Seashores must have been created with children in mind.
From the moment they arrive at the beach, they industriously start digging holes. The bigger the better. Or they proceed to bury body parts -- theirs and others'.
Sand isn't the only appeal either. Low tide draws the most timid toddler to the water, while older kids can stay in the ocean for hours riding waves on surf mats and boogie boards.
Playing in the sand and water may entertain children for a while but, eventually, they look around and realize there is more fun to be had. The razzle-dazzle of amusement parks and arcades beckons.
Ocean City has plenty of thrills, bright lights and noisy games to keep kids of all ages amused, but there are also alternatives such as fishing, crabbing, shows, sports and games.
Fun on the water
For Ashlee Klinger, 9, of Lykens, Pa., one of the highlights of her beach vacation was the morning she spent catching crabs. "We caught seven," she said proudly. Ashlee said she didn't mind throwing the crabs back in the water, because their hotel did not have kitchen facilities. For her, the fun was catching them.
She also had a good time feeding the sea gulls and watching the birds catch the food in midair, and a morning trip to Assateague Island was an adventure. "We saw horses today, and we saw a deer and took a picture."
There are also organized activities that children and adults can enjoy together. At the Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum (on the boardwalk near the inlet) at 9 a.m. weekdays, visitors can learn about the creatures who inhabit the aquarium.
Then at 10 a.m. in front of the museum, there are activities Mondays through Thursdays: Mondays, a talk about the history of Ocean City; Tuesdays, a lecture about Assateague Island; Wednesdays, learning how to tie nautical knots; and Thursdays, a demonstration of building a ship in a bottle.
The Ocean City Public Library offers an air-conditioned indoor respite for families. There are comfortable places for parents to read books to their children. The library also has a large collection of books about sharks, whales, turtles and sea birds, says assistant librarian Mary Lou Brueckmann.
Visitors with a public library card issued in Maryland can borrow books from the Ocean City library. The library also maintains a collection of paperback books that are lent on the honor system to those without library cards.
The library also sponsors an hourlong program at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays through Aug. 4 called Munch a Bunch of Books. Children ages 6-12 can enjoy food-related activities.
The play's the thing
As a alternative to taking the tribe to one of the first-run movies in town, parents can enjoy a taste of the theater with their children. Parker Playhouse at the Carousel Hotel at 118th Street presents a non-violent rendition of "Little Red Riding Hood" at 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays. At 7 p.m. weekdays, the group gives a performance of "Alice in Wonderland."
While the plays are geared to children, parents won't be bored, says Bill Wills, who writes the shows with his wife, Sue. "A lot of the humor is aimed at the adults," he says. For more information, call 524-1000, Ext. 7209.
At the Convention Center, a children's festival is being held at 7 p.m. Wednesday. It's being billed as "Lollapalooza for the lollipop crowd."
Stories, music and dance aimed at kids 2 to 12 will feature performers such as "Sesame Street's" Bob McGrath, Frank Cappelli of Nickelodeon's "Cappelli & Company," and Rory, host of the Learning Channel's "Ready, Set, Learn!" program. Tickets are available at the Convention Center Box Office or by phone, (410) 289-8314.
On Assateague Island
For a short trip outside of Ocean City, Assateague Island National Seashore offers more than ponies. The National Park Service conducts nature walks and takes people wading in the bay marshes to hunt for animals. It also has evening campfires, where visitors can bring marshmallows and hear stories told by rangers.
There are also indoor activities at Assateague. At the visitor center, a ranger will talk about the fish and creatures in the 220-gallon tank, as the fish are fed their evening supper. Children will have a chance to pick up and touch some of the aquarium's inhabitants, too.
After the aquarium feeding, a slide show is presented on various topics about the island. This may be more suitable for older children and adults.
Children ages 6 to 11 can participate in the Seashore Ranger Program and learn about the island on their own. They even earn a certificate and a pin. There is also a Kid's Beach Discovery Program, where children explore the island from their point of view. For a schedule and information, call the park at (410) 641-1441.
Fishing is also a favorite pastime at the beach. In Ocean City, many of the bait and tackle shops will rent the necessary equipment. For novices, the Ocean City Guide Service coordinates the services of local fisherman, who will take passengers out on their boats, provide the equipment and transform land lubbers into anglers.
"There is more to it than putting a worm on the hook," says Barney Rowe, owner of the guide service. "If you don't know how to rig up, you will get frustrated," he says.
Sports, games, crafts
From sports to games to camps and crafts, there are lots of activities going on at the Ocean City Recreation Department. Kids can build a paper kite, decorate and fly it at the kite workshops that will be held Aug. 4 and 25. Stewart Eisenman of the Kite Loft Store, who conducts the workshops, says, "[Children] are surprised how easily they fly."
The Recreation Department also has arts and crafts programs Aug. 12 and 19, where children can make sock puppets and woodcrafts. From tomorrow to Aug. 6, there will be a soccer drop-in program from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tennis lessons are also available at the tennis center at 61st Street. Some of these activities charge a modest fee.
Northside Park at 125th Street will be the site of a free family vaudeville show at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 11. Chairs are the only requirement for comfortable seating.
For information about activities at the Recreation Department, call (410) 250-0125.