Maryland Or New Jersey: Which Ocean City Is Right For Your Beach Vacation?

When comparing Ocean City, Maryland vs. Ocean City, New Jersey, let's start with their similarities. Both are popular beach destinations set on barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean. We'll add that both beach cities feature boardwalks, and well, the same name — and that's about it. While we're not going to choose a "better" Ocean City, we'll explore some of the (pretty stark) differences, allowing you to decide which destination may better host your ideal beach vacation.

First, geographically, Ocean City, Maryland is about three times the size of New Jersey's Ocean City. While Maryland's barrier island features high-rise condominiums and towering beachfront hotels, the tallest structure in New Jersey's Ocean City is its 140-foot Ferris wheel at Gillian's Wonderland Pier. In regard to the seasonal influx of crowds, Ocean City, New Jersey certainly experiences a peak season bustle, but not the 8 million visitors Ocean City, Maryland welcomes annually.

But geographical and crowd size aside, the biggest difference between the two Ocean City destinations is their atmospheres. Reflecting its religious roots, Ocean City, New Jersey is a dry beach town, meaning you won't find restaurants serving alcohol, any stores selling alcohol, or bars in town. On the other hand (with a cocktail in it), boardwalk happy hours seem to stretch into the night in Ocean City, Maryland. While alcohol or lack thereof isn't the only difference between the two Ocean City destinations, this difference certainly plays a large role in dictating their overall atmospheres. 

Ocean City, New Jersey is a dry town

As you can imagine, Ocean City, Maryland draws beach crowds of all kinds, including younger groups of friends, college students, beach revelers, as well as families. In Ocean City, New Jersey, you'll find mostly families enjoying a quieter beach vacation. In fact, the beachside city's motto is "America's Greatest Family Resort," and true to its motto, Ocean City, Maryland caters to wholesale family fun. As stated, there are no bars or nightclubs, and the attractions along the boardwalk are controlled by the city to ensure they're safe and family-friendly.

This isn't to say Ocean City, Maryland is Gomorrah or Atlantic City, which is actually a short drive from New Jersey's Ocean City, but Ocean City, Maryland does feature a nightlife scene with plenty of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to choose from. That said, it's illegal to drink alcohol on the beach or on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland.

Both destinations are family-friendly

While Ocean City, Maryland draws a younger crowd and boasts a nightlife, both Ocean City destinations offer enough charm and attractions to create memorable family beach vacations. In New Jersey, the boardwalk of Ocean City is a major highlight for vacationers. Spanning 2.5 miles, the New Jersey boardwalk features a number of quaint storefronts selling ice cream, taffy, and fudge, as well as an amusement park called Gillian's Wonderland Pier, which features roller coasters, a waterpark, a Ferris wheel, and minigolf.

In Ocean City, Maryland, the boardwalk is also lined by beachfront staples, such as taffy, fudge, and souvenir shops, as well as a mini-amusement park called Trimper's Rides. While the boardwalk isn't as throwback quant as in New Jersey (many boardwalk establishments don't take credit cards, for instance), the Maryland boardwalk still retains a family-friendly atmosphere.

As far as cost, the Ocean City, New Jersey accommodations are typically more expensive, but food, drinks, and attractions are usually cheaper. That said, you'll need to buy a beach pass to access the New Jersey beach, while the beaches in Maryland's Ocean City are free. But if you're saving money by skipping that glass of wine with dinner, the beach access cost shouldn't be that big of a deal.