When people think about planning a vacation to the Jersey Shore, they usually plan to visit during the summer months. After all, there’s plenty of sun, warm water and things to do.
But Ocean City, NJ doesn’t hibernate once winter comes around. In fact, a family winter vacation at the beach can be ideal for people who are looking for fun-filled activities and fewer crowds. There’s plenty to do at the beach in winter. Check out these 19 options.
Even Santa knows it’s fun to visit the beach for a winter getaway. He makes his first appearance in Ocean City at the end of November, right around Thanksgiving. Then, he usually comes back every weekend until Christmas Day for photo ops. On Saturdays, he likes to hang around for breakfast, usually at a different downtown restaurant each week.
Santa’s visits aren’t the only holiday events to look forward to at the beach in winter, either. There are also free horse and carriage rides through downtown on the weekends, a Christmas parade at the beginning of December and a train show.
2. Ring in the New Year
A beach vacation in winter can be the ideal way to ring in the New Year. Every December 31, Ocean City, NJ celebrates First Night with a variety of events throughout the town. There are live musical performances in the evening, culminating in a fireworks display at midnight. Throughout the late afternoon and into the evening, there are puppet shows, ice skating and amusement rides, as well as games and other performances.
Although the town stays up late on New Year’s Eve, it doesn’t take New Year’s Day off. Instead, it throws a big party, known as First Day at the Beach. The fun kicks off with a polar plunge into the ocean at 2 p.m. There’s also a 5K run along the boardwalk and a shopping extravaganza in the afternoon, with many stores in the downtown area offering great deals and sales.
3. Make Valentine’s Day Something Special
If your idea of the perfect date is taking long walks on the beach, then you’ll love spending the weekends around Valentine’s Day in Ocean City. Many restaurants downtown are open for Valentine’s dinner, for couples or families.
The Ocean City Historical Museum also holds its annual Children’s Tea around Valentine’s Day. The children’s tea teaches kids about the ritual of having high tea and includes plenty of fun arts & crafts projects and face painting.
4. Explore the Boardwalk
Strolling the boards isn’t just an activity for the summer months. A winter vacation to the shore also provides the perfect opportunity for enjoying (almost) everything the Ocean City Boardwalk has to offer. While some stores and activities do shut down during the winter, more of them stay open than you might think.
5. Play Miniature Golf
Did you know that Ocean City has seven miniature golf courses? Several of them stay open rain, snow or shine, all winter long. Winter can be the perfect time to practice your putt-putt, as fewer crowds mean there’s less of a chance that a line will form behind you while you get ready to take a swing.
6. Go Shopping
Like miniature golf, many of the shops along the Boardwalk stay open all winter long. In fact, some stores use winter as a time to offer considerable savings and sales. If you’re a savvy shopper, a winter vacation to the beach can be an excellent time to snag some great deals.
You’ll find stores selling beachwear, T-shirts and accessories, toys, records and even holiday decorations. Don’t forget all the shops that sell candy and sweets, such as saltwater taffy and caramel corn.
Admittedly, even the bravest of souls probably don’t want to hop on a roller coaster or ride the Pirate Ship when it’s 40 degrees out. But that doesn’t mean all of the boardwalk’s amusements shut down for the season.
You can still bring the family to the arcade for some classic games such as Skeeball or popular video games. Some of the indoor rides stay open throughout the winter months, too.
8. Visit the Community Center Complex
During the winter season, the heart of Ocean City moves away from the Boardwalk and over to the Community Center Complex. The community center houses the library, an arts center, a senior center, a historical museum and an aquatic and fitness center. All of them are teeming with family-friendly winter activities.
9. Visit the Ocean City Free Public Library
The free public library has events and activities scheduled year-round. It doesn’t take a break during the winter. The library is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and until 5 p.m. on the weekends.
Among the events scheduled at the library during the winter are cooking classes. For example, last year, in honor of National Croissant Day, on January 30, the library held two croissant baking classes.
The library also transforms into a movie theater a few times throughout the week. Its film programs include after-school movies for kids, Saturday afternoon movies — which are perfect if your beach weekend gets rained out or if it’s freezing outside — and a classic film night.
Films aren’t the only entertainment at the library this winter, though. Several musicians will also perform throughout the season.
On January 18, at 7 p.m., the “Piano Man Scott” will drop by the library, tinkling the ivories and performing the songs of Billy Joel.
10. Go to the Ocean City Arts Center
The Ocean City Arts Center has a new exhibition every month, as well as art classes for adults, teens and kids. Although the art classes are usually held for multi-week sessions, the art center does offer the occasional one-day workshop. If you’ve got any artists in your family, it can be worth checking the arts center’s calendar to see if a workshop lines up with your winter vacation.
Exhibitions coming up at the Arts Center this winter include:
Carla Migliaccio (January 2018) – Carla Migliaccio was born and raised in Ocean City, graduating from OCHS in 1974. She’s always loved art but didn’t begin to pursue it avidly until after she retired in 2010. She has taken some classes at the art center for the past decade and has been finding her style and voice as an artist.
“Seashore Lines” – Kevin Husta (February 2018) – Kevin Husta is a photographer based in Hammonton, NJ. His show at the arts center will feature his photographs of the PA-Reading Seashore railroad lines. Many of the photos in the show will feature former railroad tracks and trains located in Cape May County.
Judi Froehlinger Schlichter (March 2018) – Judi Froehlinger Schlichter is a fiber artist from Maryland. Her work, including tapestries, art quilts, accessories and clothing will be on display throughout March at the arts center. Many of the pieces will be for sale, with prices ranging from $85 for a small quilt to $2,500 for a more substantial quilt.
11. Tour the Ocean City Historical Museum
The historical museum is open year-round and is full of clothing, photos and other artifacts, all of which give a visitor a thorough understanding of Ocean City’s history and past as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.” The museum is open Monday through Saturday and stays open late on Thursdays, until 7 p.m.
Along with its annual Children’s Tea, the museum hosts a number of other events and activities, including a lecture series on the town’s history.
12. Get Some Exercise at the Aquatic and Fitness Center
The ocean might be a bit too chilly for swimming in during the winter — except for during the polar plunge, of course. But that doesn’t mean that a winter beach getaway can’t include some time in the water.
The pool at the aquatic center is open daily, with scheduled times for free and lap swims. Although the center offers monthly and annual memberships, it also offers a day rate for families who are just visiting Ocean City.
13. Walk Around Downtown
Downtown Ocean City doesn’t go to sleep in the winter months, either. Many of 100 plus downtown shops, restaurants and art galleries stay open throughout the season. The downtown area is located on Asbury Avenue, about halfway between the beach and the bay. The shops and restaurants stretch from 6th Street to 14th Street.
14. Explore the Ocean City Fine Arts League
Located on Asbury Avenue in Downtown OC, the Fine Arts League is a co-op maintained by a group of artists and volunteers. The league formed in 2002.
It has a new exhibition every month throughout the year, with an opening reception for each show. It’s held on the second Friday of the month, starting at 6 p.m. The Fine Arts League also offers art classes, movie screenings and other activities on a regular basis.
15. Watch a Pageant
Ocean City is home to one of the most unique beauty pageants in the country. Mr. Mature America takes place on the Boardwalk, at the Music Pier, at the end of the winter. It’s a pageant for men over the age of 55 and is the only pageant of its kind in the country.
Families looking for more traditional pageant events can check out the Miss New Jersey Outstanding Teen pageant, which takes place in January in Clayton, NJ. It’s not held in Ocean City itself, but previous pageants have featured contestants who call Ocean City home.
16. Go for a Bike Ride
For some people, a trip to the beach isn’t complete without a bike ride or two. As long as there’s no snow on the ground, you can easily enjoy a long and leisurely bike ride through the streets of Ocean City in the winter.
The boardwalk is also open to bikes throughout the winter. Even better, you aren’t restricted to riding your bike only during the certain hours on the boardwalk during the off-season. As long as there isn’t a special event taking place on the boardwalk, you are free to ride your bike all day along the boards.
For riders who don’t enjoy the bumpy feeling the boards create, Ocean City has established a few designated bike routes. OC1 is the “family-friendly” route. It stretches north to south across the length of the island, for a total of seven miles. It’s located on a shared roadway — not a separate bike path.
For families who want to see all of the town while they ride, Ocean City has also created a bike-centric art tour. Several murals and outdoor sculptures are located along the designated bike routes.
If you don’t have your own bikes, you can rent them at several locations throughout the town. Remember to think safety first while riding and to follow the rules of the road. Any child rider under 17 needs a helmet. Although not required by law, helmets are a good idea for adult riders, too. If you’ll be out after dark, you need to have a light on your bike as well.
If your weekend getaway happens to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, you can combine a family vacation with a bit of voluntourism. Ocean City, NJ participates in the MLK Jr. Day of Service.
Past volunteer opportunities on MLK Jr. Day have included a city-wide cleanup event. It was preceded by a ceremony, during which King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was recited.
18. Take a Walk on the Beach
Let’s not forget the most important reason to come to the shore in the middle of winter: the beach! If you haven’t seen the Jersey Shore during the winter, you’re in for a real treat. The beach tends to be much quieter, as there aren’t hundreds of sunbathers, swimmers and beach volleyball players out and about.
Instead, you’re treated to miles of nearly empty sand, which allows you to take a deep breath and a long, quiet walk with the kids along the water’s edge.
19. Relax and Unwind
Everyone vacations differently. For some families, the idea of an action-package weekend trip, with plenty of activities, is perfect. Other families are looking to sit back, relax and enjoy a little quality time together.
At many of the hotels and motels throughout Ocean City, you’re able to do just that. Some hotels have indoor, heated pools that stay open year round so that you can go for a dip without stepping foot outside. Many hotels have on-site restaurants and room service, so you don’t have to go far to get breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you book a room in a hotel on the boardwalk with beachfront views, you can look out your window each morning to watch the ocean’s waves lap the shore.
The days might be shorter and the weather cooler, but winter is still the perfect time to head to the shore. You’ll miss the crowds, but you will still get to enjoy many of the delights of the beach — from tasting saltwater taffy to hearing the ocean’s waves.
If you’re looking for the perfect mid-winter break for your family, start planning a trip to Ocean City, NJ today.