Ah, Ocean City, New Jersey -- probably the polar opposite of Atlantic City. It is, however, the epitome of the Jersey Shore. Ideal for children from about third grade to middle school and families -- or anyone else who loves to eat junk food, play arcade games, ride on mediocre but charming amusements, and enjoy the beach in a town sans alcohol -- Ocean City has got it all. A stroll down the two and a half mile boardwalk brings a bombardment of temptation: Shriver's sticky salt water taffy, Kohr Bros soft serve ice cream swirls coated in a thick layer of rainbow sprinkles, Mack & Manco's steaming cheesy pizza by the slice, Jilly's French Fry Factory handing out overflowing paper cups of greasy potatoes drenched with ketchup, and fresh fudge to die for. Shops selling tacky gifts and souvenirs spill out onto the wooden planks, racks teaming with hermit crabs climbing up the side of chicken-wire cages, t-shirts with corny slogans, towels, beach chairs, shovels and pails, and an abundance of plastic novelty items.
To keep the kiddies entertained, Gillian's Wonderland Pier has a looming Ferris wheel, log flume, roller coaster, and water park -- with a lazy river! A word of caution, though, the park is pay-as-you-go, which tends to add up quickly if your children have a short attention span. Ocean City also offers mini-golf, pirate adventures, a seashell museum, arcades, billiards, air hockey, hotdogs, popcorn, and cotton candy. And don't forget the Surf Mall, also located directly on the boardwalk, where you can get henna tattoos, posters of bands that had hit singles in the 90s, your name written on a grain of rice inside a test tube-shaped necklace, or you can try to convince the guy at the piercing stand that your mom gave you permission to put a ring through your lip. The "mall" is great for people watching…including the ubiquitous middle schoolers awkwardly holding hands, and the skateboard punks loitering around inside this sprawling garage style retail warehouse.
Ocean City has all the family attractions you could ever want balled up into a nucleus of wholesome fun. Alas for some, the island serves no booze anywhere -- it's a "dry town" and there exists an official ordinance forbidding the sale of alcoholic beverages within city limits -- so be advised to BYO. The beaches are wide, clean, and safe, but they tend to be crowded and noisy due to the family-friendly atmosphere. If you're looking for a quiet, peaceful (grown-up) getaway, this might not be it. But if you like to get goofy, relive your childhood a bit, and nosh on old-fashioned boardwalk treats, then grab your EZ Pass and head down to Ocean City.
To get to Ocean City from Atlantic City, you'll want to take the AC Expressway to the Garden State Parkway via Exit 7S and then get off at Exit 28 or 25 (toll roads).