For many Marylanders, heading "downy ocean" or "to the shore" means only one thing: a summer vacation in Ocean City, a 10-mile stretch of skinny barrier island. It's often quite crowded on the beach, in the restaurants, and on Coastal Highway, but it's still Marylanders' favorite place to enjoy the sun and the water. So many visitors arrive that for 3 months of the year, Ocean City is the second-largest city in the state. (Only Baltimore has more people.) Ocean City's entire beach is open to the public.

The 3-mile-long boardwalk, which stretches to 27th Street in the oldest part of Ocean City, is crowded with hotels, some of them dating back to the 1920s. Restaurants, ice-cream stands, and shops fill in the gaps. The boardwalk ends near the fishing pier, which has amusement rides and a huge Ferris wheel.

Out on Coastal Highway, shopping centers, restaurants, hotels, and condos demand your attention and your money. Miniature-golf courses are exceedingly popular: They're all crowded after dark, and there are some dandies. The quieter waters surrounding Ocean City -- the bays of Assawoman, Sinepuxent, and Montego -- attract fishermen, sailors, parasailers, and kayakers.

A fascinating self-guided Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Ocean City is available at the visitor center on 40th Street.

Especially for Kids -- Ocean City, which claims to be the number-one family resort on the East Coast, is home to several amusement parks and child-oriented activities. Before you head for the attractions, look for coupons for everything from miniature golf to go-carts, at either the visitor center or in one of the local newspapers, such as Sunny Day or Beachcomber.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.