There’s a saying that goes, “Being without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.” If suffering earns reward, then I’m clocking overtime for Ocean City, a coastal town along southern New Jersey’s Atlantic shore. I’ve been vacationing here with my family since I was a child, and while I’ve never officially resided within its borders (yes, I’m a shoobie), it’ll always be my home.As cliché as it seems, Ocean City’s the type of place where you can breathe a little easier, sleep more soundly, and dream a whole lot bigger.Ocean City is a family place—a stretch of wide avenues, seasonal rentals, and endlessly shrinking beaches that fill to capacity during summer months, when colorful beach umbrellas dot the sand like a Jersified Impressionist painting and the air hangs heavy with humidity and the scent of briny saltwater. For my own family, the town’s particularly significant. Ocean City has always been a de facto gathering spot for both my maternal and paternal relatives—grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and more recently my nephews have long come together carting beach chairs, blankets, and disposable paperback reads, the younger ones with buckets, shovels, and boogie boards, to camp out for hours on the sand. Most seasons, a different rental house serves as our temporary stopover, a place where we discard belongings, and then shower and snack before heading off to the boardwalk for evenings of skeeball and miniature golf.
In the scheme of Jersey Shore towns, Ocean City’s not nearly as glitzy as Atlantic City and doesn’t hold the same Victorian charm of Cape May. Its amusement rides aren’t as adrenaline inducing as Wildwood’s, and nightlife options are few compared with Seaside Heights and Sea Isle. Heck, the city doesn’t even sell alcohol (not to worry, though: Somers Point, literally just over the 9th Street Bridge, more than makes up for this). Its allure lies in being understated. As cliché as it seems, Ocean City’s the type of place where you can breathe a little easier, sleep more soundly, and dream a whole lot bigger. After all, there’s an ocean of possibility lapping at your feet.
Though I currently reside in San Francisco, I never feel far from Ocean City. This September, my Dad and I plan on walking the wooden boards together like we do each time I visit New Jersey, strolling past the Spanish-style Music Pier, browsing local literature at Atlantic Books, and stopping for a slice of the shore’s best pizza, hands down, at Mack & Manco’s 9th Street location. No doubt my brother and I will be fighting over the largest, stickiest clumps from a bucket of Johnson’s Caramel Popcorn, like we did as kids, and vying for the brass ring aboard Wonderland’s carousel.
As beauty goes, Ocean City’s isn’t startling. It doesn’t engulf you like San Francisco’s does, but grows on you—or, if you’re lucky like me, within you, over time-and that’s a lifelong gift.