You haven't been to Ocean City if you haven't made at least one trip to the boardwalk. It's where the action is. And there are even some serene spots to enjoy a quiet moment.
Starting at 27th Street, the 2 1/2 miles of boardwalk reflect Ocean City in miniature: quiet in the north and crammed with humanity at the southern end.
For many, the main attraction is the food. One doesn't have to look very hard to find pizza, funnel cakes, ice cream, taffy and the ever-popular boardwalk fries. Some even use the line of customers outside Thrasher's Fries on Worcester Street as an economic indicator.
Countless boardwalk shops sell T-shirts with "Ocean City" emblazoned on the front. And there are shirts for those looking for something other than the usual tourist message.
"This year the big shirts are the marijuana shirts," says Tiffani Mild, manager of Sunburst at Sixth Street on the boardwalk. "The whole '60s thing has a lot to do with it," she says.
Out on the pier, the amusement that is grabbing attention this year is the Orbitron. Once strapped into a device that resembles a torture rack, the willing participant, who pays $5 for the chance to defy gravity, can twirl top to bottom and all around on what the sign says is a "human-powered gyroscope."
For Derrick Perry of Easton, the thrill of the Orbitron is that "you're in control of what you do." His girlfriend, Simone Clark, says she also liked being in control, but "five minutes feels like a long time."
Nicholas Dillon, 10, of Ocean City, said he had heard about the ride from friends and saved the money he earns from doing chores, so he could try it. "I wish I could do it again," he said.
Also on the pier is a Ferris wheel that offers magnificent views of the resort. And there is a haunted house that isn't the usual mechanical ride. It's a scary walk through a dark, creaky house that appears to have been battered by one too many winter storms.
For those who walk past the typical midway games of skill and chance, the pier offers a vantage point to look back at the beach and the boardwalk from the ocean.
Popular in the amusement arcades is the "Crime Patrol" video game. Young men were lining up recently at Fun City Amusements at Caroline Street to take a shot at snipers from the safety of a video screen. And woe to those who shoot a security guard by mistake or get shot themselves. They will have to face the wrath of the head of the Crime Patrol who can dish out a few nasty comments.
Thrill-seekers don't want to miss the Tidal Wave roller coaster at Trimper's Rides at First Street. One can hear the screams and see the soaring structure from several blocks away. Among the other amusement rides at Trimper's is the not-to-be-missed restored 1902 antique carousel with hand-carved wooden animals.
For some quieter entertainment, stop and rest on the benches near Caroline Street and enjoy the lively beach volleyball games, head up to the Kite Loft on Sixth Street to marvel over the bright colors of the kites and enjoy the wind chimes and wooden lawn decorations on display out front.
"Ocean City is the perfect place to fly a kite because of the beach, and the winds are fantastic," says William Jones, manager and a partner in the Kite Loft.
When looking for a respite from the sun and crowds, stop into the Wax Museum near the entrance to the pier at Wicomico Street. Some of the figures are startlingly lifelike, and part of the .. fun is to eavesdrop on other debates over which figures are realistic.
Here is your chance to walk right up to the Marx Brothers and Barbra Streisand, see a glittering Elton John, admire Louis Armstrong's toothy grin, sigh over Burt Reynolds' risque pose, walk through fairy-tale vignettes to the music of the "Nutcracker Suite" and cringe at depictions of various torture methods.
For a tamer indoor diversion, walk to the end of the boardwalk and stop inside the Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum. Displays show how the lifesaving service operated during its heyday in the mid-1800s when the American economy depended on shipping to transport people and goods.
Other museum displays include tales and artifacts of famous shipwrecks and rescues, a collection of Ocean City memorabilia and souvenirs, old bathing costumes and a chance to compare the sands of Ocean City's beaches to Bora Bora, Helsinki, Finland, or some of the other 86 sands from around the world on display.
Outside the museum is a display case that holds a mounted, 1,210-pound tiger shark that was caught near Ocean City in 1983. The end of the boardwalk is a good place to stop and rest and take in a view of Assateague Island across the inlet.
If you're not ready to head back through the throngs on the main boardwalk, walk along the inlet boardwalk for more picturesque views of Assateague. Don't miss the panels that provide information on the natural history of the island.
One panel shows how the wind, waves, tides, currents and sand movement reshape the island and its shores each year, another shows the types of birds typical to the area and there is also one about the two herds of wild ponies on the island.
pTC If weary feet are begging you not to retrace your steps back up the boardwalk, climb aboard the boardwalk train, which runs the length of the boardwalk and costs $1.50 each way.