This past April, Lady Jane and I figured there really was no age limit on those who wish to participate in spring break, so off we went, bound for Ocean City, Maryland and the surrounding areas. As I made the 640-mile drive with my trusty navigator assuming her customary passenger seat with her nose buried in the atlas she loves more than any cartographer ever could, a familiar song from my past kept playing on a loop in my head, the Drifters’ 1969 hit “Under the Boardwalk.”
The real attraction for me on this trip would be my chance to spend time not under the boardwalk where the Drifters crooned about those romantic escapades, but above it, just as I’ve done on other trips to Atlantic City, Virginia Beach and the Jersey Shore. I just love the atmosphere of a good boardwalk as well as the sights, smells and sounds and, of course, the chance to engage in one of my favorite activities, a passion I inherited from my mother — people-watching.
The inspiration for this sojourn was provided by my older daughter Shannon and my son-in-law Nathan, who’ve thrice made the scene on vacations to Ocean City.
As has been our habit on our road trips throughout the country in the past, I filled my large cooler on wheels with ice and our favorite beverages and food before our departure on a mid-April Thursday morning. Jane had made our lodging arrangements, one stopover night in Clear Springs, Maryland, and three in Ocean City, and she made sure the Ocean City room came with a kitchenette, since I had planned on augmenting our dining-out experiences with some of my own cooking, especially since our Quality Inn on Coastal Highway in the OC did not offer breakfast.
After our Clear Spring stopover and enjoyable exploration of the tiny town of less than 400, we did a two-hour stopover at Sandy Point State Park at the western end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to hike and then traversed the bridge and drove the rest of the way into Ocean City, checking in around 2 p.m. Our room was just off the atrium, an interesting area with cages of exotic birds and a koi pond and stream filled with turtles and fish. While interesting, by our stay’s end, I wasn’t too unhappy to leave the occasional screeches of the multifariously colored birds behind. Fortunately, the hotel’s handlers did cover the aviaries at night, which quieted them.
As for the Ocean City Boardwalk, well, it certainly ranks right up there with others I’ve enjoyed. Of course, the planks were teeming with humanity, far more so than the sandy expanses that lay beyond and fronted the Atlantic, so my people-watching desires were sated. It’s not surprising that National Geographic has named the 2.5-mile-long Ocean City Boardwalk as one of America’s 10 best.
When I’m board-walking, I’m always particularly interested in the establishments I see that have been there the longest. The Boardwalk, officially known as Atlantic Avenue, opened in 1902 although the amusement park at the south end, run by the Trimper family, actually predates that. The family opened the park in 1892. It’s the oldest continuously run single-family amusement park in the entire country. Jane particularly loved the brightly colored carousel, which has been revolving since 1912.
The smells were enticing, the result of the commingling of the aromas of a wide variety of food from the many food stands and restaurants. Dolle’s Candyland has been selling confectionaries since 1906. Thrasher’s French Fries has been serving up their crisp vinegary fried goodness since 1937. And, Dumser’s Dairyland has been serving ice cream and other sweet treats since 1939.
For those like me who think the boardwalk experience is always enhanced with a frothy brew or two, they can give the Brass Balls Saloon and Hammerheads a try.
Jane and I also enjoyed the 30-mile drive across the Maryland-Delaware line to Rehoboth Beach to take in its boardwalk as well and got the ultimate people-watching experience of a beach wedding.
During our time, in addition to our board-walking, we did a lot of beach walking as well, including our traverse of Assateague National Seashore, where we had several sightings of the famous wild horses on the litter-free beautiful beach and dunes and along the sea marshes throughout the area which qualifies as a national park. The barrier island has the wild surf of the Atlantic to the east and the calmer waters of the Sinepuxent Bay to the west. What a naturally beautiful area this is. The feral horses reminded both Lady Jane and me of the wild horses known as The Bankers that we saw on the beaches of Corolla on an Outer Banks trip a few years back.
As for my best restaurant recommendation, if you love good Mexican as much as Jane and I do, try Pancho and Lefty’s on Ocean Gateway, where the tacos stuffed with giant blackened shrimp were so very tasty.
Even a difficult 10-hour drive back, with a large chunk of it filled with heavy snows, sleet and poor visibility through much of Pennsylvania, didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for Ocean City and the Chesapeake Bay area, especially what I saw not below but above those boardwalks.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.