OCEAN CITY, N.J. (CBS)–For as long as the oldest residents of Ocean City can remember, their city has been a resort town–a place to cool off in the ocean and warm up on the beach.
For more than 100 years the boardwalk has been the place to go when the summer arrives.
“The motto of the town since 1920 has been, ‘America’s Greatest Family Resort,’” says Fred Miller, author and Ocean City historian.
Miller knows a thing or two about OCNJ. He’s written nine books about his community and the evolution of resort life on the island which began in the 1870s when four Methodist ministers arrived on shore.
“When they came to the island in 1879 there was only four structures on the island and there were three life-saving stations and one house owned by Parker Miller,” said Fred.
The ministers purchased the land to create a Christian seaside resort and camp meeting place–later building roads and selling lots so people could live and work in town.
Then came the boardwalk.
“It’s always been a tourist attraction. The founders realized very early on that as much as the ocean was interesting, and delightful, and how they viewed the sea air as healthy…they needed to give people more things to do,” said Jeff McGranahan, executive director with the Ocean City Historical Museum.
The boardwalk created business and some of the first entertainment in town beginning as early as 1884.
“At 11th Street they built what was called the “excursion house” — and this was Ocean City’s first amusement,” said McGranahan. “It was a place where you could rent bathing suits from, change into your bathing suits in bath houses, they even had shooting galleries in this location.”
The founders believed wholesome entertainment and a lack of alcohol were key to keeping the town quaint and safe.
By 1901, visitors had another spectacle that drew them to the beach: the legendary Sindia ship came close to shore — and sunk — quickly becoming an attraction.
“Back in the early days they had a pier out to it that people could come and visit the Sindia, they had a gift shop for the Sindia, and it stayed out there on the beach,” McGranahan said.
For years the wreck sat on the beach, slowly rusting away with time. Until recently, the mast could still be seen on the beach where families would gather year after year.
Today, Ocean City is still a summer gathering place for everyone. Crowded beaches, a busy boardwalk, a historic Music Pier and blocks of specialty shopping attract people of all ages.
The great food, games, and amusements help to round out the experience.
“You know what it is? Family! It’s all family. Kids, they’re walking along…and another thing, it’s generation after generation. You see grandparents, their kids, their kid’s kids. It’s just amazing,” said Miller.
Ocean City’s Mayor Jay Gillian says he’s happy people keep coming back to visit.
“It’s the traditions and generations. It’s all about families. We are so lucky here in Ocean City and they keep coming back,” said Gillian. “We gotta great beach, great bay, great downtown, obviously we have a great boardwalk, so we’re just taking care of our people.
The Gillian name is well known in this small town ever since the family started the iconic amusement park on 6th the boardwalk.
“Eighty-eight years on the Ocean City Boardwalk. My grandfather started back in 1929. Then my father and now me. We have our kids doing it too, so it’s been a great ride,” Gillian.
It’s been such a great ride that Gillian says it was hard to stay in high school.
“I really just loved it, I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s the greatest business in the world.”
SALT WATER TAFFY IS A MUST
It’s a summertime stop for vacationers and locals alike, picking-up a box of salt water taffy to share with family and friends.
And for that, we headed to the oldest business on the boardwalk: Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy.
For decades Shriver’s has been a sweet souvenir from a visit to the Jersey Shore. They’ve been making the iconic candy since 1898.
“We’re the oldest candy store on the boardwalk,” said Holly Kisby, Shriver’s general manager. “We’re the only one who makes our own salt water taffy right here in the store.”
Kisby says the machines that make the taffy can turn out about 400 per pieces per minute!
More than sixty flavors are available and new suggestions are always welcome.
“Anytime somebody suggests a flavor on our Facebook or emails us we try to make that flavor if we have the flavor available,” said Kisby.
But surprising, there’s no salt in “salt water taffy”.
“Because of the coined phrase ‘salt water taffy’ everyone assumes there salt in our salt water taffy, but there is no salt in ours.
So how did they get the name?
“A gentleman called Mr. Bradley had a store in Atlantic City on the beach and the tide came up and he had a candy that were taffies and the tide came up and ruined the candies. When the candies got ruined a little girl came up and coined the phrase ‘salt water taffy’ and the name stuck ever since. So it’s a been a Shriver’s–well a New Jersey tradition ever since,” Kisby said.
YOU CAN’T MISS THE CHATTERBOX
If you’re driving through Ocean City it’s hard to miss the pink exterior on the building of The Chatterbox!
For 80 years the restaurant has been serving diners in this jersey shore town. The hot spot has everything for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s a menu carefully preserved by owners Bob and Marie Boyer. They were customers for more than 30 years and when they heard The Chatterbox was for sale they had to act fast.
As for some of the top menu items?
Their award winning Creamy Seafood Chowder with salmon and shellfish is a crowd pleaser.
And don’t forget to take the Box Challenge: a sandwich stacked with 4 Angus beef patties, barbecued pork and onion rings! If you can eat it in 15 minutes, you get it for free!
CHRISTMAS IN JULY: DECORATED BOATS FILL THE BAY
A big weekend of entertainment is planned in Ocean City. It all centers around the Night In Venice boat parade along the shore town’s bayfront.
It’s been a tradition for more than six decades. Thousands gather for Ocean City’s “Night in Venice” to watch the decorated vessels go by.
The floating parade is Saturday night, with this year’s Grand Marshal entertainer Alfonso Ribeiro.
“The Night in Venice” is anchored by two concerts where they will be “rocking out the decades” on the music pier.
O-Town with Ryan Cabrera perform Friday, and Gloria Gaynor will perform “I Will Survive” Sunday night.
Ms. Gaynor tells KYW Newsradio, it’s a song of hope for the masses.
“From 8 to 80 and every nationality, race, creed, color, and age group. As human beings we are always going through, you know, from time to time going through things that we feel are insurmountable and hope we will survive,” she said.
The Ocean City pops also perform Sunday, with a fireworks display to cap everything off.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP ON ASBURY AVE.
There are plenty of businesses here on the boardwalk, but it’s not the only place to shop until you drop!
Ocean City also has a busy shopping district over on Asbury Ave.
There’s plenty to dive into on this main drag and you don’t have to dig around to find treasures!
“We have 125 stores we have one of the largest downtowns in the state of New Jersey because we’re both sides,” said Michelle Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
THE SURFER’S PARADISE
Besides a bustling boardwalk, you’ve got the sun, you’ve got the sand and of course you have the surf!
“This is a hot bed of surfing, South Jersey, Ocean City in particular, is actually known worldwide as one of the actual hot spots on the east coast of the U.S. for surfing,” said Larry Friedel.
Friedel is the owner of 7th Street Surf Shop, a staple of the boardwalk since 1986.
But the beginnings of surfing here go way back.
“7th Street eroded so badly that they couldn’t put any lifeguard stands there and they couldn’t use it for a swimming beach. But it broke great. We petitioned and we worked in the late 60s to get a surfing beach, they thought 7th Street was throwaway,” said Friedel.
Every year, hundreds of kids hit take lessons from Larry’s shop.