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The Loneliest Road

On the east coast, Ocean City (pop. 7,105, swelling to some 400,000 in summer) is a classic seaside resort with a carnival flair, so if you’re looking for old-time funfair attractions, this is it. The main pier at the south end of the island and the area around it is home to enough merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, roller coasters (including The Hurricane, which is illustrated with scenes from Ocean City storms past), mini-golf courses, haunted houses, and bumper cars to occupy the small army of vacationers that descend on the city every summer. Trimper’s Rides and Amusements, family-operated since the 1890s, is a block inland and home to two more roller coasters, a Tilt-a-Whirl, a 100-year-old Hershell carousel, and a spooky haunted house. The Jolly Roger, a big water park and amusement park at the north end of town along the bay at 30th Street is Trimper’s closest rival. Enjoy the historical and kitschy experience while you can; parks like Trimper’s—the sundry batting cages, go-kart tracks, and Whack-a-Mole games—are close to extinction thanks to rising property values and taxes.

Ocean City stretches for over three miles along a broad, white-sand beach from the north pier. Lining the sands is a wide, partly wooden boardwalk packed with arcades, Skee-Ball and Pokerino, and midway contests—the kind of $1 games where you can try scoring stuffed animals and other prizes for shooting baskets, winning water gun races and the like. There’s also a collection of fortune-tellers, T-shirt stands, and burger-and-beer bars to finish off the busy promenade.

Summer weekends transform Ocean City to Maryland’s second-largest city. Most of the fun is getting caught up in the technicolor spectacle but there are a few places worth seeking out. At the south end of the boardwalk you can enjoy the quirky collections of the Life-Saving Station Museum (daily June-Sept., Wed.-Sun. spring and fall, weekends only in winter, $3 adults) for the price of a bumper car ride. The museum is the starting point for the open-air trams ($3) that run north along the boardwalk.

Ocean City Practicalities

Though Ocean City’s charm is lowbrow, the food can be great. Many places offer shrimp and beer combos for under $10 and freshly fried chicken or crab cakes are available from boardwalk vendors. Thrasher’s Fries—topped by salt and vinegar only!—are at a number of stands and a trio of Dumser’s Dairyland stands along the boardwalk are the place to satisfy your sweet tooth with a cone or milkshake.

Though out of the dozen or so grand old hotels, only the Atlantic Hotel (401 S. Baltimore Ave., 410/289-9111, $90 and up) on the oceanfront is still open for business. Be sure to plan ahead; modern motels such as the Hilton Suites (3200 N. Baltimore Ave., 410/289-6444) often charge more than $200 a night for a room that goes for less than $100 off-season.

For help finding lodgings and restaurants, contact the Ocean City visitors center (4001 Coastal Hwy., 410/289-2800 or 800/626-2326) in the Convention Center.

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