One of the first coastal resort towns in the United States, Atlantic City draws thousands of visitors each year to its beautiful beaches and world-famous boardwalk. As the only city in New Jersey with legalized gambling, and home to a number of gargantuan casino hotels, the town has garnered a reputation as the Las Vegas of the East Coast. A resort town with a rare historical pedigree, Atlantic City echoes with the memories of bygone eras and yet presents a modern-day flamboyance.
A stroll on Atlantic City's four miles of hallowed boardwalk is still the most quintessential AC experience. On one side, dune-flanked beaches and the rugged Atlantic ocean beckon with summer fun; on the other, renowned casinos like Bally’s and Resorts lure in vacationers with seductive glamour. If you’re more into exploring historical landmarks than rolling the dice, you can hop on a jitney bus and cruise over to the Absecon Lighthouse. With 228 steps, it's the third-tallest lighthouse in the country, beaming over the Atlantic City skyline since 1857.
If you're feeling lucky, Atlantic City is a good place to find yourself. With eight casino resorts currently in operation, Atlantic City is one of America’s gaming capitals, second only to Las Vegas in size and reputation. If you’ve been itching to try your hand at blackjack, craps, or poker you'll find a variety of tables to test your skills, your luck, and your wallet. For those new to gambling, it's wise to familiarize yourself with the rules of play and to learn a few betting strategies before you hit the casinos. Most importantly, of course, know when to walk away.
As a resort town, Atlantic City offers a broad spectrum of dining options, from unpretentious classics like funnel cake on Steel Pier and gargantuan sandwiches at the White House Sub Shop, to iconic steakhouses like Old Homestead. Seafood and Italian cuisine are the staples of New Jersey’s gastronomic culture and are well represented on Atlantic City menus. The two come together with divine results at Café 2825; try the linguine pescatore. Satisfy a sweet tooth at the birthplace of saltwater taffy—look for old-fashioned signs on the boardwalk advertising the classic Atlantic City souvenir.
There’s more to Atlantic City than bronzing on the beach and gambling; AC is a major venue for countless concerts, theater productions, and sporting events. Check out what's playing during your stay; many hotels also hold art installations and special exhibitions. History buffs will want to visit the Korean War Memorial—on the boardwalk next to Bally’s—or plan a day at the Atlantic City Historical Museum. Escape the pinging of the slot machines by checking out the cultural exhibits at the free public library or by going for a hike in the state parks and forests, a mere half-hour drive away.
Sunblock-lathered visitors flock to Atlantic City’s beaches in the summer. The warmer months are also the time to take advantage of the thriving outdoor bar scene, since these venues close down when the weather gets chilly. While beaches can get very crowded for sunbathers, surfers and kayakers will be pleased to know that certain lifeguard-free beaches are designated no-swimming zones. For more peaceful shoreline views, and more elbow room at the roulette tables, the winter months are generally rather low key. Free Wi-Fi can be somewhat elusive in AC, so be sure to carefully read your hotel’s list of amenities if you need to stay connected.
Martin Fritz Huber AFAR Contributor