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Ocean City Vs. Rehoboth

A She Said/She Said On Where to Park Your Beach Towel This Summer

By Heather Joslyn and Michelle Gienow | Posted 5/21/2008

Greetings From Rehoboth

Here's the key difference between Charm City's two favorite seaside destinations: According to the most recent U.S. Census, the median age of Ocean City residents is 47. The median age in Rehoboth Beach? A mature 57. Both the average City Paper reader and I are younger than either of those stats. But the point spread is telling and it underscores my prime argument in favor of Rehoboth: It's more relaxing than O.C. It's the place to go when you crave a little peace and quiet with your sand and surf. (We pause here to allow my worthy opponent to respond with a little sarcastic snoring. . . . )

Ocean City is younger, friskier, more frantic--and that's the problem. It's not the 47-year-olds who turn Ocean City into a migraine-by-the-sea every summer. It's their kids, creating a cacophony with their honking and the relentless thumpa-thumpa pounding out of their subwoofers, as they keep O.C.'s streets snarled in traffic all day and night. And when they're not shrieking at each other from behind the wheel, they're hollering at each other on the boardwalk, parading by in oversized T-shirts that proclaim their enthusiasm for weaponry, drunkenness, NASCAR, and Hooters. (Here's a lively game to help kill an evening on the O.C. boardwalk: One player takes Hooters T-shirts, the other takes Big Johnson shirts, and each sighting earns a point. Kind of like spotting out-of-state license plates, but dirty.)

I know, I know--I'm a snob. Look, when I was younger, I embraced Ocean City in all its tacky glory. But then I discovered the more tranquil charms of Rehoboth. Let's start with: It just looks calmer. Sure, there's traffic on the main drag, but take a short walk from the boardwalk and the bustling commercial strips and you'll find shady trees and small lakes dotted with ducks. Rehoboth feels more like a little village, which it essentially is. Founded by Methodists as a camp meeting site in the early 1870s, there's still a sense of coherent community to Rehoboth that other seaside tourist towns lack. For instance, I love the retro little bandstand next to the boardwalk--a true small-town touch--where you might lounge in the evenings among the senior citizens and exhausted parents and watch toddlers dance to Dixieland.

But of course one big reason why Rehoboth feels like a community is that it's been so fervently adopted by one community in particular: my people, the gays. As a friend of mine puts it, "If beaches were states, Rehoboth would be a blue state, and O.C. red." Rehoboth is a magnet for straights, too, but the gay presence is prominent, from the homo-friendly bars (Cloud 9, Purple Parrot, Frogg Pond) and lodging, to our exclusive territories on the sand (the fellas' Poodle Beach, the ladies-only chunk of Cape Henlopen).

Think it's coincidence, then, that Rehoboth has a more varied and cosmopolitan mix of stores and restaurants than O.C.? Rehoboth understands that adults don't live by Grotto Pizza and Thrasher's Fries alone--there are plenty of places to have a civilized meal, be it Italian or Mexican or French or Russian or Japanese or American fusion or just some good native seafood, thank you very much. All this, plus bacon ice cream, too.

Oh, and one more thought: Tax-free shopping. Unlike the Free State, Delaware has no sales tax--which just might help take some of the financial pain out of the trek downy ocean this summer, since we'll all be paying a fortune for the gas to get there.

Illustrations by Tom Chalkley

Why O.C. Rulz

I speak in the name of the loud and proud honky-tonk of Old Town Ocean City, home of the crassest T-shirts, most vomitizing/seizure-inducing strobe-lit carnival rides, and highest concentration of fried-food stands, possibly in the entire world. I'm talking O.C. below about 50th Street here. Heading north it seems like so much of Ocean City is scrambling up the ladder of middle-class respectability as fast as it can--shit, Rehoboth, you can HAVE the Gold Coast--but Old Town is the heart of summer.

Yes, Ocean City can be abrasive, brash, even offensive. (I believe the word "tacky" has been mentioned). But, from the moment the sunrise spreads rosy fingers over the Jesus sand sculptures at Second Street until the Led Zep cover band announces last call at the Purple Moose Saloon, it is never dull. And it is all-embracing: Call it the lowest common denominator if you will, but Ocean City never met a party it didn't like. This means you, whether your idea of a party is a days-long boardwalk bacchanal or a beach-lying, book-reading stay in the quiet zone of deliciously old-school motels around 30th Street.

Despite my esteemed colleague's mistaken beliefs, it is totally possible to enjoy a relaxing, even staid, adult vacation in O.C.--it's not all beer bongs and Big Pecker souvenir shirts here. You just can't be offended by other people having a raucous good time in the same ZIP code is all. You want universally well-behaved WASP "fun," well, you know where to go.

Don't tell me about Rehoboth's superior shopping and restaurants. At home I can dine on microgreens in nice restaurants anytime, ditto with browsing clever boutiques. A visit to Ocean City is about self-indulgence on a primal level: letting the surf pound your body, soaking up that bad old sun, eating all the stuff you conscientiously avoid any other time (fried chicken for breakfast!), gawking at shrunken heads at Ripley's Believe It or Not!, and winning some 24 cent prize after investing $50 blowing up balloons by shooting water in a clown's mouth. Plus, O.C. offers magnificent people-watching: Three years ago I am certain I spotted Charlie Manson enjoying a funnel cake on the boardwalk.

Finally, if Rehoboth is so darned blue state gay-hugging liberal, where the hell are the people of color? O.C. is a mélange of every shade from palest white (overlaid with scarlet sunburn) through peach, mocha, and all the way to deepest ebony. (I don't see Rehoboth allowing day-tripping Latino field-worker families to sling hammocks under its municipal pier. If it has one. Which it probably doesn't since Rehoboth's pathetic boardwalk is, what, three whole blocks long? But if it did have one, I'm sure there would be formal ordinances against slinging hammocks under it.) In Ocean City all the colors in the crayon box play together, often in the same biological family, and everyone is having a grand old time.

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