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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Best of the Boardwalk - Ocean City, New Jersey

There is something so innocent and youthful about a weekend in Ocean City, New Jersey.  This "Beach Resort Town" has been rated the #1 family beach community in the country by the Travel Channel and let's face it, you can't help but feel like a kid again as you stroll down the boardwalk and play in the surf. 

For starters, it's a dry county meaning no alcohol is served within the county.  No package stores/liquor stores here and the restaurants do not serve alcohol either.  By default, this sort of keeps a lot of the riff-raff out as you will not see spring breakers or bachelor parties roaming the boardwalk at night.  This part of Dry Jersey helps keep the town cleaner, safer, and family-friendly. 

The 2.5-mile long boardwalk also channels your childhood with concession stands offering your favorite fair foods, a historic amusement park (Gillian's Wonderland Pier), a water park, plenty of themed mini-golf, ice cream on every corner, and of course those white sandy beaches that are perfect for your boogie board.  Early in the morning, you can find walkers and runners traversing the boardwalk, vacationers enjoying a sunrise workout in before the heat sets in and the vendors open shop.  Between the hours of 8am and 12pm, you can also find bikers of all sizes and swarms of surreys traveling along the pier.  The rest of the day, it's just families and seagulls making their way down the boardwalk.  

A trip to Ocean City sort of feels like traveling back in time.  A time when we didn't get on planes to travel, you packed up the family in the car or maybe took the train to somewhere local.  Vacation was just being together, maybe on the beach in Ocean City.  And spending some time relaxing on the beach was exactly the type of slow that I needed.  Life just seems to move a little slower and yes, it is certainly much sweeter along the boardwalk. 

How did I end up so close to Philadelphia on a sunny August weekend?  Adam invited me to Ocean City on his annual friend trip to the shore.  He gets about 10 of his friends together where they rent a house a few blocks from the shore and celebrate the end of summer with a week on the boardwalk.  I spent three days in Ocean City where I did zero planning and just forced myself to relax.  I did not drive or get in my car once, I did not have a list of must-sees, and best yet I did not have an itinerary.  All I wanted to do was take long walks on the boardwalk, relax on the beach with my book, swim in the surf, eat all the fair food and relax around the house, getting to know Adam's friends a little better. 

Going with a group that visits the shore every year, it was nice to have the experience of best rides, mini-golf, less crowded beach, and of course the best food.  And so, as I followed Adam's friends to the best fry stand, favorite ice cream vendor, and favorite spot on the beach, this Best of the Boardwalk post was created.  How did it start?  Because I only had three days and not enough time or calories to eat anything that wasn't *the* best on this 2.5 mile stretch of boardwalk.

Best Ride: Gillian's Wonderland Ferris Wheel
Gillian's Wonderland Pier was founded in 1929 by David Gillian. The Pier offers rides from kiddie to terrifying but it is mostly famous for its 144-foot (44 m) Giant Wheel, one of the largest Ferris wheels on the east coast.  Go at dusk and you can see the sunset over New Jersey, watch the waves of the Atlantic crash onto the beach, and see the twinkling lights of Atlantic City.  

Best Ice CreamKohr Brothers Frozen Custard 
Good soft serve is hard to find.  While the pier offers the classics like Ben and Jerrys and Dairy Queen, pass the mega-chains and find a Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard stand. It's a hand's down unanimous favorite among vacationers on the Jersey Shore where having an ice cream at least once a day is basically a requirement for an OC vacation.  There is often a line (especially in the evenings) but there are several stands dotting the boardwalk. Insider Tip: the small stand inside Gillian's Wonderland is your best bet when the lines get long.  

Wondering what Frozen Custard actually is?  It's made from grade A milk, cream, sugar, and eggs and has less fat and sugar than ice cream (6 grams of fat and 130 calories in a 4 fl. oz serving of vanilla).  It's light, creamier and silkier than your standard soft-serve and its made from Archie Kohr's original 1919 recipe that has delighted six generations. They have different flavors and twists combinations and even the cone is perfection.

Best Pizza:  Manco & Manco Pizza 
If you walk up and down the boardwalk, you will pass several glass cases holding gigantic slices of pizza.  They are all a little different from Philly Style (whatever that is...) to giant-sized slices.  But the best?  It's the one with the big line - Manco & Manco Pizza.  Walk-in and order a whole pie or grab a slice.  I tried the broccoli while Adam tried a white slice and it was a perfect Jersey Boardwalk dinner. 

Best Mini-Golf  Seaport Village Golf
Adam mentioned mini-golf on this trip no less than 42 times.  As we walked the boardwalk, he pointed out his favorite which also boasted a sign stating it was "the most challenging miniature golf course on the boardwalk".  I played one game (I am fairly certain Adam played atleast 5) and it was a great way to escape the beach for a bit and play a semi-competitive game of putt putt with friends.  

Best Beach Spot  Surfer Beach 
The Beach along the boardwalk can get pretty busy pretty quick.  On a hot summer day, you will see mobs of umbrellas, beach chairs, and humans lining the seaside.  The beach is also broken down into parts, Surfer Beach (where surfing and surfing only is allowed) and the normal beach (where you can swim, boogie board, and wade in the water).  The Surfer Beach is usually far less crowded than the normal beach and you get to watch the surfers catching waves in the Atlantic.  You can also enjoy the view of the ocean without hoards of people in front of you.  This was Adam's friends first choice every morning and I was happy to join in on the less crowded beach tradition.  No, you cannot swim here but its a short walk along the beach to the open swim areas.  

Best Coffee/Breakfast on the Boardwalk  Ocean City Coffee Company 
Breakfast is a little trickier on the boardwalk.  You have a few small stands offering coffee or a bagel but I wanted a good local coffee and something moderately healthy to enjoy.  Ocean City Coffee Company has a spot right on the boardwalk, as well as downtown Ocean City.  We had avocado toast with an egg and a nitro coffee and it was the perfect start to a day on the boardwalk.

Best Seafood Dinner  Ike's Famous Crab Cake
A lot of the food along the boardwalk is more of the grab and go type.  We were craving seafood and a change to sit down over dinner and Ike's Famous Crabcakes was the perfect spot.  We were able to seat a group of 9 right away and looked at the menu's selection of seafood.  The Neptunes Platter was a huge plate of seafood that comes fired or broiled with their famous chips.  Broiled grouper, old bay shrimp, and their famous crab cakes (top notch) with drill spun potatoes served with coleslaw and their homemade sauces - all for $25.  You.Cant.Go.Wrong. 

Best Seafood Lunch  Quincy's Original Lobster Roll
Lobster rolls are some of the best things to come out of the sea (and the bread oven).  I am not a fan of the Maine style (lobster meat in a mayo dressing).  For me, it's the Connecticut Style, hot and buttered on a toasted split roll, nothing else.  This one was a little different but along the same lines.  It was cold, but no mayo and instead was garnished with lemon and herbs.  It was chock full of lobster meat on a delicious split roll.  It also came with chips and pickles for $14 which is pretty unheard of in the lobster roll game.  Craving quick seafood on the shore?  Stop here. 

Best Healthy Lunch  Bungalow Bowls 
After all that fair food, I needed something that was more than a fried carbohydrate.  The smoothie bowls were the perfect cold icy (nutritious) treat on a hot day. I got the spinach based bowl that was topped with fruit, granola, and honey. If you need something cold on a hot day, this is the perfect lunch on the boardwalk.

Best Fries  Curly's Fries
I take french fries very seriously.  Potato products are at the top of my list and I am a fan of all types.  French fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots, baked potatoes, so on and so forth.  I obviously didn't have time to samples all the boardwalk fries so I had to use some outside help.  This was a Nick recommendation and when I tried them for myself, I was totally on board.  A bucket of crispy salty crinkle-cut french fries - and this bucket?  Refillable for only $5.  Well played Curly's.


A long weekend on the Jersey Shore was exactly what I needed.  Time with Adam, getting to know his friends, good food, a change to read my book, and time on the beach.  Absolute relaxation with no planning needed.  You will find everything you need on the boardwalk from a healthy treat to a complete indulgence or dessert in a cone.   

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