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Ocean City vs. the Outer Banks

Ocean City vs. the Outer Banks

Sunrise on the water, waves crashing

It’s summer in Maryland, and you know what that means: time to hit the beach! 

And if you’ve lived here for a while, you know there are two popular beach options. You can drive over the Bay Bridge for some fun at Ocean City or make the long drive south to North Carolina and relax at the Outer Banks (OBX).

As a Maryland native and self-proclaimed beach bum, I’ve spent time at both places. And while this article will hopefully help you determine which location would best fit you and your family, I want to be clear that there is no wrong choice. Both places are beautiful and relaxing and can provide you with the summer vacation of your dreams. It’s just a matter of what kind of getaway you want.

So which one is right for you? We’ve broken it down into three categories to help you choose: beach vibes, things to do, and accommodations.

Ocean City vs. the Outer Banks: Beach Vibes

Ocean City is known for its large beaches and even larger crowd, and has an energetic vibe.

Color beach umbrellas shading beachgoers
Photo Credit: via

You’re likely to be surrounded by families with small children, teenagers hanging out with friends, and adults playing a competitive game of tackle football. The atmosphere is fun and inviting—the perfect scene for an upbeat summer day. Vacationers seeking a serene Ocean City experience tend to visit in the off-season.

Woman in sundress on beach holding hand of young sun in button up shirt and matching shorts
Photo Credit: @livinglesh | Caption: Near the Ocean City boardwalk

The Outer Banks, however, is much more chill. The beaches are more narrow, and there tend to be significantly fewer people. You can spread out and have more privacy than you ever could at Ocean City. The barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks include over 100 miles of beaches compared to the 10 mile beach in Ocean City.

Isometric shot of the calm beach at OBX
Photo Credit: Jon Taylor Sweet

The Outer Banks is dog-friendly all year (dogs are allowed on the beach and boardwalk in Ocean City from October through April.) Compared to the lively vibe in Ocean City, vacationers to the Outer Banks seem more laid back. Even the ocean is more chill—you’re less likely to get the big waves found in Ocean City. 

Ocean City vs. the Outer Banks: Things To Do

At Ocean City, there are endless activities and entertainment outside of the beach. There are mini-golf places and ice cream shops on virtually every corner. The famous 3-mile-long  boardwalk offers rides, arcades, shops, and restaurants for people of all ages.

Bloody Mary in a beer stein
Photo Credit: The Original Crabcake Factory

There are also water parks, go-karting, bumper boats, escape rooms, laser tag, movie theaters, and water sport rentals.

Three jetskis on the water
Photo Credit: Delmarva Aerial 360

It’s impossible to get bored at Ocean City. There’s endless entertainment, and it’s all right down the street!

Photo Credit:  @marissapoliks | Caption: Drink and dine in the water at Seacrets

The OBX has more of a small-town feel. Of course, it depends on your exact location—some parts are more commercialized than others—but it’s much more remote and low-key than Ocean City. 

Exterior of bookstore in a southern home-looking building
Credit: Laura Rennie | Caption: Island Bookstore in Corolla, NC

The primary entertainment in the Outer Banks is the beach. There are other entertainment options (shopping, mini golf, jet skiing, etc.), but they’re more spread out. You’ll likely have to drive to a restaurant or shopping area, and there isn’t a beach boardwalk like in Ocean City.

Ocean City vs. the Outer Banks: Accommodations

Most people rent condos or stay in hotels during their Ocean City vacation. It’s rare to find a house big enough for multiple families to rent in Ocean City, especially on the ocean side. 

Interior of the Princess Royale
Photo Credit: Princess Royale Oceanfront Resort

At the Outer Banks, many people rent a house with another family and enjoy having a pool and hot tub to themselves. Bigger homes can even offer movie theatre rooms, pool tables, and arcade games! Some of these houses are located on the water and feature wrap-around porches and stunning ocean views.

Colorful houses on the beach
Photo Credit: Visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina

OBX also has plenty of smaller houses available for rent, as well as hotel rooms, but the large vacation rentals are one of the things that makes Outer Banks a unique experience. 

So which one will you choose: Ocean City or the Outer Banks?

Lead Photo: via

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