Originally attracting members of Algonquian tribes, the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland have become today synonymous with its three mile long boardwalk, salt water taffy, and bountiful summer family fun opportunities. Europeans surveyed the Atlantic shoreline in 1524 and by the 17th century, British colonists began to settle; the land that became Ocean City became owned by planter Thomas Fenwick. Records show that an Isaac Coffin built the first rental cottage in 1869 and and 250 beachfront lots were then sold for development in what until 1870 was called the ‘Ladies’ Resort to the Ocean’. Isolated on a barrier island, Ocean City existed as a quiet fishing village until 1875, when the 400 room Atlantic Hotel was opened and visitors came to enjoy the natural wonders of the area.
A year later, the Baltimore and Eastern Railroad bridged Sinepuxent Bay and the island was eyed as a potential resort destination with its official incorporation occurring in 1880. A predecessor of the Coast Guard established a shipwreck assistance station in 1878 and the second 1891 station now serves as the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum. A first wooden beachside boardwalk was constructed in 1902 and Trimper’s Amusements soon made it their home base, though the first boardwalk was only used seasonally and removed for the winter months.
A storm in 1933 opened a new channel from the bay to the Atlantic Ocean- separating Ocean City from Assateague Island- and the new inlet became part of an expanded harbor, today much beloved for white marlin fishing. Ocean City extends ten miles from the Delaware border to the harbor inlet and bridges such as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel have allowed for easy travel connections to make Ocean City a top Eastern Seaboard vacation location. 15,000 high rise condominium units were built in the 1970’s, distinguishing Ocean City from nearby Delaware resorts that only contained cottages.
Everything in Ocean City centers around the boardwalk, a classic seaside strip of shops, eateries, arcades, and street performers. A star attraction is the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum which contains over 500 oddities from around the world housed in twelve themed galleries, as well as a ‘race the clock’ laser challenge, LaseRace, and the Marvelous Mirror Maze. The boardwalk contains two official amusement parks; Trimpers Rides actually predates the boardwalk itself, originally having been formed in 1890 under the name ‘Windsor Resort’ and claims the title of the world’s oldest continuously operating amusement park.
In 1912, Daniel Trimper purchased a two-tiered steam-driven Venetian styled Herchel-Spellmen carousel which has become a beloved boardwalk institution and landmark anchoring the south end of the beach strip. Formerly operating under the name The Pier, Jolly Roger Amusement Park has both a presence at the boardwalk and in uptown on 30th Street. While Trimper’s and the adjacent boardwalk location of Jolly Roger have a classic, carnival atmosphere, Jolly Roger’s larger location just three miles away includes Splash Mountain waterpark, mini golf, and Speedworld Go Karts. If that’s not enough options, Baja Amusements is just over the bridge in West Ocean City with mini golf, Go Karts, and two climbing walls.
In West Ocean City, you’ll also find shopping at the Tanger factory outlets, OC paintball, and several popular waterfront restaurants. The commercial fishing harbor is here too, with deep water docks and inlet access for both personal and commercial vessels. In the summer months, charter boats head out to the deep sea to fish for white and blue marlin, tuna, shark, and wahoo.
While storms have taken their toll on Ocean City, the historic downtown still contains a number of Victorian style houses and original buildings from the 1920’s and 30’s. A self guided tour brochure includes 19 stops in the oldest part of downtown plus 40 more in Upper Downtown, and many buildings sport scannable QR codes. The beach itself is another key draw and is cleaned nightly; the southern section tends to be the hub of activity and by comparison, the northern stretch delivers a quieter experience. Many tour boat operators offer cruises to explore the bay and perhaps spot whales or dolphins while opportunities abound to enjoy watersports such as surfing, jet skiing, water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, stand up paddle boarding, kite boarding, windsurfing, parasailing, and scuba diving.
A new addition to the town, petite Sunset Park is a half acre featuring native vegetation that attracts 140 species of migratory birds including flycatchers, terns, loons, gulls, herons, osprey, and pelicans. Crabbing can be done right from Ocean City’s public fishing piers and golfers will find seventeen championship courses located in town and nearby.
Ten miles south of town lies Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland’s portion of a 37 mile long and one mile wide barrier island- the largest natural barrier island in the Mid-Atlantic that is mostly in an intact natural state. The island was slated to become a 5,000 lot private resort community, but after a severe storm in 1962 that removed the few built structures and destroyed roads, it was decided the land was not stable enough to build upon.
The national seashore was created in 1965 and contains trails to explore marshland, dunes, and pine forest environments as well as a famous herd of 800-100 wild short statured horses known as Chincoteague ponies. The state border bisects the island with another horse herd roaming in Virginia, which operates their portion of the island as Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
Just fifteen minutes inland from Ocean City is the historic town and award winning Main Street of Berlin, from which trains once ran to the beach. Its origins in a 300 acre 1677 land grant, the village today contains 47 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places as well as Frontier Town which consists of a Western Theme Park, mini golf, and waterpark. Drive north from Ocean City and in nine miles you’ll reach Fenwick Island, Delaware, which hosts a shipwreck museum and an 1858 lighthouse.