Boardwalk bonanza There's something for almost everyone on the 'boards' at Ocean City

THE BALTIMORE SUN

No matter where visitors stay in Ocean City, they seem to make at least one pilgrimage to the boardwalk. To some, the boardwalk's function is simply to supply everything the happy beachgoer needs -- from beach towels to boogie boards. For others, especially on bad beach days, the boardwalk is an attraction in itself, with diversions from arcade games to souvenir shopping.

This year, though, the 100-year-old resort landmark looks a little different. You'll find that the 2.8-mile boardwalk now is 32 feet wide (before it was only that wide below 10th Street).

There's also a 3-foot-high concrete seawall that's been added from Fourth Street north to the boardwalk's end at 27th Street. And for joggers and strollers, there are markers every quarter mile so they can measure their progress.

But no matter what your interest, you'll find something fun to do on the boards.

Here's an alphabetical listing to help you find some of the more unusual offerings while enjoying a little of its history.

Arcades: Step right up and try your hand at any of the dozens of games of chance available on the southern end of the boardwalk and the amusement pier. Among the nightly hot spots are Marty's Playland at Worcester Street; Sportland, one block north; Fun City at Caroline Street; Ocean City Bingo at Fifth Street; and the Funcade and Ocean casinos between Ninth and 10th streets.

Atlantic Hotel: Opened July 4, 1875, the original Atlantic Hotel was the town's first beachfront resort. It burned down in a fire that destroyed many boardwalk businesses on New Year's Eve, 1925.

The current hotel at Somerset Street, now partly hidden by storefronts on the boardwalk side, was built in 1926.

Bears: Bear Friends & Company, one of the Inlet Village shops, has more than 5,000 teddy bears, including a cuddly 4-foot-tall fellow that sells for $385. The shop also caters to collectors, offering several rare bear lines such as Steiff, "the Rolls Royce of teddy bears," according to manager Anne Jarvis.

Bikes: From May 30 to Sept. 5, bicycles are allowed on the boardwalk only from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. If you didn't lug your own to the beach, you can rent one for $2 to $5 an hour, depending on the type of bike.

Rental locations include the Ocean Park Motel at 17th Street, outside the Surf & Sands Motel at 23rd Street and near the 27th Street end of the boards.

Frank Cole, rental manager of Bike World, which rents from locations at Caroline Street and 15th Street, says the best times to ride are weekends and mornings before 8 a.m., when the boards are less crowded and you have a better selection of bikes available at the rental places.

Elvis: Yup, Elvis is back and Ocean City's got him. Norman Webb, who dresses in cowboy hat, boom box and "I Brake for Elvis" button, has gained local acclaim (and T-shirt celebrity status) as "Boardwalk Elvis." He strolls the boards virtually every day, playing and crooning the King's tunes to the amusement of tourists.

Ferris wheels: The kiddiest kiddie ferris wheel is indoors (which gives you an idea of its size) at Trimper's Amusements. There's a meek traditional version on the west side of the boardwalk next to the Inlet Lodge.

And for the big kids, check out the 110-foot version on the amusement pier.

Food: The boardwalk's endless menu includes pizza, candy, burgers, chicken, ice cream, tacos and, of course, fries.

"You don't mind waiting because you know you're going to get something good," says Martha Bivens of Pocomoke, who recently stood in line for more than 30 minutes to pick up a tub of Thrashers fries.

Long lines are common at Thrashers Worcester Street store. The 62-year-old business also has a boardwalk location between Eighth and Ninth streets. And just about every eatery on the boards offers its own version of the french fried favorites.

Foot showers: You can take the kids off the beach, but can you take the beach off the kids? Get some help at the free public foot showers at Caroline Street, Ninth Street or outside the Sahara Motel at 19th Street.

Glassblowing: Check out the art of glassblowing at the Glass Shop between Wicomico and Somerset streets. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., but you're most likely to catch demonstrations of the craft between 9 a.m. and noon.

Gridlock: It's not something you'll go looking for, but parking lot gridlock is something you'll find on any busy summer weekend.

Take the bus -- unlimited rides all over town for a dollar a day -- or risk sitting in a line of fuming drivers and fuming cars on the inlet parking lot.

Haunted houses: Though the ghosts of many an ancient mariner -- and probably a few ancient teen-agers, too -- undoubtedly walk the boards, you'll find haunted houses on the amusement pier and between South First and South Division streets.

Inlet: Created after a fierce hurricane in 1933, the inlet separates the southern tip of Ocean City from Assateague Island and provides fishing trawlers and recreational boaters with a passage between the bay and the ocean.

Kitchen gadgets: Lots of Pots in the Inlet Village offers ordinary, extraordinary and fun gadgets to take back to your kitchen.

Kites: Gov. William Donald Schaefer declared Ocean City the Kite Capital of the World in 1988 in recognition of Bill Osche's popular Kite Loft stores. The chain's boardwalk location is at Fifth Street.

Lifesaving museum: Located at the inlet, the Ocean City Lifesaving Station Museum provides a look back at the town's colorful history. The museum is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily during summer, and admission is $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for kids 12 and under.

Money: On many summer days, a line forms in front of the Purnell Apartments between Second and Third streets. These folks aren't waiting for a room, however; they're lined up to withdraw cash from the automated teller machine next door.

Ornaments: If your thoughts turn to Christmas in July, visit the Christmas Shop, located between Eighth and Ninth streets.

Photographs: You can buy film in virtually any beach supply shop if you want to take your own pictures, or you can buy the services of one of the telescope photographers who roam the beach in search of poses and profits.

If you prefer to be preserved for posterity wearing more than your swimsuit, visit Ocean Images between North Division and First streets, which advertises "your portrait while you wait with costumes or fantasy backgrounds." Also popular for dress-up shots are the three Old Time Photo shops, between Somerset and Dorchester streets, North Division and First streets and 11th and 12th streets.

Police: The Ocean City Police Department maintains a substation at Caroline Street on the boardwalk. Officers also patrol the boards and beach on foot and in golf carts.

Quarters: If you've got a parking meter, you need quarters. Near the southern tram terminus at South First Street, there's a change machine that turns dollar bills into quarters.

Recording booth: Think you can sing as well as the superstars? Give it a try at the Super Star Recording Studios between Wicomico and Somerset streets. The store provides the musical tracks for more than 300 popular songs, and you can step into one of their six recording booths and add your own version of the vocals.

Rest rooms: There are public restrooms in the beach patrol building at Worcester Street, next to the police trailer at Caroline Street, at Ninth Street and at 27th Street. A word to the wise: bring a dime (most are pay toilets) and your own toilet tissue.

Sand sculpture: Randy Hofman creates a sculpture -- a biblical scene crafted from sand, that is -- every summer evening on the beach outside the Plim Plaza Hotel between First and Second streets.

Telephones: Public phone booths are at virtually every street that meets the boardwalk. Just look for the teens gathered around, and follow the line to the telephone.

Tram: The tram runs the entire length of the boards. The fare is $1.25, and you can get on any time the little train stops by paying your fare to the collector sitting in the rear car. To get off, just wave your hand to the driver.

Trimper's Amusements: Located near the inlet, Trimper's has been delighting children and their parents with rides and games since 1890. The recently restored giant indoor carousel, first introduced in 1902, originally was powered by a steam engine.

Volleyball: OK, they're not actually on the boardwalk, but they're close. The town's volleyball nets are set up on the beach near Dorchester, Seventh and 24th streets.

Water park: The Riptide Water Park offers nine ways to get wet without going near the ocean, with winding inner-tube runs and straight-on slides. The park is on the amusement pier.

Wax museum: The Ocean City Wax Museum opened its doors for the first time this year in the pier building at Wicomico Street. Open 10 a.m. to midnight, the museum features 150 lifelike wax figures including Marilyn Monroe, Francis Scott Key and the Phantom of the Opera.

Yarn: If you're a crafts enthusiast, check out Salty Yarns between Eighth and Ninth streets.

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