Celebrate Thanksgiving at the beach

OCThanksgivingWebBy Laura Barnhardt Cech

Ever think of heading to Ocean City, Md., over the Thanksgiving weekend for some holiday and seaside fun for the family?

You could catch Santa and go caroling on the boardwalk. Enjoy holiday lights on the bay. And maybe eat steamed crabs instead of dry turkey.

But if you need another reason to spend Thanksgiving at the shore, it's miles of beach to yourself.

"It's surprising to a lot of people how appealing fall is here," says Jessica Waters, Ocean City communications manager. "The weather is often very temperate."

Most afternoons, it's warm enough to fly kites, ride bikes and look for shells. Many shops and restaurants are still open, including some along the boardwalk. Yet, traffic and crowds are much thinner.

"It's really, really relaxing," says Linda Parkowski, director of tourism for the state of Delaware. "The off-season is phenomenal."

If Black Friday shopping is a family tradition, the outlets are all open special hours during the holiday weekend. And you won't miss out on welcoming the holiday season with several charming events to choose from.

"More and more, we're finding things are open," says Jody Sacks, a Howard County teacher and mother of two who has family at the beach and often spends Thanksgiving there. "It's a nice change of scenery."

Here are a few activities to enjoy down the ocean Thanksgiving weekend.

Holiday events down by the ocean

Winterfest of Lights, 125th Street and Bayside, Ocean City
Disney World has only the only East Coast holiday light display larger than Ocean City's, Waters says. But this 1 million-bulb display has fewer lines, not to mention it's much more affordable.
Gather in the heated Winterfest pavilion tent, where you can sip hot chocolate, browse in Yukon Cornelius's gift shop, and tell Santa your wishes. Then, board the Winterfest Express, a boardwalk tram, for a 10-minute ride through the lights. A soundtrack is choreographed for the ride.
Open mid-November through early January; $5 for ages 12 and up.

The Town of Berlin Christmas Tree Lighting
This picturesque small town, just outside Ocean City, kicks off the holiday season with a gathering in front of the Atlantic Hotel with caroling and a tree lighting.
During late November (Nov. 27, 2015; 5-9 p.m.); berlinchamber.org

Rehoboth Beach Tree Lighting & Hometown Sing-alongOcThanksgiving2W
Families gather around the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand to sing carols and watch the annual tree lighting. Members of Clear Space Theatre Company dress in costume and lead the songs.
Rehoboth boardwalk and Rehoboth Avenue
During late November (Nov. 27, 2015; 6:30-7 p.m.); downtownrb.com

Santa's House on the Boardwalk
Kids can climb on Santa's lap and tell him their wishes at the Santa House on the Rehoboth Boardwalk at the end of Rehoboth Avenue. The Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce sponsors the free opening, though donations are appreciated. Bring your camera.
End of Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach
Open weekends late November through late December; Beach-fun.com/holiday-fun

Dewey Beach Tree Lighting
Enjoy a tree-lighting, music and refreshments.
Fifer's Farm Market Cafe, 200 Cullen St.
During late November (Nov. 28, 2015); beach-fun.com/dewey-beach-info/dewey-beach-activities.html

Outdoor fun at MD/DE beaches

The Salisbury Zoo
The zoo is closed on Thanksgiving Day, but it's open every other day. There's even a protected turkey. And the playground at the west entrance is worth a stop. Best of all, admission is free.
755 South Park Dr., Salisbury; salisburyzoo.org

The beach is a great place to hang out and run around no matter what time of year. For a deserted feel, check out one of the state parks open during the off-season, including Assateague Island National Sea Shore , Cape Henlopen State Park and Delaware Seashore State Park.
Rules on the beaches relax in the off-season. Kite-flying and other games not typically allowed in the summer are permitted. You can also walk dogs on many of the beaches in the off season.
nps.gov/asis, destateparks.com, oceancitymd.gov, rehoboth.com

Kids always want to play mini-golf at the beach and it's still possible in the off-season. There's an under-the-sea themed indoor course and an outdoor course open weather permitting at Old Pro Golf, 68th Street Bayside, Ocean City; oldprogolf.com.
Other courses are often open if temperatures are above 50 degrees.

Bike rentals
Take the family for a spin on the boardwalk when there's actually room to ride. Several bike rental shops open in the off-season include:

  • All Wheels Bike Shop, 37431 Oyster House Road, Rehoboth Beach; allwheelsbikeshop.com (Closed Wednesdays in the winter.)
  • Continental Cycles, 73rd Street, Ocean City and South Gate, Ocean Pines; continentalcycles.com

Other rentals on the boardwalk are open weather permitting.

Indoor fun for winter at the beach

Escape from the cold and check out two museums worth a look:

DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum
One of the largest collections of shipwreck and recovered artifacts in the Mid-Atlantic.
708 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island
Open Saturdays and Sundays; donations.

Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum
Learn how Ocean City grew from a fishing village to a major resort and a lot more.
Boardwalk at the Inlet
Open Wed.-Sun. in November; $1-$3 (under 6 free).

Ice skating
One of the quintessential shore holiday activities is ice skating at the Carousel Hotel in Ocean City. The indoor ice rink and game room are open to the public.
118th Street, Ocean City
Open 7 days a week, 7:30 a.m-10:30 p.m.; $5 skating, $3 rental.

Holiday shopping at the shore

The Holiday Shoppers Fair
Crafters and gift shops sell handmade jewelry, ceramics, photographs and more. There are also children's activities and a "non-shoppers' lounge."
Ocean City Convention Center
During late November (Nov. 27-29, 2015)

The Rehoboth Beach Farmers' Market
There's a holiday edition with holiday decorations and goodies.
Grove Park
During late November

Tanger Outlets
Rehoboth Beach and West Ocean City, both open on Thanksgiving evening at 8 p.m. and stay open through the night and Friday until 9 p.m.
36470 Seaside Outlet Dr, Rehoboth Beach
12741 Ocean Gateway, Ocean City

The Queenstown Premium Outlets
Opens at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving and open through the night and Friday until 10 p.m.
441 Outlet Center Dr, Queenstown

Where to stay on the off season

Princess Royale Hotel
The family will love the arcade and huge indoor pool in the light-filled atrium. A breakfast buffet is offered and a spa is on site.
91st Street Oceanside, Ocean City. http://www.princessroyale.com

The Breakers Hotel
With an indoor, rooftop pool, arcade and some space for family dogs, this Rehoboth Beach hotel is a popular off-season choice for families.
Second St., Rehoboth Beach. www.thebreakershotel.com

Fenwick Inn
In addition to an indoor pool and hot tub, all rooms have refrigerators and microwaves. There are also several suites.
138th Street, Fenwick Island. www.fenwickinn.com

Hyatt Eastern Shore
Cozy up around the outdoor fireplace and roast s'mores, swim in the large indoor pool, or play ping pong in the game room. The Cambridge resort also offers golf, scavenger hunts, movies and more.
100 Heron Blvd., Cambridge. www.chesapeakebay.hyatt.com

Thanksgiving dining at the beach

Many family-friendly restaurants will be open Thanksgiving Day. Some will serve traditional meals, but others will offer their popular beach menus. Here are just a few of the options:

Other holiday events at the beach


Updated September 2015

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