Hit the Beach. Then Check Out More Fun Things to Do in Ocean City, Maryland

Mary Dixon Lebeau Avatar

crowded Ocean City MD beach
Beach in Ocean City, MD. Photo credit: Shutterstock/Eliyahu Yosef Parypa

If you’re looking for classic seaside fun, like warm sandy beaches and Ferris wheel rides over the boardwalk – you’ll find them all in Ocean City, Maryland. It’s a classic shore town, yet it’s so much more. Amazing sandcastles and wild horses are just a couple of reasons my family likes to take a long weekend (or week-long) break at this treasure by the Atlantic Ocean. We come for the beach and the boardwalk – but stay for the roller coasters, crab cakes and so much more!

Laze in the Sun on the Ocean City Beaches

When looking for fun things to do in Ocean City, Maryland, I have to start with the obvious. And obviously, we’re there for the beaches, right? Ocean City provides ten full miles of beautiful sandy beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, just perfect for sunbathing, jet skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding or building sandcastles in the sun. (We’re usually inspired – and intimidated – by the Biblical sand sculptures built each year by Randy Hofman on the Ocean City beach. In the summer months, check them out in front of the Plim Plaza Hotel on the boardwalk in downtown Ocean City.)

The oceanfront fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Grab an ice cream on the boardwalk, then head back to the soft sand to catch a concert, watch a family-friendly movie or ooh and ahh over fireworks (and not just on the Fourth of July!).

Read More: The Ultimate Family Beach Vacation Packing List

Learn About Some Superheroes

Though the beach means rest and relaxation for me, I know that’s thanks to the well-trained, sharp-focused lifeguards, many of whom return year after year to keep vacationers and locals safe while riding the waves. That’s why I’m glad to have stumbled upon the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum (literally – it wasn’t on our agenda, but I was looking for a place to wash off and treat a stubbed toe).

First, stop at the giant anchor outside the museum, which was one of our favorite picture-taking spots in Ocean City. Definitely Insta-worthy! Then step inside to learn about the history of the United States Life-Savings Service from 1878 to 1914, when it served on the eastern shore of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.

I loved reading through the 19th-century daily log, full of amazing stories of life-saving. Another fun exhibit consists of lines of bowls of sand. This, the Sands of the World Exhibit, lets you compare the sand on the beaches outside to that on the beaches of Iwo Jima, Hawaii, Finland and Australia, among others.

Another family favorite was the Boardwalk of Yesteryear exhibit, where I learned about the Trimper family, browsed through nostalgic keepsake postcards and “met” Laughing Sal and Bruno at Jester’s Fun House. And, when my kids were young, I always had a hard time getting them out of the Aquarium Room, where they loved to watch lined seahorses, Maryland blue crabs, oyster toadfish and other critters who share the Ocean City waters with them.

The pier at Ocean City Beach
The pier at Ocean City Beach Photo Credit: Maryland Office of Tourism

Catch Your Dinner on the Oceanic Fishing Pier

It must be a family thing – my father always loved fishing off a wooden pier, and took my siblings and me with him, teaching us at a young age to cut bait and cast. My three sons always looked forward to enjoying one fishing day per weekly vacation, and one of their favorite places to cast their lines is the Oceanic Fishing Pier. It’s a gorgeous old-fashioned 450-foot wooden pier, stretching into the Ocean City inlet, just where the Atlantic Ocean meets the bay.

One plus – you don’t need a fishing license to try your luck off the pier. Instead, pay a low admission price for a daily pass. (3-day, weekly, 7-day and season passes are also available.) Reel and rod rentals are available as well. Flounder, stripers, bluefish and seabass are the most frequently reeled in, but I had one son who caught a horseshoe crab every time he fished here.

Grab a Meal on the Ocean City Boardwalk

No authentic seashore experience is complete without a night on the boardwalk, and Ocean City boardwalk on S Atlantic Ave is one of the best! In fact, USA TODAY named the Ocean City Boardwalk one of the country’s best boardwalks for food. And I agree – your whole family can get almost anything they want on this 3-mile stretch of wooden boards.

When in Maryland, it’s imperative to eat a Maryland crab cake. At least, I think so, but grabbing a meal on the boardwalk allows everyone to have their own choice of food, so while I enjoy a broiled crab cake, my family eats other traditional boardwalk food, including cheeseburgers, Delmarva fried chicken, pepperoni pizza or French fries (that’s my vegetarian).

And if you have a sweet tooth, you’re going to find yourself in confectionary heaven up on the boards. We always go home with a pound of vanilla fudge, a bucket of caramel popcorn or a cone of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Food vendors dot the entire boardwalk, offering so many delicious choices it’s hard to pick just one.

Ride a Dragon at Trimper’s Rides and Amusement Park

What’s a trip to the boardwalk without a visit to an amusement park – and the Ocean City Boardwalk is home to the country’s oldest family-owned amusement park, Trimper’s Rides and Amusement Park. (It’s the second oldest in the world.)

My family is passionate about roller coasters, so we always head to the Tidal Wave Coaster, a steel looping coaster that barely allows our stomachs to settle after the initial loop before thrusting us back through the course – backwards. (The weak of heart – or stomach – shouldn’t board this ride right after eating!)

Equally thrilling is the Magnum, a flipping, free-spinning massive turntable that spins spider-like while 11,500 lights pulse. For the younger set, water boats, kiddie bumper cars and a train provide classic boardwalk fun. And our whole family endorses the haunted house, a two-story dark ride that’s full of spooky fun.

But no visit to Trimper’s Rides and Amusement Parks is complete without a ride on the Grand Carousel, billed as “the pride of the boardwalk” – and for good reason! Trimper’s Grand Carousel is the oldest continually operating carousel in the United States, operating in the same spot since 1912.

Be a Pirate at Jolly Rogers Amusement Park

Trimper’s isn’t the only amusement park in Ocean City. At the southern end of the Boardwalk, the famous Ocean City Pier is home to Jolly Rogers at the Pier, which thrills visitors with its amusement park rides, games, fishing and entertainment. This theme park is fun for the whole family, holding special appeal for thrill seekers who clamor to the Looping Star Roller Coaster, then line up for the Freestyle 360, a full circle, 360-degree spin in the air. Hold on to your hats!

Other amusement rides include the Drop and Twist, the Giant Wheel (a Ferris wheel) and the Kraken, which my boys found as scary as the monster it’s named for. If you have a kid who isn’t into rides (I’m looking at you, Steven), they can be entertained for hours playing classic boardwalk games on the Midway at Ocean City Pier.

This isn’t just another arcade – we’re talking real deal competition with the biggest prizes on the boards. I fancy myself a champion at that “squirt the clown in the mouth” game, but I have yet to walk away with a giant panda bear. Maybe next summer?

But competitive games and amusement rides aren’t the only reasons to visit Jolly Roger Park. The Jolly Roger 30th Street location also offers Splash Mountain Water Park, which has something for everyone from the kiddie pools to the rapids ride to a plunge down the black hole. Don’t miss the Splash Mountain mermaids in the Kiddie Pirate Ship Pool.

If you feel the need for speed, try Speedworld, a racing park where you’ll find the East Coast’s only Formula 1 track and a variety of race cars and go-karts. For a slower-paced competition, challenge the family to one of Jolly Roger’s two mini golf courses. After a round of miniature golf, treat yourself to some warm French fries at Thrasher’s.

Pick Your Track at Baja Amusements

If you want to steer away from the boardwalk for the night, head to West Ocean City, where you’ll have your choice of go-kart tracks at Baja Amusements. The park offers eight different tracks, including a rookie track for the kiddies, a bullit track with twisting turns and a family grand prix where the winner gets bragging rights (until the next go-round).

Once we catch our breath, we usually head to one of the two climbing walls, where you can scale up three times each visit. There’s also a 19-hole miniature golf course with a fun safari theme.  

the wild horses of Assateague Island
The wild horses of Assateague Island Photo credit: Maryland Office of Tourism

Go Wild Over the Horses at the Assateague Island National Seashore

If you truly want to get away from it all – including the tourist trappy attractions – take a day away from the city and head to Assateague Island National Seashore. Maintained by the National Park Service, Assateague Island is actually managed by the waves and wind, which sculpt the beaches and bays.

The island is just south of the resort area – and a world away. It stretches over 37 miles to Virginia and is known for the beautiful wild horses which call the island home. Watch these wonderful creatures from a distance, however – for their safety as well as your own.

But if you can drag yourself away from the wild horse, there’s plenty of outdoor fun to be had while on Assateague. Hiking and bike rides are popular on the island, especially because you can travel through two states (Maryland and Virginia) in one journey.

Kayaking, canoeing, surfing and swimming are popular water sports off the shore, while sports enthusiasts enjoy fishing, clamming and crabbing bayside. And yes, this is a National Park – so that means kids can become an Assateague Junior Ranger, learning about the seashore and earning a badge (my kids’ favorite souvenir!).

Captain a Pontoon Boat

When we go to the beach, we always look for opportunities to be on the water, and the Ocean City beaches offer so many, it’s hard to choose. One unusual family favorite is renting a pontoon boat from West OC Watersports. Pontoon boats can hold up to ten passengers and provide a fun transport to sandbars, bayside restaurants and favorite fishing spots. Our favorite thing to do is rent a tube to tow behind. Then we take turns riding the waves up close and personal.

If you prefer to be above it all – the Atlantic, that is – then choose a parasailing experience for OC Parasail on Coastal Highway. My youngest tried parasailing – tentatively – but loved the experience of “sailing” under a colorful parachute some 600 feet above the waves.

You can choose bayside rides or ride over the ocean, as our daughter did. Despite her initial hesitation, the captain and crew at OC Parasail made her laugh – and feel completely comfortable and safe.

Assorted Kites over the beach at Ocean City
Kites over the beach at Ocean City. Photo credit: Maryland Office of Tourism

Have a Picnic in Northside Park

Sure, the restaurants in Ocean City are top-notch, and boardwalk food is always fun. But for a classic family outing, nothing can beat a picnic dinner at Northside Park. The picnic areas at this 589-acre park include a playground, plenty of seating and lots of trash cans for quick cleanup.

We like to bring a chicken and salad dinner to Northside Park, eating and playing at the playground before catching the gorgeous sunset. There are also a number of walking and jogging paths, a gazebo and concession stands (if you forget your picnic basket). Northside Park also hosts a number of community events, like baseball and softball games, soccer matches and even outdoor kiddie theater. It’s a great way to relax and enjoy Ocean City the way the locals do.

Another “live like a local” favorite of our family is a visit to the Art League of Ocean City, a non-profit which features a two-story art gallery, a pottery studio and working artist studios. Sign up for a paint night, take a ceramics class or just peruse the artwork created by locals in this beautiful facility. The Art League of Ocean City is a great place to catch the sunset, too!

Shop ‘Til You Drop at the Outlets Ocean City

Want to spend an afternoon shopping – and save money? Then a trip to the Outlets Ocean CIty is in order. Here you’ll find amazing bargains at many of the name-brand shops, including Old Navy, Famous Footwear Outlet and American Eagle Outfitters.

But what I really enjoy is finding bargains at the local vendors at the Outlets, including Bulkmore, a natural food outlet; Deadstock Shoes and Apparel, which sells comfortable and unusual kicks; and Pepper Palace, a spice emporium where you can actually sample the products first.

I like to make our shopping day a full “grown-up day out,” heading to the Seacrets Distilling Company after our shopping spree. Relax with one of their delicious flavored vodkas – our favorites are lemon drop and passion fruit vodkas – or book a tasting tour, where the guide transports you back to the last day of Prohibition, touring the distillery and ending the day in the Speakeasy Tasting Room.

crowded Ocean City MD beach
Beach in Ocean City, MD. Photo credit: Shutterstock/Eliyahu Yosef Parypa

Next Time, We’re Checking Out…

Ocean City, Maryland offers so many fun activities and adventures, we couldn’t fit them all in during our last vacation. Tops on our “next time” list is the Delmarva Discovery Center, a hyper-local museum where you can explore the history of the eastern shores of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. (And bonus points – it’s housed in an amazing, historic Art Deco brick building.)

We also would like to visit Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which is definitely touristy but also full of kitschy fun (at least, if it’s anything like the one we visited in Baltimore, which sadly fell victim to the pandemic). And we all agreed we’d like to time our vacation next time so we can catch the Ocean City Air Show, usually in early June, so we can see the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the Red Bull Air Force flying over one of our favorite vacation spots.

A former newspaper columnist, Mary is now a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Parents, Parenting, Pregnancy, Conceive and Family Circle (are you sensing a theme?). She was also the former travel editor at REAL Magazine (RIP). Her essays have appeared in such publications as the Christian Science Monitor, God Allows U Turns, and four different editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Mary is also adept at creating vacations that are “one size fits all.” The mother of five (ranging from “Expedition Everest” to “Dumbo”), she has become skilled at planning for all ages, collecting kiddie swap passes and making sure everyone is happy (sometimes all at the same time). A former newspaper columnist, Mary is now a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Parents, Parenting, Pregnancy, Conceive and Family Circle (are you sensing a theme?). She was also the former travel editor at REAL Magazine (RIP). Her essays have appeared in such publications as the Christian Science Monitor, God Allows U Turns, and four different editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
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