Atlantic City Culture

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Atlantic City Culture
Atlantic City has always offered visitors an alluring mix of historical sites and contemporary entertainment. Casinos and beach bars compete for your attention against performing arts and sports events, offering plenty of variety for every vacation.
By Martin Fritz Huber, AFAR Contributor
Photo courtesy of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority
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    Entertainment and Culture
    Atlantic City hosts big-name acts all year round. The notorious mob-affiliated 500 Club is no longer around—nor are the members of the original Rat Pack who used to grace its stage—but AC's flamboyant spirit remains alive in pop concerts and heavyweight title bouts. Edifying cultural experiences can be found at two stellar venues affiliated with Stockton College: The Noyes Arts Garage, a creative space housing a number of small boutiques and galleries, and Dante Hall, a jewel-box theater dedicated to reviving Atlantic City's arts scene.
    Photo courtesy of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority
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    Historic Atlantic City
    Atlantic City was already a popular tourist destination when construction began in 1870 on the first iteration of the iconic boardwalk. In fact, the boardwalk project was prompted by the number of tourists and the sand they dragged in their wake. Learn more about the history of the boardwalk empire through exhibits at the Atlantic City Historical Museum and at the free public library. Soak up the old-time atmosphere at the Steel Pier, entertaining families for over a century. Savor coastal views with a climb to the top of the landmark Absecon Lighthouse; alternatively, climb Lucy the Elephant in nearby Margate, a six-story pachyderm structure that visitors are unlikely to forget.
    Photo by Martin Fritz Huber
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    The Home of the Birdie
    Whether you’re a scratch player or a hapless duffer, golfers of all skill levels are well catered for in the South Jersey area. A weeklong trip to Atlantic City could easily be punctuated by playing a different local course every day. Some have direct affiliations with certain AC hotels, so it’s worth inquiring about special deals and green-fee packages. The Atlantic City Country Club, for instance, is owned by Caesars Entertainment. Established in 1897, this formerly private course is now open to the public; these are the links where the terms ”birdie” and "eagle" were coined, and where Bob Hope played many a round while on the vaudeville circuit and throughout his career.
    Photo courtesy of Caesars Entertainment
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    Escape to Nature
    After spending hours inside cavernous casinos, one may yearn for a little nature to counterbalance all the glitz. Luckily, Atlantic City is a short drive away from some of New Jersey’s most scenic woodland areas. One of the largest is Wharton State Forest, barely an hour’s drive away and home to over 100,000 acres of pine barrens, hiking trails, rivers, and mountain bike routes. The park is also home to Batsto Village, a historic industrial center for glass and iron; tours and live blacksmith demonstrations are available on weekends in season. The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is even closer, and offers a pristine slice of coastal habitat for bird-watchers.
    Photo by John J. Vandecker/age fotostock
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    Atlantic City in Popular Culture
    It is no coincidence that the most expensive property in Monopoly shares its name with Atlantic City’s famous promenade. The first version of the Parker Brothers hit game was based on AC, and board-game geeks can take pleasure in strolling down the original St. James Place or Baltic Avenue. The Monopoly connection is just one of many ways in which the town has manifested itself in popular culture; modern audiences have seen the charms of Atlantic City on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire series. Though largely filmed on sets in Brooklyn, many of the sites that inspired the TV show can be visited in AC. See the gritty side of Atlantic City in the 1980 Louis Malle film, Atlantic City, starring Burt Lancaster and a young Susan Sarandon.
    Photo by Martin Fritz Huber
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    Atlantic City for All Ages
    Atlantic City is very family-friendly for a gambling town, in large part because of its fabulous beach and boardwalk. There are plenty of other entertainment options that appeal to all ages, like AC’s installment of the ever-popular Ripley’s Believe It or Not! franchise. Just down the boardwalk at the Tropicana, nature documentaries are viewed five-and-a-half stories high in the IMAX Theatre. For a more tactile experience, the Atlantic City Aquarium gives visitors a chance to pet baby stingrays—a major hit among kids. Need more thrills? Contact AC’s Fishing and Dive Center for information about night scuba diving among offshore shipwrecks.
    Photo by Richard Cummins/age fotostock
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    Designer Boutiques and Quaint Shops
    If you've saved some of your casino winnings, Atlantic City has many worthwhile shopping opportunities—from old-school confectionaries on the boardwalk to popular designer stores at Tanger Outlets, where you'll find discounted duds from the likes of Lacoste and Calvin Klein. For luxury boutiques, head to the newly-opened Playground complex, right on the boardwalk. There is no sales tax on clothing or footwear in AC, so this may be the place to acquire your next gala ensemble. A 20-minute drive from the city is the town of Smithville, a place where there are “shoppes” and a village "greene," and where quaint, independent stores display artisanal wares. Between Atlantic City and Smithville, shoppers can find everything on the retail spectrum.
    Photo courtesy of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority
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    Try Your Luck
    Ever since the Resorts Casino opened in 1978, gaming has become the major industry in Atlantic City; the town is regarded as the gambling capital of the east coast. From keno to baccarat and craps to blackjack—all the casino classics and their endless variations can be found in Atlantic City’s eight casino-hotel complexes. Addictive personalities might want to stick to eating saltwater taffy by the pool, but those who enjoy trying their luck will want to indulge in AC’s number-one pastime. New Jersey now offers online gambling through approved casino venues, in case you don't want to leave the comforts of your hotel room to play your hand.
    Photo by Martin Fritz Huber
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    Weekend Wellness
    Atlantic City issues many invitations to indulge—be it a 24-ounce rib-eye steak or a high-limit roulette table—but not every indulgence has to feel sinful. Spa culture has grown so much in Atlantic City that the town has grown to become a popular weekend wellness destination. In every casino-hotel you’ll find a healthy array of spa options, where you can treat yourself to a Swedish massage, a mud bath, or any number of exotically themed facials. Those spending a romantic weekend in Atlantic City can enjoy a couple's massage at most major hotels, either in the spa or in the room.
    Photo courtesy of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority