The unofficial capital of Fire Island, Ocean Beach is a 600-home community with the greatest concentration of bars, restaurants and stores on the entire island. Overflowing with small-town charm reminiscent of a simpler time, main street walks are lined with ice cream shops, mom and pop markets, and “beach chic” boutiques. Local children sell painted shell souvenirs out of red radio-flyer wagons. Just outside of town, Ocean Beach walkways are lined with traditional summer cottages that are both home to longtime Fire Island families and home away from home for many share-house transients.
Ocean Beach started as two communities that joined together after the fact when becoming an incorporated village in 1921. A businessman named John Wilbur founded the community of Ocean Beach in 1908 and its eastern boundary only extended as far as Bungalow Walk. What is the last three western blocks of Ocean Beach today (Ocean, Wilmot, and Surf Roads) were know as Stay-a-While Estates, a real estate enterprise organized by the heirs of New York Supreme Court Justice Wilmot M. Smith in 1912. Ocean Beach was once home to a grand hotel named the New Surf Hotel, which was destroyed by fire around 1918. To this day many confuse the history of the New Surf Hotel with its neighbor and namesake near Kismet that had been known as the Surf Hotel, but they were in fact separate entities.
Ocean Beach also has been known as “The Land of No,” a moniker it gained by its labyrinth of local laws and ordinances to govern life within the Village in ways both large and small. These rules restrict activities like bicycle riding, playing ball or picnicking on the beach. This idiosyncrasy hit a climax in 1977 when the great “cookie case” made national headlines when two teenage boys went to court to defend their right to eat freshly baked cookies purchased at a local bakery on the Ocean Beach public walk and prevailed. The Land of No characterization has relaxed in Ocean Beach over time, but it has never completely gone away.