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No Agenda Needed in Ocean City

It starts with the beach. And sometimes it ends there too.

Although Ocean City, Maryland, serves up a smorgasbord of attractions, sometimes group visitors find they can’t quite tear themselves away from the town’s 10 miles of famously spotless shores.

“We get quite a few motorcoach groups that are sold as a retail tour,” said Norma Dobrowolski, destination sales manager for the Ocean City Department of Tourism. “When they come, they don’t even have an agenda for the week. They just relax by the sea.”

While there’s no shame in that game, for leaders that want to offer their groups a more action-packed itinerary, Ocean City features a wealth of activities that will appeal to all ages. Here, we run down some favorites that will keep groups wowed by Ocean City’s spectacular salt water in sight of it.

Ocean City Boardwalk

For more than a century, Ocean City’s bustling boardwalk has been drawing visitors to the fabled seaside retreat with a festive array of eateries and amusements, emporia and inns — not to mention sweeping views of all that pristine surf and sand. Before a permanent promenade was constructed around 1910, businesses along the beach (including the historic Atlantic Hotel) would fashion temporary wooden walkways for their guests, pulling them up when the tide came in. Nowadays, the boardwalk, which begins at the Inlet, runs for nearly three miles.

“It’s your traditional mid-Atlantic boardwalk, and people love that atmosphere,” said Dobrowolski. “It’s a great place for visitors to people-watch, as well as get food and go shopping for souvenirs.”

Leaders will probably want to give their groups at least a few hours to simply relax and walk the boardwalk, though for those who would rather ride there is a tram that travels from the Inlet to 27th Street and back, a 30-minute trip each way. Fans of historic boardwalk attractions will want to pay a visit to Trimper’s, an amusement park and arcade still going strong after 130 years, as well as Dolle’s Candyland. The fourth-generation shop sells quintessential boardwalk sweet treats made in-house, including saltwater taffy, caramel popcorn and fudge. Tours of Dolle’s on-site manufacturing facilities are available.

 Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Tucked away at the southern end of Ocean City’s boardwalk sits the Ocean City Life-Saving Museum, a popular stop with groups. The two-story institution, which Dobrowolski calls “a treasure trove of history,” is housed in a beautifully restored former life-saving station built in 1891. Focused on commemorating the courageous pre-Coast Guard “surfmen” who braved the often-brutal elements in an effort to save victims of shipwrecks, the museum offers a wide range of nifty relics. In particular, groups should keep an eye out for the display of antique aquatic rescue equipment and a station logbook dating to the late 1870s.

That’s not to say that the museum doesn’t explore topics related to Ocean City other than maritime rescues. The history of local surfing, boardwalk culture and even area marine animals all get their due in a series of engaging exhibits.

“There’s an aquarium; Sands of the World, which were collected by a former curator on their travels; memorabilia; interactive displays; and a fabulous gift shop,” said Dobrowolski. “They have docents who will give tours to groups, and they offer group discounts. It’s just a very neat stop.”

Ocean City Sightseeing Cruises

Leaders who want to get their groups out on that gorgeous water have a variety of options, according to Dobrowolski. Fishing boats that dock in the area often book sightseeing cruises in the evening. Or, for more thrills and chills, the OC Rocket runs regular cruises spring through fall and also offers private, one-hour charters. “The OC Rocket is actually a speedboat, but a very large speedboat, so it will go out on the ocean and up and down the coast,” Dobrowolski said. “Sometimes, they will see whales and maybe some seals, schools of dolphins and things like that. It’s very fun!”

Located a quick, 10-minute walk from the Life-Saving Station Museum, the Angler is a beloved, water-side restaurant known for serving locally sourced, fresh seafood like flounder, crab and clams. With a history dating back five generations, the Angler also hosts folks aboard its private boat of the same name.

“It does fishing charters, but it also does cruises after dinner,” Dobrowolski said. “So, groups can have dinner out on their dock or inside the restaurant and get the flavor of Ocean City. And then after their meal, they can go out on the boat for a nominal fee.”

Assateague Island Ponies

Perhaps the country’s most famous horses, wild ponies roam the undeveloped Assateauge Island, a barrier island protected by the National Park Service that lies about a 15-minute drive from Ocean City. No one is quite sure where the delightful creatures originally hailed from, though local folklore has its theories.

“There are two stories,” Dobrowolski said. “Some say they’re descended from horses that were spilled off of a Spanish galleon that shipwrecked nearby. Others say that they’re the offspring of horses that landowners in the Colonial period brought to Assateague so as to avoid paying the tax on them.”

Step-on guides are available to escort visitors to Assateague Island and its picturesque (if surprisingly short and stocky) inhabitants. Groups will want to stop at the Visitors Center, which offers a range of excellent environmental exhibits, before continuing on the bus around the wildlife loop.

“You can stay in the motorcoach the whole time — you frequently see the wild ponies out along the road,” Dobrowolski said. “But you can also actually be standing on the beach at Assateague and a whole herd of horses will come walking by, as if you’re not even there. It is quite thrilling to see them.”