Family Travel Traditions in Ocean City, New Jersey

For many, a trip to Ocean City, New Jersey represents tradition. Kids who grew up playing in the fine, white sand, become parents and bring their kids back to the beach to do the same. It’s not uncommon for three generations to come together (often under one roof) for a week, or even a summer on this island. The sense of family is strong, and that’s the way Ocean City likes it.

Things to Do in Ocean City, New Jersey

The Beach

Ocean City has eight miles of wide, sandy beaches. It’s a popular stretch of beach, but don’t worry there’s plenty of room for everyone to lay out a blanket and all their toys. It’s in a great location. Less than half-an-hour from casino capital, Atlantic City and Margate’s six-story Lucy the Elephant. Just like most beaches along the Jersey Shore, you’ll need a beach badge. You can buy a badge good for the day, week or season. They can be purchased right on the beach and help pay for the lifeguards on duty. Once you get them, pin them on something you think you’ll bring to the beach everyday, and you’re good to go.

Ocean City is the type of beach you can spend all day on. We usually hit the sand between 10am and 11am. We pack a picnic lunch and plenty of snacks because no one ever wants to leave. Late afternoon, between 4pm and 6pm is my favorite time of day. The crowds disappear, the sun is shining and a certain calmness reigns supreme. It’s a great time to go boogie boarding, read a book or even take a nap! It’s usually hunger that motivates my girls to pack up and head home to shower.

Once we’re in motion, my kids move fast, because they know what’s coming. After everyone’s rinsed off the layers of sand and sunscreen we head straight for the boardwalk.

The Boardwalk

There are many boardwalks on the Jersey Shore, but Ocean City is my favorite. Atlantic City’s is popular with the gambling crowd, Wildwood with older teen and college crowd, but Ocean City has a completely different vibe. Families rule the show on this two and a half mile stretch of guaranteed fun.

Dinner is important. There is junk food at every turn on the boardwalk, so a substantial dinner is essential to avoid those sugar rushes that result in major sugar crashes. We start with salad and a white pizza. (A white pizza is a pizza with a combination of cheeses and spices, but no red sauce. It seems virtually unknown off the East Coast.) We usually stop at Angelo’s on the boardwalk between 13th and 14th streets. It’s good, fast, but mostly convenient because it’s located toward the end of the boardwalk, right where we typically come on. Pizza places are a dime a dozen on the boardwalk, I lost count at a dozen, and most have warm pizzas on display for those who just want to grab a slice to go. Pick a place that looks and smells good, and dinner will be easy. Once the kids have a decent dinner in them, you’ll be ready to take on the “boards.” Local lingo for the boardwalk.

Souvenirs

You can buy just about anything you can think of on the Ocean City Boardwalk. From T-shirts and beach toys to books and jewelry, you’ll find pretty much everything. (The only thing you won’t find is alcohol.More on that later.) Location is everything, so expect to pay a little more, but it’s pretty much a guarantee you won’t go home empty handed.

Amusements

Whether your kids are the roller coaster, thrill seeker kind, or the mellow, carousel kind, no trip to the boardwalk is complete without amusement rides. My girls like to wait until it’s dark to start attacking the rides. Nightfall brings a different feel to the boardwalk. It’s cooler (bring a sweatshirt), a rainbow of colored lights illuminate the sky, music blares against the sound of crashing ocean waves and kids (and parents) can often be heard screaming with joy. There’s something about the whole experience that captures the essence of summer vacation. To avoid going into bankruptcy, I buy a set number of tickets at the beginning of the night. My girls know when the tickets are gone, it’s time to move on. They’re so used to our “system,” I rarely hear any complaining after the last ride of the night.

The Sugar Rush

But then again, who’s going to complain when you’re on your way to buy freshly made salt water taffy. Chewy, gooey taffy is a must when you visit the beach. Don’t tell the orthodontist, but even with a mouth full of braces, my 9 year-old has figured out how to eat salt water taffy. There’s plenty of places to buy the sticky concoction, but our family keeps walking until we reach Shriver’s.

Opened in 1898, Shriver’s is the oldest business on the boardwalk and it’s easy to see why. Crowds jam the store every night to buy salt water in all flavors imaginable. There’s mango, root beer, peppermint and chocolate peanut butter. Go to the back of the store and you can watch the taffy being pulled and wrapped, then buy it buy the handful as it’s brought out into the store. Don’t like taffy? No problem. You’ll find something.  Maybe a caramel apple dipped in chocolate or some fudge. It’s not a good place to be on a diet.

The good news is taffy can be frozen, so we eat a piece or two, but save room for the gastronomic treat of the evening, Johnson’s Popcorn. All of the caramel corn is hand mixed in large copper kettles. Don’t mess around here.Get the large plastic tub. You’ll be amazed at how much your family eats during the walk home. Then the plastic lid snaps on and keeps leftovers fresh for a couple of days. Think Green, and recycle the tub. The next time you hit the boardwalk, bring it with you and you can refill it for a few dollars less.

Dry Town

Though you’ll get your fill of junk food, you might notice the lack of alcohol. Ocean City is a dry town. Yeah, they still exist. There’s no public drinking anywhere on the island. It seems as though every few years there’s murmurs of a change, but nothing ever seems to come of it. There’s plenty of liquor stores on the way into town, so if you’re staying for a stretch, you can stock up on your way in. No wine with dinner is doable, when you know there’s so many great things waiting for dessert.

This post is part of Photo Friday on Delicious Baby.

Relevant Links:

United States family travel guide

Lucy the Elephant

Atlantic City with kids

East Coast beach vacations

Cape Cod family vacations

Kid-friendly activities on Nantucket

7 Comments

  1. I vacationed in Ocean City, Maryland as a kid. Your descriptions are exactly how I remember that one week every summer. All day on the beach, then evenings on the boardwalk.

  2. I’ve heard of white pizza here in Michigan. I had one most recently in Ohio, and a local pizza place that just opened up near me has one on the menu (which I’ve yet to try). You don’t see them too often on the menus around here, though.

  3. Amusement park and beaches is one of our favorites, too! I absolutely treasured our vacation in Ocean City. Especially the kids had lots of memories to talk about. We had more pictures and souvenirs to keep.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more! We have been vacationing in OC for several years now. We stay with a close college friend and her family, who like you said, have grown up at that very beach. I am not sure who looks forward to this trip more – me or my kids. This is definitely one of the highlights of our whole summer.

  5. Sounds like you really had an enjoyable time at Ocean City. Looking forward to my next family vacation there.

  6. I have lived in New Jersey all my life and have snorkeled in Skull Bay in Ocean City for the last 20 years. Me and my boyfriend always have a great time. I have dated Paul Young for some time and we want to get married soon. We may have a snorkel wedding in Skull Bay. We like to snorkel at night so you can feed the small sharks. Always bring a light to see them. They are very shy.

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