A fun boardwalk and miles of beaches highlight this city not far from the nation’s capital. Locals share the shoreline with millions of tourists in the summer, but reclaim it as their own special place the rest of the year.
“The beach is something that gets into your blood.” – Vernon Betkey
ON THE BEACH IN OCEAN CITY. gulls call, waves break and kids giggle as they practice somersaults in the sand. The boardwalk, the city’s gem, stretches for 2.5 miles from the inlet to 27th Street. The smells of popcorn, pizza and french fries mix to create the scent of summer. Signs announce henna tattoos and eateries. Racks of T-shirts front beachwear stores and whirligigs spin in the breeze, enticing browsers into souvenir shops. Ocean City’s boardwalk starts at an amusement park where the willing get happily tossed on spin rides, dropped on a roller coaster and carried airborne on the giant Ferris wheel that glints in the sun. An iconic set piece, the boardwalk and the beach are a draw for many who return to live in Ocean City, pulled by their good memories. These new residents soon discover what longtime locals always knew: Ocean City is a vibrant community with parks, a performing arts center, a year-round recreational program and scores of golf courses.
Jennifer Snider-Tornetta and her husband, Chuck Tornetta, from Sayreville, NJ, began searching for retirement places in 2003. They checked out Florida and the Carolinas, but nothing felt right until they visited a cousin in Ocean City a few years ago. “As soon as we came over the bridge, my heart started to pound and I was smiling,” Jennifer says. “When I was a child, my parents always brought me to Ocean City in the summer. I have fond memories of going to Phillips (Seafood) for dinner, playing at the arcade and riding bikes.”
The couple purchased a home in 2013 at The Parke at Ocean Pines, a 55-plus community in nearby Ocean Pines, 10 miles from the beach. Chuck, 67, who worked as a missile and space engineer, and Jennifer, 55, a former insurance executive, rented out their house until Jennifer retired in July 2016. Later that year, the couple moved here full time.
Their neighborhood is an enclave of 503 homes within the larger multigenerational development of Ocean Pines. “The Parke’s amenities are the best,” Jennifer says. “The fitness room is large. There’s an indoor pool and sauna and the property has ponds, nature trails and a crabbing pier.”
The outdoorsy offerings attracted the couple. “I go fishing in the ponds at The Parke;’ Chuck says. Jennifer walks the trails, strolls the boardwalk and suns on the beach. Through their home’s f1oor-to-ceiling windows, “I look out at a preserve with tall trees,” she says.
Living here is quite different than New Jersey, the couple agree. “Everyone here truly wants to help you,” Jennifer says. “I feel like I am in a sorority.”
Golf courses add more appeal. The Ocean Pines Golf Club, the only one on Maryland’s eastern coast designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., is one of about 20 golf facilities stretching between Ocean City and the neighboring Delaware beaches. Deer Run Golf Club, Eagle’s Landing Golf Course, Ocean City Golf Club and GlenRiddle Golf Club are in nearby Berlin.
Like any coastal location, Ocean City occasionally feels the wrath of hurricanes. A massive storm in August 1933 caused waves and rain so fierce that the back bays flooded. A monster nor’easter struck in 1962; Hurricane Gloria whipped through in 1985; Hurricane Irene hit in 2011; and Hurricane Sandy clipped the town in 2012.
The couple aren’t worried about storms, however. “I don’t even think about it,” Jennifer says. Summers have high humidity and temperatures can reach 90 degrees, but ocean breezes keep the area reasonably comfortable. Fall, with temperatures in the 60s, is some residents’ favorite time. Although winter snowfall is modest, Ocean City can feel damp and cold in January and February.
Chuck likes Ocean City’s friendliness and location. “It’s a nice town. We meet a lot of people from all over the place – Chicago, France, London – some vacationing here, some working here.”
Several urgent-care centers operate here and Berlin and Salisbury have full-service hospitals. “I was concerned about health care before I did some research,” Jennifer says. “I can walk from my house and within a mile, I hit six doctor’s offices.”
Plus, moving to Ocean City proved cost-effective for Jennifer and Chuck. “The taxes are much lower here than in New Jersey,” Jennifer says.
Some 7,000 people live year-round in Ocean City, part of Worcester County, whose population hovers at 51,000. Eight million people visit in the summer, says Melanie Pursel, executive director of The Greater Ocean City, Maryland Chamber of Commerce.
Tourism played a major role in the city’s history, and visitors increased with the construction of railroads and bridges to the island. By 1876, trains came from Berlin, crossed Sinepuxent Bay on a wooden railroad bridge and carried vacationers directly into Ocean City. The opening of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1952 gave residents of Baltimore and Washington, DC, direct access to the resort town. The adjoining tunnel opened in 1964, allowing Virginians to get here easily, too.
But what about those tourist throngs? Full-time residents learn timesaving tips. “During summer, you know not to go to the grocery store during the day and to make restaurant reservations in advance,” says Debbie Betkey, who relocated here with husband Vernon in September. “The big crowds only last for 10 weeks. Then we have the off-season the rest of the year.”
The Betkeys, former residents of Bel Air, 150 miles northwest, vacationed and visited family in Ocean City for years. “Whenever we were down here, whether it was for two hours, two days or two months, we never wanted to leave,” says Vernon, 64, a retired police officer who works for the Governors Highway Safety Association, mostly from his home office but with monthly trips to Washington, DC. “The beach is something that gets into your blood.”
Ocean City is laid-back and relaxing, says Debbie, 63, who manages a product promotion business from home. “We are in the north end of town where it’s always quiet.” The Betkeys ride bikes around the city and kayak through wet-lands. “Some of the views are breathtaking,” says Vernon, who likes to fish and has caught many red drum and kingfish.
A ride on U.S. Route 50 across the Harry W. Kelley Memorial Bridge links the island to the mainland. The natural settings and wildlife surprise those who are familiar only with Ocean City’s bustling beach and boardwalk. Kayakers in Berlin’s Ayers Creek might catch sight of bald eagles, ospreys and ducks in the salt marshes. Assateague Island, a 37-mile barrier island just south of Ocean City, is home to Assateague Island National Seashore, Assateague State Park and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. On Assateague Island, breezes often bring sounds of snow geese honking and wild ponies neighing. The island, famous for its horses, also provides a haven for white-tailed deer and more than 300 species of birds.
Downtown centers around the boardwalk. Midtown, from 28th Street to 90th Street, has additional stores, restaurants, the convention center and condos. North Ocean City has many year-round residents. Several shopping centers and a mall are in Ocean City. Nearby West Ocean City also has a mall and a Tanger Outlet complex.
The town doesn’t shut down in the off-season. “There’s a lot of activity in the winter,” Vernon says. “We have a network of friends that meet every Friday for happy hour. We also watch the (Baltimore) Ravens play football at different hosted parties at restaurants.”
Many eateries sponsor deals to entice locals. Jennifer and Chuck go to BJ’s on the Water for its bayfront dining and to Pickles Pub, known for its happy hour and wings. In West Ocean City, diners at The Shark on the Harbor savor sunset views.
Karen Shockley likes eating at Adolfo’s on the Ocean. “You can sit and look at the ocean and some nights there’s entertainment,” says Karen, 65, a widow who relocated here from Salisbury in 2016. A former public relations and marketing specialist, Karen works part time as an administrative assistant at the Ocean City Recreation and Parks department. She purchased an oceanside condo in the north end of town.
During her childhood, Karen and her family vacationed in Ocean City each June. “I have so many wonderful memories of the boardwalk and the rides,” she says.
She and other retirees find plenty to do here. The 58-acre Northside Park on the bay provides walking trails, two piers, several ballfields plus an indoor recreation complex with pickleball courts.
The park’s department also hosts water aerobics, yoga, dance, tai chi and other activities. “We offer 30 to 40 classes in fall, winter and spring and more than 100 in summer,” says Kate Gaddis, recreation superintendent for the town. “We also run drop-in classes. Pickleball is huge. We get SO to 60 people on any given day and we have a bowling league October through April with 120 participants.”
Karen has taken classes in tap, jazz dancing and exercise. “The recreation center is a great resource,” she says. “They have Sunday concerts in the park and a huge calendar of events.”
The Ocean City Performing Arts Center, housed in the convention center) hosts a variety of performances. “I went to a doo-wop group performance and saw Irish dancing like in “Riverdance,” Karen says.
She also takes advantage of the Art League of Ocean City, which features a two-story gallery and programs for children and adults in painting, photography, jewelry beading and pottery.
“Many registrants are baby boomers,” says Rina Thaler, the league’s executive director. “They worked their whole lives and now it’s their time to do something creative, something for themselves. Participants tell me that the classes have made a great difference in their lives, especially for retirees. The classes serve as a creative outlet and a social outlet. People find like-minded people. They become friends.”
Karen crafted a pot at the center and often attends events. A local restaurant provides free hors d’oeuvres and wine.
“Before I moved to Ocean City, people told me I’d be bored in winter,” Karen says. “But I am not. There’s so much to do year-round. I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
Population: 6,999 in Ocean City and 51,444 in Worcester County
Location: Ocean City is on Maryland’s Atlantic coast bordered by the Assawoman Bay on the north and the Isle of Wight Bay on the south, Ocean City is 30 miles east of Salisbury, 145 miles southeast of Baltimore and 145 miles southeast of Washington, DC, U.S. Route 50, which runs east and west from Salisbury, serves as a gateway to Ocean City.
January: High 45’/ Low 27′
July: High 87’/ Low 67′
Average relative humidity: 71%
Rain: 42 inches annually
Snow: 4 inches annually
Cost of living: Above average
Housing cost: The median sales price in Ocean City was $345,000 for single-family homes and $247,000 for condos in the second quarter, according to the Coastal Association of Realtors.
Sales tax: 6%
Sales tax exemptions: Most groceries as well as prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines
Local income tax: Counties in Maryland levy an income tax, which is a percentage of taxable income. The rate is 1.75% in Worcester County.
State income tax: For married couples filing jointly, rates are graduated from 2% on taxable income up to $1,000 to 5.75% plus $15,072.50 on amounts more than $300,000. For single filers, rates are graduated from 2% on taxable income up to $1,000 to 5.75% plus $12,760 on amounts more than $250,000.
Income tax exemptions: Social Security benefits are exempt. The state also allows a pension exclusion of up to $29,900 for taxpayers 65 and older, which is reduced by the amount of Social Security benefits received. Additional exemptions may be available for those 65 and older.
Estate tax: A tax applies when the federal gross estate is $3 million or more. Maryland will be increasing the amount of the exclusion for estate tax purposes in annual phases until it reaches the amount excluded under the federal estate tax in 2019. Inheritance tax: A tax of 10% applies on property inherited by individuals, but spouses, children, parents and some others are exempt.
Property tax: The rate in Ocean City is $1.4716 per $100 of assessed value, with homes assessed at 100% of market value. Annual taxes on a $345,000 home would be about $5,077.
Homestead exemption: None, but a home-stead property tax credit limits the increase in taxable assessment from the previous year to 10% for the state and 3% for the county portion of the tax bill.
Personal property tax: A biennial vehicle registration fee depends on the weight of the vehicle, starting at $135.
Religion: Most major Christian denominations are represented in Ocean City and Worcester County, including Baptist. Catholic, Episcopal, Mennonite, Methodist and Presbyterian. A Jewish synagogue is here. Salisbury has the Delmarva Muslim Community Center.
Education: Salisbury University’s Center for Extended and Lifelong Learning sponsors work-shops and trips from a campus in Ocean Pines, a community in northern Worcester County. In the past. programs have included classes in journalism, conservation and a daytrip to Smith Island. Salisbury University works with the Association for Lifelong Learning to offer class-es to those 50 and older each semester. Recent courses included Psychology of Aging and memoir writing. A $30 registration fee per semester allows unlimited course participation. The An League of Ocean City sponsors classes that run two to three hours for one or two sessions. Prices start at $17 with discounts for members. Dues are $40 annually, $35 for those 60 and older and $50 for a family. Many grandparents purchase the latter option so visiting grandchildren can participate.
Transportation: Salisbury Regional Airport, 30 miles west of Ocean City, offers service to Philadelphia and Charlotte, NC. Baltimore-Washington Marshall Airport is 135 miles northwest. Reagan Washington National Airport is 150 miles northwest and Washing-ton Dulles International Airport is 175 miles northwest. The closest Amtrak station is in Baltimore. The Ocean City Beach Buses park-and-ride program operates year-round and has routes along the Coastal Highway. Day passes cost $3 or $1.50 for age 65-plus. Those 60 and older may obtain a $7 two-year senior pass from City Hall. Boardwalk Trams travel between the inlet and 27th Street with a one-way fare of $3.
Walk Score: Ocean City has a walkability rating of 59 out of 1 ~O, or “somewhat walkable,” according to WalkScore.com. Neighborhoods will vary.
Health care: The 62-bed Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, 10 miles west of Ocean City, offers outpatient services. The 289-bed Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury has a full range of services, including neurosurgery, cardiac surgery, cancer care and joint replacement. Baltimore and Washington, DC, have major hospitals as well.
Housing: The Parke at Ocean Pines, 10 miles northwest of Ocean City, is a 55-plus development within the larger community of Ocean Pines. The development has a clubhouse with an indoor pool and fitness center. Resale properties are available; recent prices ranged from $178,000 to $329,900, OceanPines.org. In Berlin, PulteGroup is building homes in two all-ages communities. Townhomes are being constructed in Decatur Farm starting at $179,990. The neighborhood features a clubhouse and outdoor pool, Pulte.com. In GlenRiddle, a gated development built around two golf courses, Pulte offers four home designs starting at $379,990, Pulte.com. Also in Berlin, the all-ages River Run Golf Club and Community has a course designed by Gary Player. The 2,150-square-foot town-homes start at $279,900. Recent resales ranged from $194,900 to $375,000, RiverRun Golf.com. Insight Homes is building homes within the all-ages Heron Ponds in Delmar, 30 miles west of Ocean City, starting at $205,500, ItsJustABetterHouse.com. Rick Meehan, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Ocean City, says that two-and three-bedroom oceanside condos, depending on proximity to the beach and condition, range from $250,000 to $1 million-plus. A three-bedroom, two-bath house on the bay starts at $250,000. Contact real estate agents for resales.
Rentals: The Golden Sands Club Condominium has one-bedroom, one-bath units for $1,450 a month. Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools as well as tennis and shuffleboard courts. A two-bedroom, two-bath unit at Sunset Cove rents for $1,200. In winter, many units rent for six months, then switch to weekly rentals in season.
Visitor lodging: The Grand Hotel and Spa in Ocean City, located beachfront on the board-walk at 21 st Street, features indoor and outdoor pools, a restaurant and 24-hour cafe, from $59, GrandHoteIOceanCity.com. The Waystead Inn in Berlin is a Victorian bed-and-breakfast with five bedrooms, each with a private bath, from $160, Waysteadlnn.com. Filled with antiques, the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin was built in 1895, from $105, AtlanticHotel.com. The Hilton Ocean City Oceanfront has indoor and outdoor pools, three restaurants and suites with kitchenettes, from $93, Hilton.com.
Information: The Greater Ocean City, Maryland Chamber of Commerce, 12320 Ocean Gateway, Ocean City, MD 21842, OceanCity.org. Ocean City Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4001 Coastal Highway, Ocean City, MD 21842, OCOcean.com.