Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ocean City, Maryland

We spent a long weekend in Ocean City, Maryland, with some friends to kick off the summer, and it was good, beachy fun. While the town lacks the charm of some of the New England locations we've been to (like Cape Cod, Newport and Kennebunkport), what it has going for it are great seafood and a multitude of activities for the kids. In addition to the boardwalk attractions that most seaside locales offer along the East Coast, Ocean City is home to three amusement parks and a water park, plus a go-kart park!

ocean city maryland beach family vacation

Where to Stay

It was difficult for us to choose between two beachfront hotels, the newish, all-suite Hilton Ocean City and the more quaint and charming Dunes Manor next door. The Hilton has an enormous, tricked-out pool with slides and waterfalls, while the Dunes features rocking chairs on the porch overlooking the ocean and complimentary tea and crumpets every afternoon. In the end, the Dunes won out for its more affordable price. And it ended up being a perfectly lovely choice, with clean, updated rooms and a quiet, relaxing vibe that was nice to return to after an active day.

dunes manor ocean city maryland

What to Do

The 10-mile public beach in Ocean City is fantastic  well-maintained and family-friendly, with plenty of facilities, activities and eateries along the stretch. We spent a couple of afternoons there, just enjoying the waves and sun.

dunes manor balcony view ocean city maryland

We also rented a surrey one morning to check out the boardwalk, and it was a fun way to get around (you can only ride bikes on the boardwalk until 11am). My son enjoyed counting the Candy Kitchens while we pedaled up and down (there were at least three).

surrey bike ocean city maryland boardwalk

Ocean City boasts not one, but three amusement parks all within a few blocks of one another. There are two Jolly Roger Amusement Parks, one at the pier that's geared toward older kids, and one at 30th Street for the younger set. Jolly Roger also runs a waterpark called Splash Mountain near the 30th Street location. In addition, there's a historic amusement park on the boardwalk called Trimper's, which mainly offers rides for younger kids. The two-tiered carousel here is the oldest continuously operating carousel in the entire country, dating back to 1912.

There's also no shortage of elaborate, interesting mini-golf courses in Ocean City. We played through the Temple of the Dragon on 23rd Street, but I don't think you can go wrong with any of the putt-putt places in town.

temple of the dragon putt putt mini golf ocean city maryland

If go-karts are your family's thing, there's a full-blown go-kart park called Speedworld in Ocean City that features 10 (yes, 10!) different tracks, including one just for kids (at least 38 inches tall), as well as the world's first go-kart/roller coaster hybrid track called the Cyclone. We tried it and had a blast driving up and down the five-story structure!

speed world go kart roller coaster ocean city maryland

Where to Eat

Our first and last dinners in Ocean City were our most memorable meals. The evening we got to town, we ate at On the Bay Seafood, and it was exactly the type of meal I was looking forward to here  different kinds of fresh crab with Old Bay and drawn butter, on picnic tables covered with brown paper. The sides and soups were delicious as well. Other seafood places on my list include the dockside Sunset Grille and Blu Crabhouse and Raw Bar.

on the bay seafood blue crab old bay ocean city maryland

Sick of seafood by the final evening, we had a hearty Italian dinner at Ristorante Antipasti. The prices are steep, but the big plates of perfectly al dente pasta are totally worth it.

We loved having breakfast at The Sahara Cafe and Malia's Cafe, across the street from one another. The diner-style Sahara serves every breakfast item imaginable, including almost as many options for kids as for adults. Malia's has a cuter ambience, and the breakfast is tasty and well done. The service at both places is fast and friendly.

For ice cream, Dumser's is the town institution, serving up creamy and soft-serve ice cream and shakes from seven locations around Ocean City (including one on the boardwalk). At least three of my friends from home recommended Dumser's when I mentioned I was going to Ocean City — and it didn't disappoint. My Oreo Crush cone was creamy, delicious, and worth a return trip.

What's Nearby

Just 20 minutes from Ocean City is Assateague Island National Seashore, a quietly beautiful park that offers easy hikes, kayaking, biking, camping and  surprise!  wild horses that roam the beaches and marshes. Visitors drive through the park looking for these horses, and you'll often see cars pulled over on the side of the road when there's a sighting. It reminded me of bison spotting in Yellowstone. The horses are pretty used to people gawking at them, but you're warned by patrolling park rangers to keep your distance, just in case.

assateague island wild horses

We did two kid-friendly hikes called the Forest Trail and the Marsh Trail, each less than half a mile round trip (they were more like leisurely strolls along raised walkways). In addition to the picturesque surroundings, we stopped to examine the marshy waters for crabs and tadpoles along the way. Then we spent a morning on the wide-open beach at Assateague, which is a great way to cool off after a hike.

assateague island marsh trail hiking