By Keith Griffith, Senior Travel Correspondent
It's the first day of school, and innkeeper Nancy's two children are off to catch the bus. Guests are eating breakfast on the porch of the three-story house, built in 1896 by one of the seaside town's founding families. A cheerful, efficient multitasker, Nancy pauses from bringing out fresh fruit and copies of the daily paper to resolve a lunch-money debacle, then whisks back to chatting with the guests.
Ocean City Mansion's homey charm continues in its four nonsuite rooms, which comfort visitors and confound Roombas with eclectic, thematic decor, king or queen beds, and private fireplaces. Richard's Quarterswhich comes guarded by a suit of armor gripping a think-positive bookis tinged with a crimson design scheme and dons a private balcony. In the Little Cabin Room, snugly arranged with a two-person jacuzzi at the foot of the bed, couples can unwind after a long day while watching the ceiling-mounted TV above the queen bed.
Quirky touches round out each room, making the inn feel less like a hotel and more like a design-obsessed aunt's house. Books and puzzles tether TV remotes to keep them from getting lost, and carefully curated knickknacks lend each room its own vibe. The guesthouse feel is most apparent in the bathroomsthough the soap bars are individually packaged as at a hotel, baskets full of full-size sunscreen, perfume, and sundries get the communal treatment.
Every morning, the inn offers a full-service breakfast from about 7:30 to 9:30, which guests can take either on the porch or in the first-floor sitting area. Fruit, omelets, and french toast prepare seaside vacationers for a day of shopping downtown, fishing, or surfing peak-season fall waves.
The broad, tree-lined streets of Ocean City, lined with well-kept lawns and patriotic bunting, exude the aura of a Norman Rockwell painting. Perched at the end of the barrier island separating the Atlantic from Great Egg Harbor Bay, this coastal resort town feels far removed from the bright lights of Atlantic City that flicker 30 minutes to the north.
"It's really busy here from Memorial Day to Labor Day," says Stef Godfrey, the editor of Ocean City magazine. "But now the town takes a nice deep breath." Off-season for tourists means good things for visitors, too, as the town shows off a quieter side and seasonal activities that are typically known only to locals start to pick up.
"This is the best time for waves, in the fall and winter," says Bobby, a surf instructor at 7th Street Surf Shop, which offers lessons and board rentals as deep into the winter as students are willing to go. Bobby, who got his start surfing 20 years ago with lessons at the very same shop, says the consistency of Ocean City's waves makes them among the best on the Jersey shoreline.
Also in the fall, fishing rods cast out for the striped bass that start lurking in the coastal shallowsin fact, the world-record striper catch was right up the shoreline on a late-September day in 1982. "I fish until I cast out and my sinker bounces off the ice," says Gene, the salty proprietor of Pappy's Fishin' Stuff. Down the road from Pappy's, the 12th Street pierjutting out from the bay side of the islandis a local gathering spot for anglers, casual spectators, and plankton groupies.
Located on the boardwalk right where the waves break best, 7th Street teaches beginners the ropes and equips seasoned boarders for the chilly waters of the peak season.
A source for bait and gear before heading out to the 12th Street pier, this colorful local gathering place and fishing site rests on the bay side of the island.
Cretan owner Yianni serves up a mix of classic diner fare and Greek specialties in this bright, inviting cafe, located right on the main strip of Asbury Avenue downtown.
This amusement park is open weekends through mid-October, and its indoor and outdoor rides include the classics: log flume, tilt-a-whirl, and a ferris wheel with picture-perfect views from the top.
A welcoming and exceptionally good Caribbean-Mediterranean bistro sits right around the corner from the inn. Though entrees like the jerk chicken are a bit pricey, they're also huge.
Performing at the Music Pier right on the waterfront, Ocean City's orchestra programs everything from jazz to fully staged Broadway musicals.
"The lowest-minimum table in the city's highest-stakes casino," writes New York magazine of Borgata's $5 blackjack table. The hot pork sandwich at in-house resto Tony Luke's is a highlight.
A swanky outlet mall, this collection of more than 95 name-brand factory and outlet stores in the heart of downtown AC offers deep discounts amid broad sidewalks and fountain-decorated plazas.
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