Why now’s the time to fall for Maryland's Ocean City
With a name like Ocean City, you almost need no introduction—at least not for a good part of the year, when people’s natural assumptions about you totally bear out. Summer hotspot? Check. Fun boardwalk? America’s favorite, per the Travel Channel. Old-timey amusements? A whole complex full, celebrating its 130th anniversary this year. Saltwater taffy? Handmade here since 1910. And the list goes on.
That said, there’s an Ocean City that you probably don’t know—even if you’re a devoted summer visitor to this waterside sliver of southeastern Maryland: the version that offers a season’s worth of fun, long after the warm weather crowds have gone. Admittedly, some of the autumnal activities here are continuations of summertime favorites, with a lot more elbow room (or rod-and-reel room, as the case may be). But others are unique to fall’s cooler days and brisk nights. Either way, there’s so much going on here this season, Ocean City’s got you covered, whether you’re a…
A fast-growing golf destination, Ocean City has courses to suit every skill level, from the beginner-friendly Ocean Pines to the more advanced Links at Lighthouse Sound Golf Club, the latter a Golf Magazine Top 100 Course that’s generating extra buzz at the moment because the city’s first celebrity tournament will be held there on Oct. 2. The veteran golf pro and broadcaster David Feherty will be hosting, and various rock stars from the previous weekend’s music festival (more on that shortly) will be making appearances on the course, as will bold-faced names from the wider sports world.
So if you’re traveling with any fellow golfers, consider signing up ASAP for a five-person team (each consisting of four civilians and one celeb). Whether or not you’re able to be there for the tournament, however, Ocean City makes fall golf extra appealing with stay-and-play packages at various hotels.
If there’s a signature Ocean City menu item that outsiders have heard of—beyond those world-famous Maryland crabs, we mean—it’s likely the Orange Crush. This blend of vodka, triple sec, fresh OJ and lemon-lime soda is said to have originated here (at Harborside Bar & Grill, specifically) and has since proliferated across the US. But that’s just the start of what’s noteworthy on the local food-and-drinks scene, where you’ll find a mix of news-making additions and long-beloved favorites.
In the first category, standouts include The Other One microbrewery—where you’ll find hearty flatbreads and hyperlocal beers such as the malty Mash at the Beach—and the newly reimagined and relocated The Embers, with a brick oven and the attendant elevated pizzas (literally, this is a rooftop location). In the category of longtime staples, there’s everything from On the Bay Seafood (the quintessential crab joint, and yes, crab season lasts well past summer here, generally through December) to the Original Thrasher’s French Fries, coming up on a centennial of carby heaven. For a city-wide sampler at a great price, visit during Fall Restaurant Week (Sept. 15-24). And wine (and lit) fans should watch the calendar at the Buzzed Word, a book and wine shop that offers tasting classes, events and more.
Ocean City is a cyclist’s delight year-round, with plentiful trails and ample rental offerings. But cycling here in fall is extra great, in part because of the cooler days, and in part because of the unfettered access to one of the area’s most beloved bike paths: the boardwalk, where—from the Tuesday after Labor Day through the Friday before Memorial Day—you can bike almost without exception, whereas summer comes with a set of greatly reduced boardwalk biking hours.
Other favorite paths include Northside Park (an easy beginner ride) and Assateague Island National Seashore (a wildlife- and wilderness-rich ride that can be easy to advanced, depending on the circuit you choose).
Though beach towns are almost chill by definition, the crowd-free fall leaves no doubt: Ocean City is an ideal place to seek serenity. Consider, for example, the year-round beach classes from Ocean City Yoga, whose oh-so-coastal offerings include All-Level Paddle Board Yoga (an offering you’ll also find at others of the ever-proliferating yoga studios in town).
Keep the coastal chill vibes going with a stay at the recently opened Lighthouse Club Hotel, where you’ll find a water-facing firepit and a massage room with an on-call therapist. If it’s a more expansive treatment menu you crave, consider a stay at the Princess Royale, where the resident Creative Day Spa—a longtime local favorite—has added new services such as the exfoliating and hydrating Salt Mousse Body Treatment to an already impressive menu.
Ocean City is a world-famous white marlin capital and an overall angler’s paradise. And while many make their fishing pilgrimages here in peak season (May-September), you’ll find a lot more elbow room (and possibly no fewer fish) during a fall visit. Indeed, even a late September fishing trip could yield as many marquee encounters as summer (think blue marlin, white marlin, bluefish, three kinds of tuna and at least a dozen other A-Listers), while October sees only a slight drop (specifically, in blue marlin moments). All the while, your days out on the water will be cooler—and the vibes will be mellower.
The aforementioned Assateague Island National Seashore and state park is good for a lot more than biking. Wild ponies, birds and dolphins are among the stars of this dreamy blend of beach, pine forest and salt marsh. Whatever your preferred wilderness touring style, whether it be walking, kayaking or boating, you’ll have amazing sighting opportunities. The ponies, whom most visitors come to see, are here year round, while other local stars show up only at certain times. In fall, waterfowl arrive in droves—as Assateague Island is key stop on the Atlantic Flyway.
If you love a good festival, you’ll find a multitude of reasons to visit Ocean City in fall. The first is Wine on the Beach, Sept. 8-9—okay, technically late summer, but why split hairs when the offerings involve a great lineup of local wines, beers and entertainers? Next up, Sept. 29-Oct. 1: the aforementioned Oceans Calling festival (the one that will supply the first-ever local celebrity golf tournament with some of its celebs). Headliners include the Lumineers, John Mayer and Jack Johnson. Then, Oct. 19-22, a nearly 50-year local favorite: Sunfest, one of the region’s largest outdoor festivals. Expect artisans from all over the country (as well as Ocean City), lots of live music and even more amazing food—all along America’s favorite boardwalk.