and watch for intensive flight training, helicopter operations, parachuting, banner towing, and ultralights. Pilots should avoid the residential areas north and south of the field, and are requested to limit operations to 7 a.m.–10 p.m.
Current weather conditions can be obtained from the ASOS on 119.025 MHz or 410-213-1530. Tiedowns are in front of the FBO, $6 partial-day, $12 overnight. Amenities include a pilot lounge, vending machines, snooze room, rental car, ATM, Internet access, computerized flight planning, and small aircraft maintenance.The FBO has Jet A (full-serve only) and 100LL (self- or full-serve), open daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m. (mid-Sep–mid-May), Mon–Thu 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Fri–Sun 8 a.m.–7 p.m. (mid-May–mid-Sep), 410-213-2471.
Fenwick Island got its name from Englishman Thomas Fenwick. Lord Baltimore, who was a member of the Calvert Family that governed Maryland and what is now Delmarva Peninsula, gave him the land in the late 1600s.
The island remained undeveloped until local farmer, Isaac Coffin, built a small inn in 1869 to accommodate the occasional fisherman looking for a getaway from the city. The area also began to attract businessmen from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington. Quick development followed, and Ocean City was incorporated in 1880. In 1876, a railroad bridge was built over the Sinepuxent Bay. Before the railroad, visitors had to ride a train and then cross the bay by boat to travel to the island. The famous OC Boardwalk was constructed from 1900 to 1915.
A devastating hurricane in 1933 proved both a blessing and a curse for Ocean City. The storm flooded the town’s streets, leveled many buildings, and suspended commuter access to the mainland. But it also cut the Ocean City Inlet through the island, linking the ocean with the bay, and separating Ocean City from Assateague Island. This easy access to the Atlantic Ocean propelled Ocean City’s fishing industry to new heights; it soon became an important Mid-Atlantic fishing port and sport-fishing destination. The first white marlin was caught in 1934.
Rapid expansion of the city took place after World War II. In 1952, the completion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge allowed easy access by vacationers from the Baltimore-Washington metro area. In the 1970s, another construction phase began with the addition of condominiums. With this, Ocean City became, and still is, one of the most popular vacation areas on the East Coast. Modern hotels, condos, mini-golf courses, and restaurants are now part of the landscape.
Trolleys passing by and the pinging sounds of pinball machines can be seen and heard on the boardwalk. But, the enchantment of the ocean and nostalgia remain. The White Marlin Open, one of the largest fishing tournaments in the world, with over 300 boats participating, is held in August.
Ocean City caters to many vacation styles. Amusement park rides, museums, seafood extravaganzas, bathing, sipping poolside frozen drinks, boogie boarding, surfing, parasailing, boat cruises, live music… Do any of these float your boat? With activities happening year-round, there is never a bad time to go. Of course, the summer months are the busiest; typical summer temperatures average in the mid-80s with evening temperatures in the high-60s. Spring and fall offer highs in the 60s.
No trip is complete without a visit to the beach and the OC boards, the famous boardwalk lined with tacky tourist shops, arcades, old-time photo booths, street performers, hotels, bars, and amusement rides. Surfside snack vendors also sell the traditional items like caramel popcorn, fudge, salt-water taffy, French fries, funnel-cakes, ice cream, and all other bikini-bursting bites imaginable.
The beach, lined with dune ridges, is blanketed with beachgoers, brightly colored beach towels, chairs, and umbrellas with a backdrop of high-rise hotels and kites flying overhead. Serious surfers should bring their board or rent one at Chauncey’s Surf Shop, $25 for eight hours, on Coastal Hwy at 28th St., 410-289-7405, and also at 54th St., 410-524-6005. For a casual romp in the water, buy a boogie board in one of the boardwalk shops or go body surfing to catch some waves.
Free fun at the beach includes outdoor concerts and family movie nights. Concerts are held on Wednesdays in the summer 8–9:30 p.m. Movie nights, including arts, crafts, and games, happen at 8:30 p.m. every Wed (Jun–Aug) on the beach at the Carousel Hotel, 118th St. Other summer events include an air show in mid-June, car shows, and a firemen’s parade.
If you want to fly as high as the kites you see at the beach, visit O.C. Parasail to soar above the landlubbers and water rats at 400, 600, or 800 feet. The entire excursion lasts about an hour, and your time in the air is about 10–15 minutes, $60–$80, 54th St. on the bay and at the Talbot Street Pier, 410-723-1464.
A boardwalk tradition is Trimper Amusement Park, owned by the Trimper Family for more than 100 years, with attractions like Bumper Boats, the Zipper, Haunted House, Mirror Maze, and Tidal Wave rollercoaster. Of the more than 100 attractions, the gem is the restored 1902 Herschell-Spillman antique carousel featuring hand-carved, wooden animals including horses, ostriches, frogs, and lions, single tickets 60¢, ticket sheets $20, all-day wrist band $26, open mid-Jun–Labor Day, weekends noon–midnight (or later), weekdays 1 p.m.–close, call for spring and fall hours, 1st St. and the Boardwalk near the Inlet, 410-289-8617.
Before there was the Coast Guard, the Life-Saving Service rescued those in distress upon the waters. You can learn the heroic stories of these “Angels in Oilskin” and how they got their name at the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum. Commissioned in 1878, it was once an active station of the coastal system established by the U.S. Treasury Department. Today, the museum houses original equipment used during rescues, sand from all over the world, and local exhibits. If you think your teeny bikini will never go out of style, view the selection of swimsuits that span the sands of time in the Beach Room exhibit. The Aquarium Room will open your eyes to the underwater world of the Atlantic Ocean. Are mermaids real? What is a fossil shark tooth? What is the shipwreck story of the Andrea Doria? Learn all this and more, admission $1–$3, open daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (Jun–Sep), Wed–Sun 10 a.m.–4 p.m. (Apr–May & Oct–Nov), Sat–Sun 10 a.m.–4 p.m. (Dec–Mar), Boardwalk at the Inlet, 410-289-4991.
Fun for the whole family begins at the Talbot Street Pier where narrated cruises, pirate outings, speedboat rides, and fishing excursions depart daily. You and 74 others can board the Assateague Adventure for a nature cruise to learn about sea-critters, enjoy bird watching, and visit the famous wild ponies that roam the shores of Assateague Island. A knowledgeable skipper will take you on an hour tour of the harbor and provide history while you take in some Jimmy Buffett background music. Once you get to the island, grab your camera and a net. You’ll need them to take pictures of the ponies, and scoop up scallops, clams, and conches. Back on board, be prepared for a “show and tell” to share your finds with your shipmates and touch marine animals, $9–$17, 8–10 trips daily in summer, 2–3 trips daily spring and fall, call for times, Talbot Street Pier, 410-289-9125.
For information on all activities, lodging, and dining, contact the Ocean City Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4001 Coastal Hwy, 410-289-2931 or 800-626-2326.
Coastal Highway, the main drag in OC, as well as the beach and boardwalk, are lined with many beachfront and bayside hotels, condos, and bed-and-breakfast inns. Even so, it’s difficult to find last-minute vacancy during the summer, and most establishments require a two- or three-night minimum stay. If you want first-class luxury accommodations and a room with a view, stay at one of the Fager’s Island properties, the Lighthouse or the Edge.
The Lighthouse Club Hotel has 23 spacious one-bedroom suites decorated in an upscale beach motif with crisp white colors and wicker furniture. The Lighthouse Suites offer views of the Isle of Wight Bay or the Wetlands, as well as queen-sized beds, wet bar, refrigerator, marble bathroom with Jacuzzi tub, robes, evening turndown service, and continental breakfast. In addition to these amenities, the Lightkeeper Suites have a gas fireplace, private deck, double Jacuzzi tub, and shower. Both properties have use of the Great Room in the Lighthouse Club with sitting areas, fireplace, wrap-around porch overlooking the Bay, and WiFi throughout. Off-season is just as enjoyable, if not more so, as it allows you to relax in the lap of luxury and enjoy the warmth of your fire and views of the water without feeling obligated to leave your room. Suites run $129–$369 (Nov–May), and $250–$445 (Jun–Oct), 60th St. Bayside, 410-524-5400 or 888-371-5400.
Every room at The Edge has an impressive bay view. Enjoy spectacular sunsets from the comfort of your couch or your private balcony. Each of the 12 modern, yet comfortable, suites in this boutique hotel is custom-designed with furnishings and art from around the world. Choose from rooms such as the two-bedroom Bliss room with a Tibetan influence, the split-level Africa-themed Safari room, or the Hang Five Penthouse suite. The collection of art found within the rooms includes safari prints, black-and-white photographs, and artifacts like oars and baskets. Although each room is unique, you’ll find that all have upscale amenities including fireplaces, double Jacuzzi tubs, luxurious bathrooms with glass and tile-enclosed showers, feather beds, wet bars, robes, concierge and evening turndown service, and continental breakfast. Suites range $209–$369 off-season, $369–$490 in-season, 56th St. Bayside, 410-524-5400 or 888-371-5400.
Monopoly comes to life at the Park Place Hotel just steps from the sand on the Boardwalk. The hotel is typical of most of OC’s beachfront and boardwalk hotels with classic accommodations and clean rooms. Rooms are decorated with bright colors and patterns of breezy blue and pastel, complemented by your seaside surroundings; they have microwaves, refrigerators, private balconies, TVs, WiFi, in-room safe, sofa bed, and sitting area. The balconies are great places to people-watch. On-site, you’ll find an oceanfront deck and bar, heated outdoor pool, game room, and Connor's Beach Café that has an upstairs deck overlooking the beach. Rooms run $55–$150 (mid-Oct–Nov & Feb–Apr), $140–$350 (May–mid-Oct), three-night minimum stay Jun 13–Labor Day, 2nd & 3rd St. oceanfront, 410-289-6440 or 888-212-PARK.
Breathe in some sweet, salty air at Inn on the Ocean, the only boardwalk B&B and Maryland’s only oceanfront bed-and-breakfast inn. Choose from six individually decorated rooms, all with TVs and private bathrooms, robes, and Wi-Fi. Floral wallpaper, dark wood furnishings, elegant bedding, and accessories like plants, pictures, and decorative pillows make each room unique. Choose the Veranda Room with oceanfront views, a queen bed, and Jacuzzi, or the Oceana Room with a king bed, Jacuzzi, and private balcony overlooking the ocean. Extra amenities include private parking, free use of bicycles, beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, and a front porch and patio facing the boardwalk. Guests enjoy relaxing in the living room with fireplace, hardwood floors, and an abundance of antiques. All guests enjoy afternoon refreshments and a seated gourmet breakfast, 10th St. and the Boardwalk, $135–$290 off-season, $175–$420 in-season, 410-289-8894 or 888-226-6223.
Ocean City is a mecca of fresh fish and seafood, as well as tasty beach treats like pizza, popcorn, and Boardwalk fries. Whether you’re looking to have a special night on the town or dine in your swim trunks, Ocean City offers it all.
Just steps from the Lighthouse Club and the Edge, Fager’s Island Restaurant and Bar is a lesson in luxury. Each night, as the sun goes down to the sounds of Tchaikovsky, guests soak in the scenery and surroundings of the 200-seat dining room. White tablecloths and a dimly-lit atmosphere set the stage for a romantic evening. Stunning sunsets and expansive bay-front views will have you salivating even before you set eyes on the menu. You’ll find seafood, fish, and steak entrées. Try the Fresh Crisp Calamari for starters, served with Cajun remoulade sauce, Thai chili sauce, and vodka sauce. Pair it with a bottle from the extensive wine list or the award-winning proprietor’s list, upon request. Then savor dishes such as Maryland-style Crab Cake Combos, with lobster, oysters, or scallops, or the Organic Chicken Breasts Thai Curry Style with Thai basmati rice with snow peas. They have live bands most Friday and Saturday nights at 9 p.m. The popular Sunday Jazz Brunch features entrées like Salmon Eggs Benedict, Crab Chesapeake, or French Brie and Asparagus three egg omelet, $8.50–$22, 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Casual options like a raw bar, outdoor dining, and beachfront seating are also available for lunch and dinner, entrées $28–$42, dinner 5 p.m.–roughly 11 p.m., reservations only, 60th St. Bayside, 410-524-5500 or 855-432-4377.
Layton’s Family Restaurant is an Ocean City tradition, famous for serving fresh cake-like donuts in a casual, cheery atmosphere. Choose chocolate glazed, cinnamon, coconut, and powdered to name a few. But, don’t spoil your meal. Open for breakfast and lunch, the restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating. Dinner is served in prime summer season. Half of the main dining room is decorated in an “under the sea” theme with tropical paintings, a 400-gallon salt-water aquarium, and palm-frond fans. The other half is a railroad theme with a 15-ft. train hanging from the ceiling, Pepsi-Cola signs, and old-fashioned, lantern-style chandeliers. You’ll often find a line out the door, but don’t worry; many are only getting donuts to go. Breakfast is served all day, but the morning breakfast buffet (in-season only) is always a hit. For $9, chow down on French toast sticks, waffles, eggs, bacon, and of course, donuts. The regular breakfast menu offers items like Coconut Banana Pancakes, Eastern Shore Crabber omelet, and Vanilla Belgian waffles. A variety of subs and sandwiches such as the Chicken Parm Sub, Turkey Reuben, and Mushroom Cheeseburger is served for lunch, meals $7–$14.50, 6:30 a.m.–around 9:30 p.m., open year-round, weekends only in off-season, 16th and Philadelphia Ave, 410-289-6635.
There’s a certain nostalgic feel to Harrison’s Harbor Watch restaurant. There is plenty of seating at this casual 200-plus-seat surf-and-turf establishment, but reservations are still recommended during the peak summer months. Model ships, pictures of fishermen, seagulls, fish, a rustic wood ceiling, and signs that read “sailor’s rest” and “fish market” embellish the nautical décor. Try to score a window seat overlooking the inlet and boasting views of Assateague Island. The extensive menu has seafood, fish, steak, and pasta choices, but many people come to dine at the raw bar only. Try the Seafood Au Gratin, a large portion of sweet blue crab, lump crab, bay scallops, and shrimp baked in a light cheese sauce, or choose from fresh fish like tilapia, rockfish, and yellow fin tuna with sauces like garlic and herb, tomato basil cream, and tropical mango and pineapple salsa. While waiting for your meal, enjoy hot rolls and cornbread or starters like Hickory BBQ Shrimp or the homemade Crab Dip recipe, entrées $17–$47, open 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. (mid-Mar–Nov), end of Boardwalk at the Inlet, 410-289-5121.
For something a little out of the ordinary, try the trendy wine bar and restaurant, Liquid Assets Bistro and Package Goods. It’s a rare pearl among the salty-dog surroundings. The small shop in the front room has wine gifts and gadgets in front of a large, classy barroom area decorated with wine barrels and crates piled to the ceiling, shelves of wine, cozy lounge-sofas, and tables for two or four. In the back room, you’ll find another cozy rustic dining area with brick walls, wood tables, and cushy booths. The perimeter of the bar area has cases of cold beer and wines. Order wine or beer by the glass or choose a bottle off the shelf to accompany your meal. The menu changes often, but typically offers about 10 gourmet entrée choices ranging from souped-up sandwiches like the Deluxe Grilled Cheese with andouille, coleslaw, pane dolce, and thick-cut fries to the Seared Scallops and Mushroom Risotto dish with roasted shallots and garlic, fresh herbs, and grana. Starters include 3 Way Oysters, served up in three gourmet styles, bruschetta, steak tartare, or the antipasta board. The $9 lunch special, available in off-season, lets you choose two dishes from a list of 10 or so choices. For dessert, try the bread pudding, flourless chocolate brownie, or sample cheeses from around the world, entrées $13–$34, Sun–Thu 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m. (kitchen open till 11 p.m.), Fri–Sat 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. (kitchen open till midnight), no reservations, store open at 10 a.m. daily, 94th St. Plaza, Coastal Highway, 410-524-7037.
Getting around OC is a breeze. From the airport to town, the three-mile cab ride costs $12–$15. Local taxi service is offered by A Beach Taxi, 410-524-8294, and Century Taxi with Lincoln town cars and Cadillacs, 410-524-8888.
Once in town, a $6 all-day pass on the OC transit bus can get you just about everywhere you want to go. The bus runs year-round. Walking is also an option, since you’ll find restaurants, clubs, shops, and attractions on nearly every corner.
If you prefer to have a rental car, Enterprise, 410-213-0886, and Express Rent-A-Car, 410-213-7336, are available at the airport. Mid-sized sedans start at about $50 per day.
If the sight of the long, white, sandy strip of beach, the aroma of salt and sunscreen, the sounds of waves crashing along the shore excites you, then head to Ocean City. While you’re there, experience the ponies of Assateague, the life-saving stations of the past, and parasailing at 800 feet. The buzzing of beach-goers and the bustling boardwalk are all part of the seaside tradition. Create your own seaside tradition and make it yours.