Everyone has has heard of Atlantic City, but few know what to expect when they go there the first time. Stories you read can have you wondering if it’s a glitzy resort or a depressed area.
To a degree, both views are correct. Atlantic City was wildly successful from its birth in the early 1800’s. Almost an island, it was considered prime beach front property and saw the birth of luxury hotels in the early days. Since 1921 its been home to the Miss America Pagent. It’s also where salt water taffy was invented and the basis for the American version of the Monopoly game board.
By the 1870’s, 500,000 passengers per year were coming to Atlantic City and the now world famous boardwalk was built. It was wildly successful. Today the Atlantic City Boardwalk is 4.5 miles long.
Atlantic City began to decline and New Jersey voters passed a referendum to approve casino gambling in Atlantic City in 1976. It became one of the most popular tourist destinations in the eighties, but in the years from 2002 – 2014 many of the casino projects were cancelled and some of the existing casinos failed.
It’s been said Atlantic City is making a comeback in the last couple of years. But the boardwalk seemed rather deserted for what should be a popular tourist destination. That said, there are still a lot of reasons to visit Atlantic City besides gambling.
Fun Things to do in Atlantic City
1. Stroll The Atlantic City Boardwalk
Being from Los Angeles, I was a bit surprised to see the Atlantic City Boardwalk is actually made out of wooden boards. (In LA they use concrete and call it a boardwalk.) The 4.5 mile long boardwalk is lined with five star restaurants casinos, food vendors, cafes, shops, benches and a few pavilions. It’s stepped back from the ocean and there are bridges over a marsh to the beach in numerous locations. Activities on the beach include windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, parasailing or just lounging under a beach umbrella
Trams consistently run the length of the boardwalk and I highly recommend spending $8.00 for a day pass to ride them. After walking 4.5 miles in the July heat to the other end, I was pretty tired. With a day pass, you can hop on and off of the trams wherever you want.
2. Enjoy a Second Childhood at Steel Pier
On the northern end of the boardwalk, directly across from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (formerly the Trump Taj Mahal before it went out of business) is the Steel Pier.
The theme park juts out over the Atlantic Ocean on a pier and dates back to 1898. It has all the rides and vendors you would expect to find. This is one the kids will love.
3. Watch a Blockbuster at the Tropicana’s IMAX Theatre
The Tropicana’s IMAX theatre is located on the third floor of The Quarter. Ticket prices vary, but this can be a great place to take the kids. https://www.tropicana.net/venue/amenities/imax-theatre-tropicana
4. Take a Sightseeing Cruise Along the Atlantic
The Atlantic City Crusies takes you along the Oceanfront skyline of Atlantic City. You can get up close and personal with the locals… i.e dolphins! Daily cruises are offered May through October.
Cruises depart from Gardner’s Basin, 800 N. New Hampshire Ave in Atlantic City. For more info visit their website. http://www.atlanticcitycruises.com
5. Visit Absecon Lighthouse
Abscess Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey and the third tallest lighthouse in the country. Built in 1857 the lighthouse is 171 feet tall. Climb the 228 steps to the top and enjoy breathtaking views and a chance to see the first Fresnel lens that was lit in 1857. There is a $7.00 fee to hike to the top, $4.00 for kids.
It’s located at 31 S. Rhode Island Ave. For more info http://abseconlighthouse.org
6. Go Parasailing
Atlantic City Parasail offers parasailing and watersports activities. Located in Gardner’s basin, their parasailing boat seats 12 so the whole family can join in the fun.
800 N. New Hampshire. For more info visit https://www.atlanticcityparasail.com
7. Shop Till You Drop in Atlantic City
There are several big shopping malls in Atlantic City where you can find the big name designers. They include Tanger Outlets – The Walk, The Playground which is also an entertainment complex, and The Quarter at Tropicana that provides a unique New Jersey shopping experience.
8. Visit the African American Heritage Museum
The African American Heritage Museum documents the African American experience of the Twentieth Century. The museum houses over 11,000 treasures that are displayed on a rotating basis.
It’s open Tuesday – Friday from 10 am to 4 pm and on Saturday by appointment.
9. Visit the Atlantic City Aquarium
The Atlantic City Aquarium is home to over 100 varieties of fish and marine animals including seahorses. It even has a tropical touch tank that allows you to touch several species of sharks…. if you dare!
The Aquarium is located at 800 N New Hampshire Ave, Atlantic City. It’s in the Historic Gardner’s Basin which is also home to sightseeing cruises, fishing boats, restaurants, shopping and a Crafters Village.
10. Take the Kids to Storybook Land
Storybook Land is a 20 acre amusement park themed after children’s literature. Rides are themed after classics like Little Red Riding Hood. It’s recommended for younger children. Admission is $25.00
The park is located 12 miles northwest of Atlantic City. 6415 Black Horse Pike
For more info visit their website.
11. See Lucy the Elephant
When I first heard the term Lucy the Margate Elephant I thought, What is a Margate Elephant? I later learned that Margate is the name of the town Lucy is in. It’s about five miles south of Atlantic City and Lucy is about the only thing there…. Lucy and what looks like a very cool beachfront restaurant with loads of outdoor seating right next to her.
The six story, 90 ton elephant was built in 1881 to attract homebuyers to the area. Lucy is not a National Historic Landmark that makes a fun place to take the kids. You can go inside the elephant and learn the history, and climb to her howdah on her back and look out over the ocean. It’s $8.00 for adults and $4.00 for kids. There is no charge to visit the grounds, only to go inside Lucy.
Another little tidbit of information, Lucy ran for president of the United States in 2016.
You’ll find Lucy at 9200 Atlantic Ave, Margate, NJ. For info on hours and more visit http://www.lucytheelephant.org
In summary, Atlantic City isn’t what it used to be but there are still tons of fun things to do besides gamble. And if you didn’t get enough boardwalk fun, then head on south about 10 miles to Ocean City and explore the Ocean City Boardwalk.
We’re saving this jewel of the Atlantic for another post. And to be honest, we believe that if you have a choice between the two boardwalks, Ocean City is a far better choice. Read why in our next post.
More Atlantic City photos after the break…