Ocean City: Cool beaches. Perilous Boardwalk. Visit Life Saving Service Museum. Eat. Don't Drink!
Partially as a result of its founding by the Methodists, Ocean City became known as and has relished its status as one of the East Coast's premier family destinations. Among the six Boardwalks on the Jersey Shore, Ocean City is the most geared to younger children and families. No other beach town in South Jersey bans alcohol, whether for sale in commercial stores or restaurants.
At more than seven miles long, there's plenty of beach, whether you are looking for wide beaches along the Great Egg Harbor Inlet, planting your towel in front of a thriving two-and-a-half-mile boardwalk or looking for surfing beaches beyond the boardwalk.
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Visit the Historic Life Saving Service Station
Before there was the United States Coast Guard, there was the United States Life-Saving Service. In 1848, NJ Congressman William Newell advocated for a law to establish eight unmanned lifesaving stations from Sandy Hook to Long Beach Island (including what was then considered Toms River) to provide "surf boat, rockets, carronades and other necessary apparatus for the better preservation of life and property from shipwreck". By 1878, the volunteer life-saving role was assumed by a new federal agency, the Life-Saving Service, which refurbished, replaced or built 40-plus stations from Sandy Hook to Cape May and many more along the nation's coastlines. Eventually, in 1915, the Coast Guard assumed the role of the service and in many cases had no further use for the buildings, many of which were not located on inlets, rivers or with direct water access to the ocean.
The first life-saving station built in Ocean City was in 1872. As often happened the Life-Saving Service rebuilt the station house in 1885-86. The station closed in 1937 and was abandoned in 1945 and sold it as a private residence. After much back and forth with owners trying to sell the house, the city the trying to buy it and lawsuits, in March 2010, the Ocean City approved a bond of about $1 million to purchase the property, and the city took over the former life-saving station. A nonprofit organization U.S. Life Saving Station 30 was formed and with a variety of grants, the building has and restored and turned into a museum. The overall cost for repairs and restoration was estimated at $1.5 million.
Through Labor Day, the museum is open from 10am to 4pm, Monday through Saturday and from Friday to Sunday through September 30. They will join the New Jersey Lighthouse challenge -- although they are not a lighthouse -- on October 16-17.
From 1871 through 1914, the Service aided 28,121 vessels, and rescued or aided 178,741 persons. It's unofficial motto: “Remember, you have to go out, but nothing says you have to come back.”
Expanded Ocean City Fishing Pier
Like the Anglers Club of Absecon Island in Margate, the Ocean City Fishing Pier faced the problem of its members not being able to fish at low tide because of continued replenishment of the beach. In 2021 at the cost of $500,000, the pier added 113 feet to tits end for a total of 748 feet so the water depth ranges from six to 11 feet. It's the longest pier in the fishing club's 108-year history.
While the the fishing club hosts open houses and tournament, it's a membership-only club and is not accepted new members at this time. You can put your hammock under it, but don't fish from it.
Perilous Boardwalk with bikes, runners and pedestrians
With a boardwalk at more than two and a half miles, you'd imagine there would be plenty of room to peacefully walk and enjoy the sights and smells of the ocean. Especially in the morning, walking the Boardwalk is more perilous than rush hour on the Schuylkill River. All kinds of bikes and runners cruise by at high speed. Only in the very southern section of the Boardwalk does the traffic ease.
There one reason to excuse crazy Boardwalkers is if they stop at...
Popcorn fads come and go, but there’s one place that transcends fads— Johnson’s Popcorn. Johnson’s is best known for its caramel popcorn, which is hand-mixed fresh as you watch in each of the three stores on the boardwalks in Ocean City. In addition to caramel popcorn, the stores feature cheddar popcorn, buttered popcorn, and peanut caramel crunch—similar to Cracker Jack. You can mix and match flavors. The original location at 1368 Boardwalk stays open year-round. Next door, the gift shop has colorful tubs of popcorn to buy and eat later or ship to friends around the world.
How Ocean City got its name
Originally purchased by the Somers family, the island was formerly named Peck's Beach in 1700. That name is believed to have been derived from a whaler named John Peck. Seeking to emulate the success of Methodist retreat Ocean Grove on the northern part of the Shore, four Methodist ministers in 1879 established a Christian retreat. Having chosen the name "Ocean City," the founders incorporated the Ocean City Association and laid out street and lots for cottages, hotels, and businesses. Five years later, the town became a borough formed from part of Upper Township.
It was the ministers who passed "blue laws" banning alcohol.
Tips for visiting Ocean City
What's New: Nothing new to report.
Starring Role: Ocean City is featured in the movies Eddie and the Cruisers and Tattoo.
Access and Parking: Ocean City together with Corson's Inlet State Park comprise a barrier island. There are multiple bridges that cross the water to the island from Longport, Somers Point, the Roosevelt Boulevard bridge easily accessed from the Garden State Parkway and from the Bay Avenue bridge to Upper Township/Strathmere. Near the Boardwalk and in the business district, there is metered parking that is carefully policed. Parking is generally free in most places except in municipal lots at the beach.
Amenities: Bathrooms and showers are located along the Boardwalk.
Beaches: Beach badges are required daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Full season badges are $25 for people 12 and older. Weekly badges cost $10. Daily badges cost $5. Badges can be purchased at the beach or online at store.ocnj.us.
Follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he recounts his 2021 walk of every beach along the 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Read all updated stories at www.JerseyShoreWalk.com.