It's Labor Day weekend. And for tourists and locals alike the holiday marks an end to the summer season -- but the beginning of the second season.
With increasing numbers of tourists visiting the resort throughout the year and many businesses remaining open during all but the coldest weeks, Ocean City doesn't have an off-season anymore.
Some 4 million visitors will frequent the resort during the nine months between Labor Day and Memorial Day, tourist officials say. That compares with about 4 million over the three summer months.
"At times in the fall it's almost as busy as the summer," says Melody McSweeney, the author of the recently published book, "Open Year 'Round -- An Insiders Guide to Ocean City, Md."
Ms. McSweeney, who recently returned to the Baltimore area after living in the resort for several years, stresses in her book that Ocean City is a year-round vacation destination.
The second season, she says, is particularly alluring.
"It's so much more laid back," Ms. McSweeney says. "It's so much calmer. The chefs get creative again. And the food is always outstanding during the second season. It's just so
beautiful here. It really is just beautiful."
Others, like Margaret Pillas, who with her husband owns a boardwalk T-shirt shop, say the second season gives beach visitors a taste of the resort's small-town flavor.
"People are warm and friendly," she says. "It's just a small town."
Throughout the fall, the weather generally stays warm -- and the beaches are far less crowded.
"It's a little calmer, a little quieter here -- that seems to be the draw for a lot of people," says Leslie Craigle, a tourism spokeswoman.
The second season unofficially kicks off Sept. 17 with Polkamotion by-the-Ocean, an annual celebration of the polka with four fun-filled days of continuous dancing to -- you guessed it -- polka bands.
During the four-day event, professional dance groups, dancing demonstrations and a variety of ethnic foods will be offered at the Ocean City Convention Center, 40th Street and the bay.
Then it's time for the official kickoff Sept. 24-27 when 200,000 to 250,000 people will swarm upon the resort for Sunfest '92 -- an annual celebration of the arrival of the second season.
"It's one of the biggest festivals in Ocean City," Ms. Craigle says. "There are four days of fun and excitement for the whole family. It's a great festival."
Initially begun as a "thank you" to the hundreds of thousands of summer tourists, the event has continued as sort of a last hurrah and a celebration of the opening of the second season, Ms. Craigle says.
This year's 18th festival features arts and crafts, raffles, fresh Eastern Shore seafood and other fare -- all under big-top tents at the inlet parking lot and the beach.
"A lot of people come down just to eat," Ms. Craigle says.
Other popular activities include treasure hunts on the beach, a mini-golf tournament at Jolly Roger Amusement Park, a kite festival and a fun run.
October brings two more big events: the Ocean City Bavarian Festival, Oct. 30-31, and a Halloween "Spook Out" party on Oct. 31.
The Ocean City Convention Center is the site of the Bavarian Festival, which features authentic German oompah bands, German food and beer, arts and crafts, puppet shows and gifts.
Halloween is a big deal in Ocean City. The "Spook Out" party includes costume judging, carnival rides, haunted house and hayrides -- all at Northside Park, 125th Street and the bay.
On Halloween, there are also holiday-related contests and treats at the Gold Coast Mall, 115th Street and Coastal Highway.
Then there are the holidays.
The 10th annual Holiday Shoppers Fair, Nov. 27-29, features unusual gifts, clothing, toys, arts and crafts, and decorations at the Ocean City Convention Center. Photo sessions with Santa ** and other family activities also are on tap.
Many say Christmas is the most magical time of the year in Ocean City.
"I don't think people are aware how people here knock themselves out at Christmas time," Ms. McSweeney says.
Indeed. The inlet is decorated with a hundred Christmas trees, trimmed by different restaurants, businesses and community organizations.
"It's beautiful," Ms. McSweeney says. "Downtown is like a winter wonderland. And City Hall is beautiful."
Throughout the resort, hotels, restaurants, shops and public buildings are decorated with twinkling lights, garlands, wreaths and trees.
Holiday-oriented activities include Christmas on the Beach on Dec. 5, which features Santa Claus, horse-drawn wagon rides, musical entertainment and tree trimming at the downtown inlet parking lot. The Volunteer Fire Company's Women's Auxiliary will serve hot chocolate to chilled guests.
Also during the second season, the popular Big Band dances will again take place at the Convention Center.
Additionally, many hotels offer weekend packages, some of which include activities like Murder Mystery Weekend. The Coconut Malorie, Atlantic Hotel in Berlin and the Castle in the Sand traditionally have Murder Mystery Weekends, filled with cocktail parties, brunches, dinners and prizes.