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The other, quieter Ocean City

If you're heading east, you'll run out of land before you run out of gas.

And if you've seen and done it all in Ocean City , Md., try the other Ocean City - in New Jersey.

Other than the name and the fact that both are barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean, the two towns have little in common.

If Maryland's Ocean City is like a shiny sports utility vehicle, loaded with options, Jersey's Ocean City is the old family station wagon - not glitzy, but beloved.

"We're the calmer, gentler Ocean City ," says Joann DelVescio, director of New Jersey's Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The tallest structure in Ocean City , N.J., is the 140-foot Ferris wheel at Gillian's Wonderland Pier. One of the town's main tourist destinations is the Ocean City Tabernacle, home to a nondenominational religious ministry. And the strongest drink you'll find served on the 7-mile island is a cherry Coke at the Blue Planet Diner.

This 125-year-old town on the Jersey Shore is completely dry. No alcohol is sold and you can't bring your own into the restaurants or to the beach.

The booze ban is a reflection of the town's roots. It was founded in 1879 - four years after Ocean City , Md. - by a group of Methodist ministers who wanted to create a Christian vacation resort. They laid down two rules: No commerce on the Sabbath and no alcohol.

"The Methodist mentality is still very strong in this town," DelVescio said.

Today, stores, restaurants, rides and arcades are open on Sunday, but the alcohol ban remains and is even a source of pride among the locals.

"It's nice and quiet," said Joyce Trofa, who was born and raised here. She is a teacher's aide in the local primary school and works at Seaport Golf and Go-carts during the summer.

Two rules

With a year-round population of 17,500, Ocean City , N.J., is more than twice as large as its Maryland counterpart. But its 150,000 summer visitors pale in comparison with the millions that come to Ocean City , Md.

The difference is obvious when it comes to accommodations. Jersey's Ocean City has about 6,000 rental units and 1,600 hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast rooms, compared with 10,000 hotel rooms and 25,000 condominiums in Ocean City , Md.

The only national hotel chain in Ocean City , N.J., is a Days Inn. Bed and breakfast inns and small, independent hotels dominate the boardwalk area. New condominiums are going up, but rather than oceanfront high-rises, they are housed in two- and three-story duplexes.

Mary Ware of Philadelphia says she has stayed in Ocean City , Md., and Wildwood, N.J., but prefers Ocean City , N.J. Pausing on the boardwalk where she was pushing her 9-month old granddaughter in a stroller, Ware said she was put off by the crowds in Ocean City , Md.

The fact that there's no cocktail hour in the local restaurants and she doesn't have the option of wine with dinner is of no concern, Ware said. "I don't drink."

Because of the alcohol ban, Ocean City attracts more families and fewer college students than other seaside resorts, DelVescio noted. And while some tourists might head out of town in the evening to have a drink with dinner, the town's businesses are not clamoring to change the alcohol policy. "That is a big draw for us," DelVescio said. "It truly is a family resort."

New Jersey is two states away from Baltimore, but it takes no longer to drive to Ocean City , N.J., than it does to Ocean City , Md. We made it in three hours with two young kids in the car who demanded several bathroom stops.

We stayed at Watson's Regency Suites, one block from the beach. Our suite was immaculate and decorated in subdued pastels with a nautical theme. The indoor pool and hot tub were nice perks.

All of the hotel's 79 suites sleep five and have a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living area. Rates are $279 a night, $1,815 a week during peak season.

Ocean City , N.J., rates seem to be in line with those of Ocean City , Md. It's possible to find a hotel room for $85 a night in the summer, but most single rooms cost in the $150-$200 range.

Family atmosphere

As for activities, grown-ups might be content to stroll past Ocean City 's quaint shops on Asbury Avenue, but kids will be drawn to the boardwalk arcades, where most games cost 50 cents.

The town's old-fashioned boardwalk is 2 1/2 miles long (Maryland's is 3 miles long) and lined with the usual T-shirt shops, miniature golf courses, arcades, eateries and souvenir stores. Drop by Shriver's at Ninth Street for irresistible fudge and taffy. Founded in 1898, it is the oldest business on the boardwalk.

Many of the shops, arcades and restaurants on the boardwalk don't take credit cards, but ATM machines are available to help you spend your money.

There is no tram on the boardwalk. Instead, you will have to rely on foot, bicycle or pedal surrey to get around.

Other points of interest are the Ocean City Historical Museum, which recounts the story of the town's founding, and the Discovery Seashell Museum, with unusual shells from all over the world. Fishing charters and piers on the bay side of the island will keep fishermen happy.

Don't get so distracted that you forget the beach itself. It's a wide expanse of sand replenished frequently by the Army Corps of Engineers and studded with seashells. The shore slopes gently to the ocean, and waves tend to be small, but surfers can still find thrills near Seventh Street.

As with all Jersey beaches, vacationers aiming to revel in the sand and sun must wear beach tags. Ocean City tags are $5 per day and $8 for the week, and are required for everyone age 12 and older.

Summer events include the Miss New Jersey pageant in June, a bicycle parade and fireworks on the Fourth of July and a freckles contest in August. A music pier offers nightly entertainment during the summer.

If all this wholesomeness gets too boring, don't worry. The casinos and bars of Atlantic City are just 20 miles away.

Getting there: Driving from Baltimore, take I-95 to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, then take the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 322 to the Atlantic City Expressway. Then take the Garden State Parkway south to Exit 30. For a more scenic route, try Route 40 across New Jersey or take the ferry from Lewes, Del., to Cape May, N.J., then head north on Route 9.

  • Distance from Baltimore: 150 miles Watson's Regency Suites, Ninth Street and Ocean Avenue, Ocean City , NJ 08226 609-398-4300 watsonsregency.com
  • One-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens. Summer rates from $179. Day trips from Ocean City :
  • Try your luck in the casinos in Atlantic City, about 20 miles away.
  • Take the kids to see Lucy the Elephant, a wooden building in nearby Margate, N.J., that has been a fixture on the shore for more than a century.
  • Visit the historic town of Smithville 20 miles north, and eat at the Smithville Inn. Information For more information about planning a visit to Ocean City , N.J., contact the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce: 800-232-2465; www.oceancityvacation.com.
  • Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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