Ocean City is a barrier spit that extends about 9 miles from the southern tip of the Boardwalk north to the Delaware border (145th Street). Along the entire way are hotels, restaurants, condos and bars, with the Boardwalk and its attractions anchoring southern Ocean City. To the west of OC are Isle of Wight and Assawoman Bay, the latter the source of countless jokes among Maryland teenagers. To the east is the Atlantic Ocean. To find your way around, you’ll always refer to "bayside" and "oceanside." On the mainland west of Ocean City proper are West Ocean City/Ocean Pines, where the permanent population lives and some good restaurants are located. South of Ocean City is protected Assateague Island and its wild horses, and within a small loop are small towns where you can day-trip, or even base yourself if you want to escape the Boardwalk bustle.
North Ocean City
Another bridge connects U.S. Highway 90 to 62nd Street and the northern beaches. There’s not a huge amount of difference between these two halves of the Ocean City experience, except the southern beaches are far more pedestrian-friendly thanks to the Boardwalk. The delightful procession of beachwear consumer joy, all-you-can-eat buffets and bright glittering lights is more accessed by car, rather than au pied, in this part of town. There are lots of condos on the main barrier island, while the mainland is home to local communities like Ocean Pines. Take some time to pop into the pretty, yet tiny, Isle of Wight nature park, where you can get a small sense of the delicate marshland ecosystem of the Eastern Shore.
West Ocean City
West Ocean City? Doesn’t seem to make sense. Ocean City should be on the ocean, right, and the ocean and the hotels and the Boardwalk are to the east. But the people who work in the hotels and clean the boardwalks live here, on the mainland west of the bay, in quiet tangles of tract housing. There is little reason to come out this way if a beach holiday is your main concern, but if you want a quiet alternative to the bright lights or the chance to rub shoulders with someone who isn’t a tourist, cross over Ocean Gateway (U.S. Highway 50). It’s more serene, you can see the stars, and some of the finer dining options in town, Eastern Shore favorites that remain hidden from the weekend-tripping hordes, are out here.
South Ocean City
This is the main event and our favorite. Ocean City is connected to the mainland in two spots, each bridge determining the character of the OC around it. Route 50 links southern Ocean City proper to West Ocean City. This is where the heart of the OC experience—most of the town’s carny attractions and the Boardwalk itself—are located. Expect a parade of flashing lights, neon, greasy food stands, amusement park attractions and you won’t be disappointed. Between the smell of apple cider vinegar, Old Bay Seasoning and funnel cake sugar, you might just discover a lost summertime America. That is, if you’re not bowled over by T-shirts that literally (and sincerely) display Jesus and NASCAR at similar levels of sacredness.