Ocean City, New Jersey is the place to go if you want the all-American boardwalk experience without the bars, casinos, and Jersey Shore look-alikes. OCNJ is aptly nicknamed “America’s Greatest Family Resort”. It is located in South Jersey just an hour and a half from Philadelphia. This makes it popular with vacationers and day trippers who love to go “down the shore”. Below is a quick primer.
Who Should Go: Families and anyone looking for a vice-free shore experience with plenty to do. Ocean City is dry, so if you’re looking for an alcohol-infused stroll on the boards, check out nearby Atlantic City or Wildwood.
When to Go: They have events all year, but peak season is Memorial Day through Labor Day. May and September are also good months to go. Many stores are open and it’s less crowded. Just remember that the ocean will still be freezing in May in this part of the world.
Hitting the Beach: First, the pluses. Ocean City’s beach is clean, short, and flat. You won’t scorch your feet crossing a mile of white hot sand. You will never get lost on your way back to your blanket (lookin’ at you, Wildwood). The only real negative is that the beach is usually packed from late morning until dinner time. Since the beach is so short, don’t be surprised if you end up with a stranger’s blanket mere inches from your own.
Tip: Beach tags are required for everyone over the age of twelve in June, July, and August.
Where to Eat: You will find a lot of pizza, custard, and french fries on the boardwalk. A lot. Don’t miss Manco & Manco Pizza and Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard. Chickie’s & Pete’s, a Philadelphia-based restaurant, has two stores on Ocean City’s boardwalk. Definitely try their famous crab fries if you stop there. If you’re looking to sit down to a more traditional meal, check out Clancy’s By the Sea between 12th and 13th. They have indoor and outdoor dining.
Tip: Watch out for the seagulls if you get fries. They seem to be a favorite of the gulls who are not afraid to swoop down and help themselves right out of your cup. They are so aggressive that Ocean City has banned people from feeding them.
Where to Shop: Hidden among the scores of t-shirt shops are a few unique places that are worth checking out. The Surf Mall was a movie theater in its former life. It’s now filled with a bunch of small shops that sell everything from incense to clothes. It’s a great place to wander through while you escape the heat or an unexpected rain.
Uncharacteristic of boardwalk jewelers, Henry’s embraces its beachy locale with class. This fine jeweler has a big store near 12th a smaller one near 9th. A trip to the boardwalk isn’t complete until you pick up some saltwater taffy to take home. OC has quite a few candy shops, my favorite of which is Shriver’s at 9th Street. Shriver’s sells salt water taffy, fudge, and a wide variety of other candies. It has a cool old-time feel. If you are lucky, you can watch them making the candy in the back.
If you are in the mood for more of a Main Street vibe, head to Asbury Avenue between 6th and 14th. This street has a wide variety of shops from home goods to clothes to surf gear. There is also a sprinkling of small cafes and restaurants. Be sure to stop in Stainton’s while you’re there. This gallery has over 50 small boutique shops with a unique assortment of items.
Where to Get Some Exercise: At around 2.5 miles, the boardwalk is a great place for a morning walk or run. Bikes and surreys are allowed until noon – they even have their own lanes. The beach is another great place to burn some calories. Go for a peaceful stroll early in the day or in the evening. Take a surf lesson. Go boogie boarding.
Other Things to Do: The north end of the boardwalk is home to the amusements. This is where you will find both Gillian’s Wonderland Pier (6th Street) and the OC Waterpark (Plymouth Pl). Miniature golf courses are scattered all along the boardwalk. One of the more unique of these is Medieval Fantasy near 13th. Portions of it that are indoors are filled with blacklight paintings.
Ocean City lives up to its family friendly reputation but what sets it apart is the variety of things to do. Ocean City is centrally located on South Jersey’s coast. It is an easy drive from there to Atlantic City, Long Beach Island, Wildwood, and Cape May. This makes it a great place to set up camp for a week of exploring the shore.