You can usually judge how far away the “in-season” is by how many cars are in the Inlet parking lot. Free parking is still in effect until April 1, as always, but as the spring and summer months creep closer and closer, more cars begin to line the spaces on the outskirt of the Inlet lot.
In Maryland we can’t really judge how close we are to consistently warm days by whatever the temperature is now. Until it’s really summer, the temps move up and down as fast as the roller coaster on the Jolly Roger pier. But when more cars are filling the Inlet lot, you just know: Sunnier, warmer days are on the horizon.
If you can catch a rare sunny and warm day in March, even before it’s officially spring, you’re one of the lucky ones. You’ll be accompanied by locals and day-trippers taking advantage of the nice weather (and the free parking and dog-friendly boardwalk!), but there still aren’t too many people, the beach is clean and empty, and it really feels like this small piece of the world is your oyster. Slowly, more cars are filling up the parking spaces in the Inlet lot, and the sun is shining down on the workers who are greasing up the Jolly Roger and Trimper’s rides for the summer and putting a fresh coat of paint outside the boardwalk shops.
Now until Memorial Day weekend is the calm before the storm of traffic and beachgoers and car shows and festivals. We’re excited for all that stuff too, but the pigeons and gulls prefer when they can sunbathe in the parking lot without being chased away by cars, and there’s something to be said about a beach that’s got nothing on it but footprints and a few wanderers taking in the view.
If you can get out to Ocean City in early spring, you really ought to do it! The beach is all yours. (Especially when everyone else is out watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade…)