Some people will go to the ends of the earth to re-create the idylls of their past. Some just head for the Jersey shore. Two hours down the Garden State Parkway, across the inland waterway, the Ferris wheel in the near distance beckons, neon-brilliant against the startlingly big sky. Ocean City's lure is an irresistible mix of nostalgia and honky-tonk. It's the Flanders, a classic white-stucco and terra-cotta tile-roofed seaside hotel with a chef whose claims to fame include the intriguing title "King of Wings." It's Sunday shore dinners at Bookers. It's a pedal-powered-buggy ride past the Pennsylvania Dutch-funnel-cake and Kohr's-frozen-custard stands; dangerous doughnuts and fried shrimp in the open air at Oves Beach Grill; impossibly healthy high-school couples laughing arm-in-arm; skittering hermit crabs in Day-Glo tanks at countless seaside emporia. It's the log flume and bumper cars at Gillian's Wonderland, religiously anti-tech in its slatted-wooden neon noisiness. There are tent meetings under way a few blocks in from the beach, and there is no beer to be had in Ocean City unless you've smuggled it in yourself. There's only the endless boardwalk and the unpredictable Atlantic -- only the broad, clean beach you return to not so much from the past as from a 45-rpm dream.
DETAILS The Flanders Hotel (609-399-1000; suites start at $169); Bookers Restaurant (609-399-4672; entrées, $10 to $15); Ocean City tourist information (800-232-2465).