For those of us in Philly, nothing beats a long weekend down the shore. And when we go down the shore (if you don’t know what “down the shore” means, brush up on your Philly slang please), Ocean City, NJ is a top choice for most of us. Why?
It’s close. It’s packed with exciting things to do. It’s safe. It’s not so “crazy” like those other Jersey Shore beaches. It’s also got the label as “America’s Greatest Family Resort”.
The big drawback? It’s a dry town. Yes, Ocean City proudly prohibits the sale of alcohol in it’s city limits. Just grab your booze at Circle Liquor on your way in though, it’s not so bad.
So let’s talk about the best things to do in Ocean City, NJ. We’re going to break it out into three main categories for you, because there are three main sections to Ocean City:
But first, we will go with the most obvious and absolute best thing to do in Ocean City.
Hit The Beach
Ocean City has some of the best beaches in New Jersey, so it would be wise to get a few good hours in the sun there. Like all beaches in New Jersey, you’re going to have to pay a daily rate to enter the beach, but it will be worth it.
It’s good to keep in mind that the main area of the beach and boardwalk is between Gillian’s Wonderland Pier and Surf Mall. If you’re more interested in a calming experience try heading north a bit until it calms down. The area near Oves is usually pretty calm, and it’s also where they shot an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Explore The Boardwalk
Most of the fun and excitement in Ocean City is to be had on the boardwalk, so the quicker you can get acquainted with it the easier a time you will have. The boardwalk is the lifeblood of Ocean City, and it’s usually packed with people. Navigating can get tricky. The city has also segmented the boardwalk to walking, biking and surrey lanes, so the flow can be a bit easier for everyone. Though it’s hardly enforced during peak hours where the boardwalk is swarming with tourists on foot.
We would recommend doing a bike rental early in the morning. This will allow you to cruise up and down from one end to the other with little friction. You can scope out some of the other places on our list to return to later.
This is a 2 and a half mile boardwalk. It’s not small. There’s a lot to see and do on those planks. Let’s go over some of the more important attractions and stores you need to check out.
Visit Gillian’s Wonderland Pier
If you’re visiting with kids, you won’t be able to escape it. They will drag you here. It’s too captivating and it’s basically the skyline of Ocean City. Everyone knows the giant ferris wheel and is eager to get there as soon as possible.
Gillian’s has done a great job at making their entrance extremely accessible. The huge arches allow you to easily enter and potentially get lost in the madness. There’s no fees to look around, so feel free to walk in and see what they have.
Plan for a few hours exploring some of the bigger attractions here. There’s enough for everyone, so don’t feel like it’s a place designed for kids because it’s definitely not.
Playland’s Castaway Cove
If you didn’t get enough of the rides at Gillian’s, move on over to Playlands where everything gets pirate themed. They have a log flume that everyone has a photo from at one point or another, so get in line and be sure to smile while you drop into a pool of water.
Castaway Cove is also home to the Double Shot, arguably the best ride for adults in the city. Expect a line to get on.
When you’ve had enough of the heat and are tired of the ocean, there’s no better place than the waterpark. Fair warning, this place gets packed on the weekends, so it’s best to try going during the week. It’s also a cheaper rate.
The main attractions at the waterpark are the large slides, the shotgun falls, and the lazy river. Their lazy river runs all around the waterpark, so you can jump right in and eye up some of the rides you want to go on.
The waterpark also has a nice area for kids to play. But it’s great for adults looking for water rides as well.
Probably the “coolest” place on the boardwalk, the Surf Mall is where you can find all your favorite band T-Shirts, cool Zippo’s, and lots and lots of incense. You can pick up a lot of surf material as well, hence the name.
Surf Mall is probably the largest store in the mall, and you will quickly see that if you continue down the boardwalk it dies out pretty quickly. Consider this your edge of entertainment.
Located right next to Surf Shop, Jilly’s Arcade is your last stop of the night. Open until midnight, it’s the last store open for any sort of entertainment. As a long standing arcade, it has tons of retro games available to play that are still in usable shape.
Most notably is their Skee-Ball, with games for just $0.10, and you can even win free games if you get over a certain score. Come in late in the evening for less of a crowd, and be sure to take home a prize!
Ocean City Music Pier
On weekends during the day there’s usually a lot of local artists here, so come early and see what they have. At night it’s common to see a local band or two. Since Ocean City is a dry town this is not usually a young or rowdy crowd, plan to be relaxed and hear some local music.
Pro tip: you can hear just fine from outside, so if there’s something you’re interested in, just head to the beach outside instead of paying an entry fee so you can stick your toes in the sand, look out at the ocean, and hear the live music.
There’s a few mini golf courses scattered around the boardwalk, and you can choose which one works best for you, but if you have the time, it’s a great activity that’s hugely popular in Ocean City.
We would recommend Congo Falls, but that’s just because it’s easy to find. Head to the Surf Mall and look for the giant Gorilla shooting water out of his nose, that’s how you know you’ve made it.
Polish Water Ice
This place is engrained in my memory as having the best prices for Root Beer. But they have fantastic water ice as well, and it’s well worth the visit. It’s a long-standing establishment, like most on the boardwalk, and it’s a staple in many people’s minds on what it means to be in Ocean City.
If the name didn’t give it away, they have great curly fries. Seriously, the best in South Jersey. Be prepared to eat them quick, the seagulls down here know what they are and they love them as well.
Shrivers Salt Water Taffy
You can’t leave Ocean City without heading into Shrivers. You will feel like a child in Willy Wonka, walking down the vast row of various different taffy flavors to choose from. Mix and match to create the perfect bag of taffy.
There’s usually someone outside offering free samples of the fudge as well, so get over there and try a piece.
Kohr Brothers Ice Cream
Throughout the day and evening, you will see happy faces with ice cream all along the boardwalk. You will begin to constantly crave an ice cream cone. There’s no place like the Kohr brothers.
We’re not sure if it’s actually anything special, or the fact that they have an unmistakable look to them, but you will know it when you see the vanilla and orange or vanilla and chocolate swirl that it’s a Kohr Brothers cone.
Once you’ve had your fill of sun, sea, and sand you can head into town near Asbury Ave to go shopping again. There’s ample paid parking options nearby, or you can walk as Ocean City is not a large town.
This place has been around for ages. It used to be an old 5 or 10 cent store, but now it’s basically a general shop for gifts and trinkets. Pop by to see some interesting items, and relive Ocean City history.
Mia’s Christmas Shop
If you dream of Christmas in July, this is the store for you. A huge selection of christmas ornaments and trinkets, it’s a great place to pick up something from Ocean City, so when you set up your Christmas tree in the winter you can be reminded of the sun and warm memories you made over the summer.
There’s lots of other little shops here, all with their own charm as well. Be prepared to spend a few hours wandering around. It’s great for an afternoon trip if you’re getting tired of the beach and boardwalk!
Outside of Ocean City
That’s basically it for Ocean City. If you haven’t found something on the list that fits your interest, it may be best for you to get out of the city, at least for a few hours.
You’re about a 30 minute drive from Atlantic City when staying in Ocean City. It’s a short, but unpleasant ride. With Ocean City being a dry town, the nightlife is rather dull. With only a 30 minute car ride in between, it can be nice to go gamble for the evening and have a few drinks if you need some excitement in the evening. Just don’t drink and drive.
Circle Liquor Store
Circle Liquor Store is the last liquor store you have access to before crossing the bridge in Somers Point. So it’s your last stop to pick up liquor to consume in Ocean City. Again, Ocean City is a dry town and you won’t be able to purchase alcohol unless you leave the city.
Circle Liquor got it’s name as the main intersection right before the bridge was actually a huge circle. A few years back they scrapped it in exchange for a standard (huge) intersection with lights. But Circle kept it’s name!
Deep Sea Fishing
Given it’s proximity to the ocean, there’s a lot of options for going deep sea fishing. You can take a four hour boat ride and try your luck at sea. These are usually fun boats filled with old timers happy to escape the madness of the boardwalk for the calmness of the ocean.
Stainton Wildlife Refuge
Just out of the madness is a neat little wildlife refuge which makes a great place for a morning stroll. There’s a lot of birds in the area, so if you’re an avid bird watcher, be sure to put this place on your list.
We suggest renting bikes and riding out here so you can see a bit more of the suburbs around the city. It’s a pleasant place to spend the day if you’re tired of the beach.
In a little over an hour, you can travel from Philly to Ocean City and be sitting on a beach. With countless activities available, Ocean City NJ is definitely a place to put on your radar if you are in the area.