Summertime changes Ocean City. The population swells tenfold. Beaches get crowded. Parking gets challenging. Lines for food, rides, and restrooms stretch. As much as many year-round residents financially depend on the seasonal influx of visitors, many also resent the annual loss of ease and quiet.
Ocean City locals still refer to summer-only visitors as “shoobies.” The name comes from a 100-year-old daytripper tradition of packing lunches in shoeboxes to take from Philly to the Shore.
Summer visitors still take O.C.’s marketing slogan to heart: “America’s Greatest Family Resort” is full of families from June through August. Some come for the day or weekend, many others stay for a week or longer. Every Wednesday, the city hosts a contest to keep kids entertained: French fry-sculpting, doughnut-eating, hermit-crab races, etc.
The resort clings to its roots as a Methodist retreat via the last vestiges of its blue laws. No liquor is sold or served. Period. Those unfamiliar with this policy balk, but if they want a box of wine, they’ll need to cross a bridge to purchase it and bring it back.
The island’s fine-sand beaches get the bulk of inhabitants’ attention on non-rainy days. Tags are required and checked at most beach entrances. Lifeguards keep swimmers safe, whistling to stay between the flags and off rock jetties. Feeding the gulls is generally frowned upon; the seabirds will help themselves to your lunch anyway.
The second-most-popular pastime is, and has always been, the 2.45-mile boardwalk. The boards between Sixth and 14th Streets are home to two amusement parks, dozens of merchants, and one old and busy Music Pier.
Amusement-wise, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, owned by Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, is the slightly more peaceful option. There are old-timey boats and cars for the preschool set, and just enough space to not step on someone on your way to the tilt-a-whirl, log flume, or Ferris wheel, the one you can see from the bridges. The other option is Playland’s Castaway Cove, which features a full arcade, a galleon that appears to swing into the Double Shot, and the newer, scarier GaleForce roller-coaster.
As for sustenance, it’s been a few years since the most popular pizza place changed its name. Folks now remember to call it Manco & Manco. Elsewhere, O.C. sells a state’s fair’s worth of fare: caramel corn (Johnson’s), cotton candy (everywhere), old-time fudge (George’s), saltwater taffy (Shriver’s), soft-serve custard (Kohr Brothers), curly fries (Curly’s), burgers (Hamburger Construction Co.), waffles with ice cream (Prep’s), and, for the slightly more health-conscious, grilled seafood (Hula Grill) and banana whips (Bashful Banana).
Days end when the kids conk out or after someone’s had a fry swiped by a gull.
Ocean City is nothing if not flush, and capital improvements abound. On 2019’s to-do list: new brick pathways for Asbury Avenue and a new roof for the old Music Pier.
Late last summer, an inflatable aqua obstacle course from Totally Tubular Watersports opened in the bay on the north end. This year, it’s moved up a block to 228 Bay Ave., and expanded to 2,000 square feet of bright slides and jump-offs. A 45-minute, book-ahead session costs $35, life jackets included.
New on the boardwalk: More escape rooms, more virtual reality, and more concerts at the Music Pier: Buddy Guy, the Turtles, Boz Scaggs, a Queen tribute band, and Lou Gramm of Foreigner.
The aforementioned blue laws that have long kept O.C.’s dining scene down are starting to waver. Restaurants are working around 2012’s BYOB ban by following in the footsteps of the Ocean City Yacht Club. They’re turning their eateries, at least parts of them and on select nights, into private dining clubs.
Bradley Cooper keeps a modest Shore house in Brigantine — at least, his mom, Gloria, does. The actor-director’s photo is all over that island’s Richman’s Ice Cream. But no Cooper-Shayk family trip down the Shore would be complete without lunch in Ocean City, at Bob’s Grill.
Bob’s has occupied the last merchant spot on the south end of O.C.’s boardwalk since 1928. Summer resident Ed Rendell used to go there, with the late Lew Klein (Longport). Grace Kelly and family lived 12 blocks south. Bradley Cooper is rumored to have ordered the egg-white omelet.
Will the Philly-born Cooper and his supermodel partner take their 2-year-old daughter into the Shore tradition this summer? Will ever-present grandmom Gloria treat the toddler to a grilled hot dog, followed by a tub of secret-recipe caramel corn from Johnson’s Popcorn?