Buy a tub of Thrasher's french fries, settle into a comfortable bench on Ocean City's boardwalk and watch.
On a recent day, empty-nesters walked their designer golden-doodle; a family pedaled a canopied quadricycle; a teenage boy sweated through his T-shirt during a game of Dance Dance Revolution; bikers in mean shades and leather chaps shared a jumbo bucket of Thrasher's; and grandma and grandpa took a post-lunch power walk.
Remember that when it seems as if there's nothing to do -- or that you've done it all year after year -- there are always people to watch.
There's no shortage of Holiday Inns, Howard Johnson's and motels aglow in neon in Ocean City. Here's where to stay if you want a little more luxury:
The Breakers, Third Street and the Boardwalk, 800-283-9165; ocbreakers.com. Completely rebuilt three years ago, this hotel features a fitness center, indoor pool and Dough Roller restaurant. The rooms are clean and crisp, and the location is ideal for boardwalk lovers and children. Rates: $119-$359.
The Hilton Suites Oceanfront, 32nd Street on the ocean, five blocks north of the Boardwalk, 410-289-6444; hilton.com. The all-suite hotel opened in 2006 and offers the largest beachfront in town. Two outdoor pools overlook the ocean, including one with a large slide. The indoor pool is edged with lush tropical palms. Rooms sleep four to six, with penthouses holding 10, and feature a full kitchen. The 12-story resort also offers an upscale restaurant, 32 Palms; a lounge; and the all-important Starbucks. Rates: $219-$534.
The Coconut Malorie Resort, 200 59th Street on the bay, 800-767-6060; coconut malorie.com. This hotel also has been renovated. The resort offers 85 studio or one-bedroom suites, all of which include a mini-kitchen and pullout couch. The heated outdoor pool overlooks the bay. Rates: $160-$399.
For the ultimate in luxury, reserve suites at Ocean City's two "boutique" hotels at Fager's Island. The Edge (60th Street on the bay, 410-524-5400) is three years old and features 12 suites with modern decor and all of the little luxuries that matter -- robes, a daily newspaper, concierge service, down comforters and feather beds. Rates start at $259. Next door is the Lighthouse Club Hotel (59th Street on the bay, 410-524-5400), a three-story, octagon-shaped building with a replica of the Thomas Point Lighthouse on top. The amenities are the same, but the decor is "Caribbean." Rates start at $119.
Ocean City is famous for its chains -- The Dough Roller, Layton's and Phillips Seafood -- but here are three places to go for special occasions, even if you have to hire a babysitter.
Galaxy 66, 6601 Coastal Highway, 410-723-6762. This restaurant doesn't have an ocean or bay view, but it offers the only open-air rooftop bar and dining area in town. The decor features sleek glass mosaics and sculptures imported from Washington state. The food is equally inventive. The menu changes regularly and recently featured rockfish and crab. Entrees: $20-$35.
Liquid Assets Wine and Martini Bar, 9301 Coastal Highway, 410-524-7037. Next to a Sunsations T-shirt store in a strip mall, this place is "extremely popular" with locals, according to Sun restaurant critic Elizabeth Large. The dining area is elegant and isolated, while the wine bar is situated in the center of a packaged-goods store -- 7-Eleven-style beer refrigerators and all. The cheese list is extensive but also expensive.
Fager's Island, 201 60th Street on the bay, 410-524-5500. This is one of the best places to watch the sunset: Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" crescendos over the stereo system just as the sun dips below the horizon. The restaurant, more like an entertainment compound, offers something for everyone: outdoor pavilions, live music, dancing, a Sunday jazz brunch and two menus: one upscale, the other "light fare." Entrees (fine dining): $22-$43.
This category could begin and end with Seacrets (49th Street on the bay, 410-524-4900), a block-long homage to cheap beer and the fraternity party.
As Randolph Hoenes of Ellicott City explained, "It's a great place to arrive by water. There are lots of bars and great snacks. But you won't feel comfortable there at night unless you're under the age of 25, or feel like you're under the age of 25."
Here are two other options:
The Green Turtle, 11601 Coastal Highway, 410-723-2120. It's a chain, but one of the few true "sports bars" in Ocean City. It features sticky floors and a dizzying number of large, flat-screen televisions, all hallmarks of a true sports bar.
Peppers Tavern, 15th Street on the Boardwalk, 410-289-8444. Known for its Bloody Marys, which customers can concoct themselves from more than 80 mixes.
Having "fun" in Ocean City often requires good weather. Listed below are four backups for rainy days, followed by some staples for any vacation at the beach.
Old Pro's Undersea Adventure, 68th Street and Coastal Highway, 410-524-2645. The town's only indoor putt-putt golf course has 18 holes and a chomping clam at the end that eats your golf balls. The holes are a little wider than most courses, making it easier for young children.
The Life-Saving Station Museum, south end of the Boardwalk, 410-289-4991. Explore the history of Ocean City, its fishing economy, shipwrecks and local marine life. Children and adults will marvel at the record-breaking shark catches on display outside, sands from around the world and retro bathing suits.
Ice skating in the lobby of the Carousel Resort Hotel and Condominiums (118th Street on the ocean, 800-641-0011) or bowling at Ocean Lanes (72nd Street and Coastal Highway, 410 524-7550) are other sanity-savers for parents.
OC Rocket, a speedboat that zooms up the Atlantic Coast, and Assateague Adventure, a cruise that meanders through the Sinepuxent Bay, take off from the Talbot Street Pier (Talbot Street on the bay, 410-289-3500).
Bike the boardwalk. Rent a tandem, surrey, three-wheel bicycle or traditional two-wheeler from the Wobbly Wheel at First Street and the Boardwalk, 410-289-2453.
Surfing lessons. Learn to surf at Malibu's Surf Shop (Seventh Street and the Boardwalk, 410-289-3000), the town's only surf shop on the beach. Lessons are $50 and are offered from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For those who don't need lessons, Malibu's Web site features a daily surf report with photos at malibus.com.
Fishing or crabbing off the jetty or a pier. Serious fishermen should charter a boat at the Ocean City Fishing Center (12940 Inlet Isle Lane, 800- 322-3065). The Morning Star (410- 520-2076) has room for 25 anglers. Seats go for $100 per person, and tackle can be rented for $7.
You'll never have a hard time finding T-shirts, shot glasses, postcards or key chains in Ocean City. Finding something of high quality, however, is far more elusive.
South Moon Under, 8019 Coastal Highway, 410-524-4567. This is as sophisticated as Ocean City gets when it comes to fashion. The store carries designer clothing and swimwear, including Juicy Couture, Citizens for Humanity and Quiksilver. But don't be shocked if the prices are in "The Hamptons."
The Kite Loft, Fifth Street on the Boardwalk, and 131st Street and Coastal Highway, 410-289- 6852. The store's two locations are candy lands for children. They feature model cars, stuffed animals, Frisbees, rubber-band hurlers, and yes, kites -- some of the wildest, wickedest kites in the country. The company hosts two kite-flying competitions a year. Go to kiteloft.com for details.
Dimensions, North Division Street on the Boardwalk and Cathell Road in Ocean Pines, 410-641-6257, and Lot 80, 410-520-0688, which is located in the same shopping strip as South Moon Under, are for skateboarders. Lot 80 caters more to girls, featuring hip clothes, boards and accessories. Dimensions' Ocean Pines location has an indoor ramp, and the boardwalk outlet offers piercing. (A guide to Ocean City isn't complete without a listing for a piercer.)
Sea Quest, 7503 Coastal Highway, 410-289-3770. offers a large collection of women's swimwear for sizes 1 to 24W. The store's shtick is that they can find a flattering swimsuit for any woman, no matter her shape.