Ocean City is a city in Cape May County, New Jersey, United States. It is the county's largest city by area and is the principal city of the Ocean City Metropolitan Statistical Area which encompasses all of Cape May County. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population was 11,701, reflecting a decline of 3,677 (-23.9%) from the 15,378 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn declined by 134 (-0.9%) from the 15,512 counted in the 1990 Census. In summer months, with an influx of tourists and second homeowners, there are estimated to be 115,000 to 130,000 within the city's borders.
Ocean City originated as a borough by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on May 3, 1884, from portions of Upper Township, based on results from a referendum on April 30, 1884, and was reincorporated as a borough on March 31, 1890. Ocean City was incorporated as a city, its current government form, on March 25, 1897.
Known as a family-oriented seaside resort, Ocean City has prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages within its limits since its founding in 1879, offering miles of guarded beaches, a boardwalk that stretches for , and a quaint downtown shopping and dining district.
The Travel Channel rated Ocean City as the Best Family Beach of 2005. It was ranked the third best beach in New Jersey in the 2008 Top 10 Beaches Contest sponsored by the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium. In the 2009 Top 10 Beaches Contest, Ocean City ranked first.
From early June through Labor Day, Ocean City requires individuals age 12 and up to purchase a beach tag to access its beaches. For the 2013 season, a one-day pass costs $5, a weekly pass is $10, and a seasonal pass for the full summer season are $25 (though, if purchased before Memorial Day, seasonal tags are $20.)
The island, a stretch of dunes and swamps running for seven miles, had been used by local Native Americans who were brought there by its abundance of fish during the summer months. Originally purchased by the Somers family, the island had once been named Peck's Beach, believed to have been given the name for a whaler named John Peck who had a camp on the island.
In 1700, whaler John Peck began using the barrier island as a storage place for freshly caught whales. Eventually known as Peck’s Beach, the island had several purposes: it was an Indian summer fishing camp, cattle-grazing area, and sometimes mainlanders would boat over for a picnic or to hunt.
On September 10, 1879, four Methodist ministers, Ezra B. Lake, James Lake, S. Wesley Lake, and William Burrell, chose the island as a suitable spot to establish a Christian retreat and camp meeting on the order of Ocean Grove. They met under a tall cedar tree, which stands today in the lobby of the Ocean City Tabernacle. Having chosen the name “Ocean City”, the founders incorporated the “Ocean City Association”, laid out street and lots for cottages, hotel and businesses. The Ocean City Tabernacle was built between Wesley and Asbury Avenues and between 5th and 6th Streets. Camp meetings were held by the following summer. As a result of its religious origins, the sale or public drinking of alcoholic beverages in Ocean City was prohibited.
The first bridge was built to the island in 1883, and the first railroad soon followed. The first school began in 1881. The boardwalk grew and was relocated several times. The ship Sindia joined other shipwrecks on the beach on December 15, 1901, on its way to New York City from Kobe, Japan, but has since sunk below the sand. A salvage attempt to retrieve treasures believed to have been on the ship was most recently launched in the 1970s, all of which have been unsuccessful. A large fire in 1927 changed the town significantly.