We recently took a trip through the Eastern Shore of Maryland and explored St. Michaels and Easton, then Ocean City, and back to Cambridge before heading home. Today, I am covering the last section of our trip, Ocean City and Assateague Island, along with a recipe for Boardwalk Fries. In case you missed it, here are my other posts from our trip: Easton, St. Michaels, Cambridge, and the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay.
Ocean City is a beach resort town located on the Atlantic coast in Maryland. It is 146 miles from Washington DC and 138 miles from Baltimore. The first major hotel, the Atlantic Hotel, opened on July 4th, 1875 and is still in operation (under the Purnell family since 1923). In 1933, the Category 4 Cheaspeake- Potomac hurricane created the inlet separating Ocean City from now Assateague Island. The area has continued to grow over the years and recently is even starting to see more visitors during the shoulder seasons and winter months.
At Evan’s request, our first stop in Ocean City was the Fractured Prune for a half-dozen of assorted doughnuts. There are dozens of glazes and toppings to choose from like caramel, cherry, marshmallow, mocha, sprinkles, bacon, crumbled cookies, and more. They have locations throughout Ocean City along with other areas of the United States.
We actually stayed at a resort in West Ocean City, but they had a shuttle that brought us straight to the Boardwalk. The original boardwalk was built in 1902. It was temporary so it could be taken apart during high tide. A 5 block long more permanent version was created in 1910. It has been restored and rebuilt a few times over the years as a result of hurricanes, most recently Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It now runs from South 2nd Street up to 27th Street (2 1/4 miles).
The length of the Boardwalk is filled with shops, restaurants, bars, snack stands, and carnival-like games. It is just steps from the beach if you want to relax and dip your toes in the ocean. We didn’t use it, but there is a tram (for a fee) on the beach side of the boardwalk and the Coastal Highway “Beach Bus” on the roadside to help get you from one end to the other.
One of our first stops on the boardwalk was Dumser’s Dairyland. Since we knew we would be eating quite a bit of snacks, the kids and I shared a chocolate dipped vanilla ice cream cone. It was perfect for a hot summer day. Chad enjoyed an Orange Swirl cone. There are currently seven locations in Ocean City. The first opened in 1939. The ice cream is made fresh daily on the premises in a variety of flavors and toppings. Some items are only available at certain locations.
Another popular boardwalk stop is The Original Thrasher’s French Fries. J.T. Thrasher opened Thrasher’s in 1929. They only serve freshly made fries and only with salt and vinegar in three different sizes (the small is photographed above- the large is very very large at 53 ounces). You won’t find any ketchup or mayonnaise here. Thrasher’s now has three locations.
Dolle’s Candyland was another highlight for us. It began in 1910 as a small salt water taffy stand and soon expanded to include caramel corn, confections, fudge, and caramels in now three locations. Evan and Claire loved the crab and fish-shaped chocolates. They also have beautiful chocolate lighthouses.
Chad’s favorite spot was The Wrapper. They are located on the Boardwalk near Somerset Plaza and feature an assortment of savory and sweet filled pretzels. As a note, only cash is accepted.
And our final food stop on the Boardwalk was Fisher’s Popcorn for some caramel corn. Everett Fisher opened Fisher’s Popcorn in 1937. I like that they serve the popcorn in a bucket with a lid for easy transport back to the hotel. Other flavors include caramel popcorn with peanuts, butter flavored popcorn, white cheddar popcorn, Old Bay© popcorn, cinnamon caramel popcorn, and caramel chocolate drizzle popcorn (seasonal).
In between food stops, we explored other areas of the boardwalk. The outdoor section of Trimper’s Rides wasn’t open yet (3 pm on weekdays, noon on weekends during the summer), but the kids were able to enjoy the indoor rides. Their favorite was Trimper’s Carousel. This carousel opened in the 1920s and is one of the oldest running carousels still in operation today. The boardwalk property was purchased by the Trimper family in 1893 and through the years, numerous expansions and ride additions have taken place. The indoor section is mostly geared towards smaller children and Claire was tall enough to ride most of the attractions. Many of the outdoor rides have minimum height requirements (usually 36-48 inches).
The Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum is located at the southern end of the boardwalk and was a nice break from the heat. The museum is housed in the Ocean City Life-Saving Station, built in 1891, and was transformed into a museum in 1978 instead of being demolished.
The staff was incredibly friendly and took the time to tell us what the kids would be interested in and other details of the museum. The Ocean City Life-Saving Station was actively used by the Life-Saving Service (precursor to the US Coast Guard) until 1964. The museum focuses on this history with exhibits covering the local marine life, life-saving, aftermath from storms, changes to Ocean City over the years, historical boats and other nautical items, artifacts recovered from shipwrecks, and more. I especially enjoyed the collection of sands from beaches around the world.
Evan and Claire’s favorite part was the kid’s corner with books, crayons, games, stuffed animals, and other educational ways to play.
The boardwalk has plenty of other kid-friendly stops with playgrounds and fun climbing structures right on the beach.
One of Evan’s favorite stops was The Kite Loft. They have hundreds of kites from small to large along with garden decor, flags, windsocks, and toys. They also host two kite festivals every year. Evan picked out a Star Wars X-Wing kite and a lighthouse windmill for our garden.
On our first night, we had dinner at Fish Tales. From the sand surrounding the tables to the large playground within view of our table, it was perfect for a relaxing meal while Evan and Claire got to burn off some energy. We had the Ahi Poke, Fried Shrimp Basket, Doormat Dinner (flounder filets with baked potato and veggies), and the Lil Skippers Cheeseburger. The kids’ meals were served on frisbees. Claire spent more time playing in the sand at our feet than actually eating. Expect a wait during busy summer evenings.
We went to Blu Crabhouse on our second night. No playground here, but there was sand at our feet and the tables were covered with paper perfect for coloring. Evan tried his first crab here and his favorite part was trying out the hammer (albeit not always effectively). I loved that the crab dip was served with pretzel bread and added it to my own spread when recreating Maryland Crab Dip at home. I also had the Fresh Tomato Mozzarella Caprese. The All-You-Can-Eat Crab Feasts include Cheddar Bay Biscuits, Corn, and Mac & Cheese Wedges (Claire’s favorite).
Since we were based in West Ocean City, it was an easy 8 mile drive to Assateague Island. Assateague Island National Seashore is a 37 mile long barrier island. The top two-thirds belongs to Maryland while the bottom part lies in Virginia and is called Chincoteague. Assateague was once connected to Fenwick Island, but the 1933 hurricane created an inlet which was made permanent in 1935 with artificial jetties.
We stopped by the visitor center before crossing the bridge onto the island. Here you will find information on the area, wildlife, interactive activities, maps, and a gift shop. Once you reach the island, a vehicle pass is currently 20 dollars and is good for seven days (there are also Fee Free Days throughout the year). See the operating hours here.
The island was officially established as a National Seashore in 1965. One of the biggest tourist draws is the population of feral horses on the island. They roam free on the Maryland side. We saw the horses from afar on our first day, but they were right along the road on our second day while heading to the beach (remember to keep a safe distance, at least a bus-length, from the horses). During the summer, particularly on the weekends, the island may reach capacity so arrive early.
Many people also camp on the island (take note that mosquitos, biting flies, and ticks can be particularly bad from May to November).
We didn’t actually go on the beach in Ocean City, but instead went to the one on Assateague. It was less crowded and we didn’t have to drag all of the towels/kid stuff out on the shuttle. This was actually Claire’s first time seeing the ocean (minus from an airplane) and she had such a wonderful time. As with the rest of the island, keep the weather reports in mind. The wind shifted on the second day and was blowing from the east so we didn’t have an issue with the bugs, but have heard they can be brutal. They were definitely in full force when we were exploring the island the day before with the west wind.
During our trip to Ocean City, we stayed at the Francis Scott Key Family Resort in West Ocean City. This may be one of the kids’ favorite hotels to date. The amenities were absolutely incredible, though the room was just ok. Our walls seemed to be paper-thin and we were able to hear our neighbor’s normal volume conversations/their kids getting up in the middle of the night. The drain in the tub was also on the faulty side and wouldn’t hold water for long. Otherwise, we had a great time and would stay here again if we make another drive to Ocean City.
The pools and other amenities require the use of armbands. I see why they did it, but I wasn’t a fan of them being single use. Replacements were available at the front desk for no charge, but it was annoying having to cut them off every night (they bothered the kids too much to sleep in them) and get them replaced.
There are two pools- one indoor and another outdoor (seasonally). The outdoor pool has a huge pirate ship with a bar on the inside and additional seating on the top. The Pirate Ship Sprayground (also open seasonally) was another highlight for the kids. They also enjoyed the slide and floats/waterfalls in the indoor pool. The staff were always friendly and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. There are also plenty of eating options available so you don’t have to venture outside the grounds. You will also find putt putt golf, an arcade, playground, fitness room, sand volleyball court, basketball court, special events, movie nights, and more. The complimentary shuttle took us straight to the boardwalk in about 5 minutes.
Overall, we had a wonderful time during the beach portion of our trip and hope to visit again someday.
To accompany this post, I made my own Boardwalk Fries at home. These fries are first soaked in salt water, then fried not once, but twice for an extra-crisp texture with a fluffy interior. The fresh from the oil fries are served hot and sprinkled with salt, apple cider vinegar, and optionally Old Bay Seasoning. You can even take it a step further and fry the potatoes a third time.
I used a mandoline to cut the potatoes into equally thin strips.
Old Bay Seasoning is a staple in Maryland with uses ranging from steamed seafood and crab cakes to everything else like corn on the cob, fries, popcorn, steamed vegetables, burgers, and even cocktails. It was created in 1939 by German immigrant, Gustav Brunn, and can be found in the spice section of many grocery stores or you can make your own.
Adapted from Tide and Thyme
2 tablespoons salt
4 large russet potatoes
4 cups warm water
Peanut oil for frying
Apple cider vinegar
Old Bay Seasoning (optional)
In a large bowl, mix the salt into the warm water until dissolved.
Cut the potatoes lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick strips. Cut each slice into 1/4 inch thick fries. Place the fries into the salted water and allow to soak for 15 minutes.
Line a large baking sheet with towels and set aside. Fill a deep pot with about 3 inches of peanut oil. Heat to 375 degrees F. Remove the cut potatoes from the water and thoroughly pat dry. Add the fries to the heated oil in batches, being careful not to overcrowd. Cook just until starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer using a slotted spoon or tongs to the towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining fries.
Once all the fries have been cooked, return the oil to 375 degrees F. Add the first set of cooked fries and fry until golden and crisp, 1-2 minutes. Remove to towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining fries.
Serve immediately with salt, vinegar, and Old Bay Seasonings (optional).