Pittsburgh’s three rivers provide a lot of opportunities for summer fun, but the North Shore isn’t exactly a tropical oasis.
Best bet for a beach near Pittsburgh? Ocean City
If you’re looking for a beach vacation relatively close to home, Ocean City, Maryland, is a six-hour drive away.
The resort town boasts 10-miles of beaches and a boardwalk that’s been named one of the best in the country by The Travel Channel, National Geographic and USA Today. With the world slowly returning normal, folks are flocking to the Free Line State for fun in the sun.
Susan Jones, executive director of the OC Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, said it’s been a strong winter, spring and summer because people are breaking free from their quarantine confines.
In July 2020, Ocean City had a 71% occupancy rate versus 85% in July 2019, which is a decent number all things considered. With cruise ships docked and airplanes grounded, people piled in their cars and made the journey to the coast.
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However, Jones reminds visitors to pack their patience along with their beach towels. Businesses are still struggling to find staff members to fill 12,000 seasonal positions. As a result, menus and operating hours are limited and hotels are upping rates.
Rather than offer daily maid service, rooms are only cleaned upon check out, which is primarily due to the lack of staff and COVID-19 fears. According to Jones, the housekeeping situation will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
“Perseverance is prevalent in the hospitality industry and we will always figure out how to make something work,” she said. “We do not live from the can’t-be-done model, but rather how-can-we-make-this-happen? Businesses took a deep dive into their operations, restaurants changed up menus so that they only served what the limited kitchen staff could produce. Menus were accessible (and continue for many) on QR codes as they are easily changed to accommodate changing product prices.”
So, once you get to The White Marlin Capital of the World, what is there to do?
Food // Where Pittsburghers eat in Ocean City
After a long road trip, you’ll probably want something more substantial in your belly than gas station snacks.
Coastal Highway is lined with eateries, from beach bars, pancake houses and crab shacks to all-you-can-eat seafood buffets, pizza joints and fine dining establishments. Hop on an Ocean City Beach Bus, which run up and down the main drag from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. You can ride all day for $3.
Johnstown-native Doug “Buxy” Buxbaum opened the 28th Street bayside bar in 1999 after numerous summers spent working in various Ocean City watering holes, including The Purple Moose Saloon, Brass Balls Saloon, Shenanigan’s Irish Pub & Grille, M.R. Ducks and Bull on the Beach (which are all still open and worth a visit).
What started as a small shrine to the Steel City now encompasses the entire joint. There are loads of Steelers, Pirates and Penguins memorabilia and the menu has some hometown favorites such as perogies and a Pittsburgh Salad with greens, cheddar, veggies and grilled filet tips topped, of course, with crinkle-cut fries. Pair it with an ice-cold Iron City Beer, n’at.
No trip to Ocean City is complete without a stop at Seacrets.
Known as Jamaica, U.S.A., the sprawling bayside spot on 49th Street boasts 17 bars, making it its own mini-resort in the heart of the barrier island. Enjoy Caribbean-inspired eats and cocktails (Seacrets even has its own distillery!) while you listen to live music.
What to do in Ocean City // Free & family friendly activities
Burn off some of those calories by making a few putts. Old Pro Golf, an Eastern Shore institution since 1963, has six courses in OC with themes ranging from dragons, knights and deep-sea adventures to pirates, dinosaurs and a safari. If people-watching is your favorite pastime, you’ll be happy at the Boardwalk.
Atlantic Avenue, as it’s officially known, is lined with shops, food stands, arcades and Instagram-worthy photo ops. One such highlight is Trimper’s Carousel, the nation’s oldest continuously operating merry-go-round.
Trimper’s also has the distinction of being America’s oldest continuously family-owned and operated amusement park in the world. They’ve been thrilling Ocean City visitors since 1890.
[Interested in amusement park history? Take a deep dive into this historic Kennywood attraction. ]
For most people, the ocean is the best thing about Ocean City. Beaches are free and open to the public from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Lifeguards don’t start scoping the water until 10 a.m.)
Work on your tan or take advantage of family-friendly activities the town offers throughout the summer. Free movies are shown on a giant screen every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night starting at 8:30 p.m. A DJ spins tunes at a Caroline Street beach party from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays, which leads into a new drone show.
Whatever you do in Ocean City, make sure you’re being safe, responsible and respectful. In other words, don’t be a jagoff.
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Where to stay in Ocean City //
A little bit closer to home
Here are some more ideas from a quick getaway near Pittsburgh:
- Getaway cabins are just an hour from Pittsburgh
- Head north and spend a day or the weekend visiting the Presque Isle beaches
- Here are some of the most affordable Airbnb rentals in Pittsburgh
📸 Header photo: Getty Images.