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Insider's Guide: Ocean City

The sand is fine and the post-Sandy attitude is, too, on the seven-mile-long island that long ago proclaimed itself “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”

Colorful umbrellas will shield beach goers from the intense sun in Ocean City, NJ all summer long. (Eric Mencher/Inquirer)
Colorful umbrellas will shield beach goers from the intense sun in Ocean City, NJ all summer long. (Eric Mencher/Inquirer)Read more

THE SAND IS FINE and the post-Sandy attitude is, too, on the seven-mile-long island that long ago proclaimed itself "America's Greatest Family Resort."

Families in Ocean City are typically of the very traditional variety, as was intended by the foursome of Methodist ministers who established a Christian retreat there in 1879. These holy men also instituted Blue Laws that prohibited shopping on Sundays and the sale of any kind of alcohol. The first edict is no longer in effect, but the second one lives on - A recent vote firmly enforced the city's no-BYOB policy, too.

Former summer residents include Grace Kelly and Gay Talese, who grew up here. Current part-timers include Ed Rendell and Pat Croce, who owns the Pirate Island mini Golf on 9th Street.

Still, most local shore-goers are of the regular-guy variety, and many occupy identical new-construction houses for a week or so each season. There are a smattering of motels near the 2.5-mile boardwalk, and not a chain among them.

The boardwalk itself is the town's main attraction, with a pair of amusement parks, a handful of arcades and endless opportunities to eat junk food. Speaking of which:

_ Standing in line for a big, crispy, sloppy slice of pizza at one of Manco & Manco's bustling, spotless Boardwalk outposts is a summertime, suppertime rite of passage. Plain is the most popular. (To sound in the know, call the stores by their original name, "Mack & Manco.")

Post-pizza options include Johnson's warm caramel popcorn, made in copper tubs with a top-secret recipe and available at three boardwalk locations. Order a tubful with its top off, and the clerk behind the counter will pile it to overflowing.

Or you could back up dinner with Kohr's frozen custard, a soft-serve that originated in York, Pa., in 1919. Kohr's isn't exclusive to O.C., but it's as popular there as ever. Five boardwalk kiosks service endless orders of vanilla-and-chocolate swirl with rainbow jimmies.

_ Coffee connoisseurs will be hard pressed to find a decent latte on the island, and a good espresso is about as hard come by as a cocktail. Luckily, the North End's locally run, nearly hidden Who's on First Cafe at 100 Asbury Ave. brews up La Colombe beans and bakes homemade scones and bread. It also assembles some unusually yummy sandwiches.

Looking for a Starbucks? You'll have to travel to Margate or the mainland - or wait until August, when one's set to open at 11th and Asbury.

_ You'd think a spot on the ocean called Ocean City would be rich in local fish. Not so much. Still, there's decent but pricey takeout to be had at Spadafora's Market, which also has a small restaurant, Spadafora's Down East, just off the boardwalk at 843 Atlantic Ave. Have the clams.

_ Non-eating activities include a mandatory visit to Gillian's Wonderland Pier at 6th and the Boardwalk, site of the giant Ferris wheel visible anywhere the island. For eons, the Gillian family (which has also had its fair share of O.C. mayors, including the current one), has run this classic amusement park. There's always a new thrill or two, but the vintage kiddies rides, including a carousel, floating boats and tiny planes that go up and down are all indoors, and remain the cutest.

_ Visitors looking to participate in O.C.'s religious legacy can stop by a Sunday service or weekly activity at the Tabernacle, site of summer visits from myriad out-of-town preachers, singers and evangelists. (The Tabernacle, 550 Wesley Ave., also runs the Boardwalk's Moorlyn Family Theatre, an old cinema-turned-family entertainment venue.)

_ Tourists looking to enjoy a slightly more debauched island tradition oughta check out Night in Venice, an annual boat parade that's about as related to the famous Italian canals as - well, it's not at all related.

The July 20 sundown event is a chance for this dry town to get very wet via bayside costume parties that stretch along the parade's route from the Longport Bridge to Tennessee Avenue (between 22nd and 23rd streets).

_ In-between the pure and the not-so are a battery of odd events. The annual calendar includes a Miss Crustacean Pageant, hermit crab races, and the ever-popular Pamper Scamper. (Some would say the 104-year-old Baby Parade scheduled for Aug. 8 is a bit unusual, too, but that's for you to judge.) OC's official "Weird Contest Week" runs Aug. 12-16.

_ And back to drinking: If you're craving a nice glass of wine upon returning from the beach, go shopping before you get to town. Just before you hit the 9th Street Causeway or the 34th Street Bridge, you'll come across stores galore.

For a night out, however, the closest seaside spots to get your drink on are Strathmere (to the south), Somers Point and Tuckahoe (due west) and Longport/Margate (to the north). Some nearby bars smartly offer shuttle-home services.