Ocean City vs. Rehoboth: A tale of two beaches


Visitors walk to the Atlantic Ocean in Ocean City, Md., last summer. (Jeffrey MacMillan/The Washington Post)
June 11, 2013

Growing up in Silver Spring, Chauncey Rhodes and his sister Janice loved the beach life so much they’d spend entire summers there, working and playing and always looking for excuses to go back.

So when it came time for the two young entrepreneurs to choose a place to start their businesses, they naturally picked the beach.

Just not the same one.

Chauncey runs a surf and T-shirt shop in Ocean City, Md. But Janice Rhodes Elder moved to Rehoboth Beach, Del., to open her art and gift shop.

Their homes aren’t even 30 miles apart, but there’s a friendly lack of agreement between the two about which beach is better -- a low-key but heartfelt rivalry held by many beach-lovers and residents in the Delmarva Peninsula and beyond.

Beach guide 2013: Your guide to beaches in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Talk to people in the two towns, and you’ll hear (mostly) polite criticisms ranging from the quality of coffee shops to the lack of driving skills at the “other” beach.

Being siblings, Rhodes and Elder do visit each other’s shops sometimes. They’ll brave the often-maddening drive down Coastal Highway/State Route 1 ,which can take FOR-EV-ER during beach season and is a notorious speed trap. Rhodes admires the quieter pace of his sister’s beach lifestyle; she appreciates the energy at his home beach.

But neither can imagine living anywhere else. ( Compare: The best of Ocean City and Rehoboth beaches )

Ocean City

His sister calls him “Mr. OC,” and there’s truth to her teasing; Rhodes is one of the resort’s biggest boosters. He started out working at the Sunshine House Surf Shop, now closed but still fondly remembered by Ocean City’s surfing community. Opened by Rhodes family members in 1994, Chauncey’s Surf Shop is an iconic store on Coastal Highway near the start of the boardwalk. The surfing business in Ocean City is popular enough that the family opened another store about 16 blocks down the boardwalk, run by Chauncey’s brother Blair.

As a student at Good Counsel High School in Olney, Md., Chauncey headed to the beach for surfing and skateboarding at every opportunity -- often accompanied by some of his nine siblings. It remains a draw for high school and college students, especially around spring break and graduation time. Later in the summer, however, the boardwalk is filled with families who come to “OC” nearly every year.

Pat Kashak of Annapolis is one of those traditional visitors. Now retired, she’s been coming Ocean City for summer visits longer than she can remember, but long enough to have a collection of souvenir mood rings.

“And they still sell them,” she said with a laugh, while looking for seashells on the beach around 80th Street on a recent June morning.

What does she like about Ocean City? The convenient travel from her home, she said, and the abundance of hotel rooms with an ocean view.

She recommends visiting after Labor Day for a more peaceful vacation. And though she enjoys walking on the beach, “it is not the best place” to find sea treasures. “But I keep trying,” she said.

A couple of bird-watchers from Maryland strolling the beach recommended visiting Ocean City’s inlet, near 2nd Street, at the end of July to watch the migrating fowl. The octagon gazebos at 12848 Ocean Gateway also are recommended for birding and photography -- and it’s a good place to stash your car if you want to avoid Ocean City’s driving and parking congestion. The West Ocean City Park & Ride has free parking and a $1 shuttle that will take visitors through Ocean City’s main drag and outlet stores.

The outlet mall is a popular destination on Ocean City’s rainy days. “Weather is everything in this town,” said Rhodes. While a bad forecast “can ruin the weekend” for surf shops and other water-dependent businesses, they’re a boost for the local movie theaters and indoor mini-golf, which Rhodes recommends for families with children cooped up by bad weather.

On Sunday nights all summer, a laser light show can be seen for miles along the boardwalk. And on Monday and Tuesday nights beginning July 8, there’s a musical fireworks show on the beach at North Division Street.

In all, there are around 180 restaurants and 10,000 hotel rooms along the 10-mile Coastal Highway in Ocean City, said Jessica Waters, a spokeswoman for the resort city.

There are about a dozen fishing piers where rockfish, flounder and sea bass are abundant on the bay side. On the ocean side, tuna, dolphin and white marlin can be caught, Waters added.

And in case you’re wondering what “the locals” do on their vacations -- at the end of the summer season, when tourists have gone back to work and school -- Rhodes shared the secret.

“We go to the Outer Banks in North Carolina,” he said.

Rehoboth Beach

Janice Rhodes Elder’s brother Chauncey says “she’s got a really good eye” for what goes into a good beach business. A former student at the Corcoran College of Art, Elder and her husband once owned a shop called “Time Flies” at Union Station and one of the venue’s original vendors. A few more stores and many travels around the world later, Elder settled in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where she owns Bella Luna, a shop on the town’s main street, Rehoboth Avenue.

Though Elder has spent many summers at Ocean City and other beaches, Rehoboth became her favorite after a summer selling jewelry at a boardwalk stand many years ago.

“I like the small town feeling,” said Elder, who’s lived with her family in Rehoboth for nine years. “They even have a Christmas parade. It feels like Mayberry here.”

For business reasons, too, Elder prefers Rehoboth. “The seasons are longer here,” she said, noting the number of visitors during Thanksgiving week and the town’s popular annual jazz festival in mid-October.

Surfing, fishing and kayaking are popular in Rehoboth along its mile-long boardwalk. The town has more than two dozen piers where anglers can score catches including white perch, catfish and mako sharks.

Rehoboth Beach, at one square mile in size, is “more walkable,” said Elder. “Everything is close by, and you don’t sit in traffic so long.”

There are three outlet malls around the tiny town -- a favorite feature for high schooler Tina Talbot, who’s more interested in the quality of shopping than in the boardwalk. “A beach is a beach,” said Talbot. She prefers to stay in Rehoboth rather than travel through Delaware’s State Route 1 to Ocean City’s Coastal Highway because “people are stupid about driving here.”

The town has about 50 restaurants and 400 businesses. About 1,500 people live in Rehoboth year-round, but the population can grow up to 30,000 during the summer, according to city manager Greg Ferrese.

For those who want to drive a little, Bethany Beach and Dewey Beach are nearby, between Ocean City and Rehoboth. Elder likes the family-friendliness of Bethany and the nightlife at Dewey.

She also likes to escape to Delaware Seashore State Park, the site of an amateur sandcastle-building competition each July. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Indian River Bay and Rehoboth Bay, the park’s six miles of shoreline make it a great place to find solitude.

“It’s like paradise here,” said Elder. “It’s stress-free.”

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