For those in search of a calmer beach experience, nearby Assateague National Island Seashore can be a good alternative to Ocean City. And there's another perk to this great park- you can have bonfires on the beach.
There is no better way to unwind than to sit around a fire with friends, eating smores, and looking up at the stars - which are easier to see at the park, miles away from civilization. Its something Ive done regularly for many years.
If youre going to have a fire on the beach, you'll need to pay an entry fee to get into the park. A seven-day pass for a vehicle is $15, and an annual pass for a vehicle is $30 (keep this in mind if you plan on coming multiple weeks). Here are some more steps and tips.
1. Kindle up. Before you head into the park pick up some firewood, kindling and old newspapers. There are plenty of places to pick up firewood while driving to Assateague on Route 611- just pick one and load up. Id suggest at least 10 logs, more depending on how long you want to stay. And you should buy your firewood locally. You cannot bring any from out of state to prevent to spread of exotic insect pests (http://www.nps.gov/asis/upload/FirewAlert.pdf).
2. Bug out. Before you go you should also make sure you bring bug spray, a flashlight and a bucket. Assateague can fill up with mosquitoes, so the bug spray is a must to make sure you dont get eaten alive. Going when there is a wind headed away from the ocean (west) will also spare you some insect activity. A flashlight will be important to find your way back to your vehicle after it gets dark. It also has some more fun uses, like taking a walk along the beach at night, when you can see ghost crabs scurrying along the shore. You'll need the bucket to put out your fire. You cant just smother the fire with sand - thats illegal. Someone could step on your not-yet-extinguished embers and get seriously hurt. So you'll use the bucket to extinguish the fire with water.
4. Pick a good spot to set up. You can have bonfires in areas of the beach that are not guarded, so once you get past the gates head south. Just shy of the Over Sand Vehicle Zone is where a lot of people set up.
5. Build your fire. Once you find your spot, you need to set up your fire. First you should dig a hole to build the fire in, protecting it from the wind. I have always gone the classic fire-building route of setting up a teepee with your logs, putting the kindling under there and then crumpled up newspapers under the kindling. Light the newspapers on fire and hopefully the kindling should catch, then the firewood. If youre not a confident fire-builder, you should be able to find some fire starting logs where you pick up your wood. Theyre a tremendous help.
Thats it. Youre all set to relax. You can tell ghost stories, sing campfire songs, or just chill out and eat as many smores as possible. (If youre looking to get dinner, hot dogs are also great.) Take a break from the fire to walks on the beach, which is always beautiful in the moonlight.
Lastly, be wary of the ponies. Youre likely to see some nearby during your bonfire. Please do not feed them. Keep our s'mores to yourself.