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Atlantic City, N.J., has long been a magnet for thrill seekers on the east coast due to its close proximity to New York and Philadelphia. In the early 1900s investors poured money into grand structures on the boardwalk and by the 1930s the city was known as “The World’s Playground” with hotels such as the Marlborough-Blenheim, the Ritz-Carlton, Haddon Hall, and the Claridge housing the crowds who came for sun, surf and salt water taffy. Watch the HBO series Boardwalk Empire and you’ll get a feeling for the bustling years during Prohibition when illegal liquor and gambling fueled the city’s growth. Gambling has been legal in Atlantic City since the 1970s and through the decades the city has seen a number of properties come and go, the most spectacular being the $2 billion Revel Casino that closed its doors in 2014. But there are many venues still going strong that offer visitors great values and special packages including the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Caesar’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and the Tropicana Casino & Resort.
Gambling isn’t the only thing going on in Atlantic City. It is home to the Miss America beauty pageant, the first of which was held in 1921. Salt water taffy, a perennial sea-side treat, was invented on the boardwalk when a candy maker’s batch of taffy was drenched with sea water after a storm in the late 1800s. Plus, the original version of the much loved board game Monopoly was inspired by the city.
Places to Explore
The Irish Pub: The walls of this cozy pub are jammed with posters from the days of famous boxer Jack Dempsey and other Irish American memorabilia including JFK for President posters. Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio’s favorite AC haunt has an expansive menu of pub grub including St. James Potatoes (an Irish version of poutine), Jersey crab cakes and liverwurst and onion sandwiches. Plus, there are reasonable rooms to let for people who don’t mind being just up the street from the boardwalk. St. James Place. theirishpub.com
Dante Hall Theater for The Arts: Where locals go for concerts and local dramatic productions. 12 N. Mississippi Ave.
White House Sub Shop: Best two-foot-long sandwiches in town. Fillings range from white tuna to meatballs and sauce and the fresh loaves come from nearby bakery Formica Bros. Try the White House Special, a belly-filling winner of Genoa salami, ham, capicola and provolone cheese. 2301 Arctic Ave.
Formica Bros. Bakery: Since 1919 Formica Bros. has been baking bread using grandfather Francesco’s winning methods. The bakery café serves coffee, biscotti and slices of grandmother Rosa’s famous Italian Tomato pie. 2310 Arctic Ave. formicabrosbakery.com
James Factory Tour: See how salt water taffy is made at this historic candy institution on the boardwalk, founded in 1880. jamescandy.com
Waterfront Sculpture Walk: Need a break from chiming of slot machines? Behind Harrah’s and linked to Borgata and the Golden Nugget resorts is a landscaped mile of three-dimensional art that looks out over Atlantic City’s back bay. Dancing dragonflies, steam punk-style clocks and golden-framed fence installations will captivate your imagination while local fishermen provide the backdrop, casting their lines into the bay for blue fish. www.artcnow.com/acwsw
Absecon Lighthouse: Opened in 1857, this historic beacon is 171 feet high and it takes 228 steps upward to get to the panoramic views of Atlantic City, ocean and surrounding areas. Check out the Keeper’s House Museum. Near Showboat Casino at Pacific and Rhode Island Avenues. abseconlighthouse.com
Atlantic City Aquarium: Intimate aquarium with shark and ray touch tanks, diver feeding show, and 100 varieties of sea life. acaquarium.com
Atlantic City Fishing & Dive Center: Go out and catch bluefish, tuna, mahi mahi, wahoo and kingfish on deep sea group charters. Missac.com
Best Room Value: The Golden Nugget’s Hollywood-style uber spacious suites. The former Trump Marina Hotel Casino went through a $150 million renovation a few years ago and the suites are gorgeous, some with floor-to-ceiling windows and double bathrooms.
Best Shopping: The Quarter at The Tropicana is a 200,000 square-foot complex with dining, entertainment and retail and the Marketplace is 21,000 square feet of the same. You’ll find 24 shops in these two areas that carry everything from handicrafts to designer labels. Retail includes Erwin Pearl, Francesca’s Collections, Godiva Chocolatier, the Hat Emporium, Tumi, Swarovski and Talk of the Walk, a family owned and operated chain that opened its doors on Atlantic City’s boardwalk in 1951 (check out their in-season markdowns). tropicana.net
Best Glam: Sophisticated and sleek, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa lobby wows visitors with a magnificent Dale Chihuly chandelier, the retail shops are top shelf (Hugo Boss, Misura, and Just Cavalli), and the spa features full-sized indoor pool, a Jacuzzi that could fit 40, and treatment rooms with million dollar views. Dinner is a fine diner’s dream with restaurants by Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Geoffrey Zakarian and Michael Schulson and the burlesque show is a must see, cheeky, sexy and full of adult fun. borgata.com
Best Crab Cake: You wouldn’t necessarily think a place specializing in red meat would do justice to crustaceans, but think again. Robert’s Steakhouse, at the Trump Taj Majal Casino Resort serves the most mouth-watering crab cakes in town. Succulent meat is packed together with no binders or unnecessary flavor enhancers except for a creamy red pepper aioli. Heavenly!
Best Pool Party: Harrah’s huge indoor pool, under a gorgeous glass dome doubles as one of Atlantic City’s hottest nightclubs once the sun goes down. That’s when the chic, palm-filled space becomes The Pool After Dark at Harrah’s Resort with top DJs, exotic cocktails and occasional celebrity spotting. caesars.com/pool-after-dark