Beyond the Casinos: Strolling Atlantic City’s Famous Boardwalk
Photo by John Roberts
The machines coughed out pings and dings as the dozen or so patrons interspersed among the sea of slots lethargically smashed the buttons to send the wheels on another fruitless tumble.
A sour and choking stench of cigarettes hit me like a wall as I looked eagerly for the nearest exit.
Yes, Atlantic City casinos, this one the Trump Taj Mahal, are everything I had expected. The towering buildings with vast floor spaces were sparsely filled on this particular Saturday in March. A far cry from the buzzing venues of Vegas. But while casinos have long been seen as the anchors of East Coast gambling and the saviors of Atlantic City, it's been a tough run of luck. Four casinos have closed and thousands of jobs have been lost since 2013.
Atlantic City owns a rich history as a resort destination, and state and city leaders hope to revive the city through a combination of sports, entertainment and gaming. I got my first look at the city when I took a day trip from Central New Jersey to the shore with some friends who were visiting from out of town.
While the casino scene proved to be sad and uninteresting, I could immediately sense the charm of the Boardwalk and beaches that held visitors enthralled during the city's heyday of the 1940s and 1950s.
Here are five things to enjoy along Atlantic City's Boardwalk:
The Beaches. The four mile-long Boardwalk has been rebuilt since large parts were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The wide path is used by walkers, joggers, bikers, rickshaws and pedicabs, and the Boardwalk runs adjacent to wide stretches of sand that reach the Atlantic Ocean. Wander off the Boardwalk down the planks and past the dunes to enjoy sunbathing, fishing, surfing, kite flying, parasailing and swimming.
Steel Pier. Once considered one of the top entertainment attractions the U.S., Steel Pier owns a colorful and rich history. It opened in 1898, built on steel pilings, and the venue hosted live performances from Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Glenn Miller, the Beatles, and many more. The most famous icon of the Steel Pier is the Diving Horse show. Yes, a woman would ride a horse off a high-dive platform into a pool up to 60 feet below. Today, it's a 1,000-foot-long amusement park and arcade area that features dozens of rides including the Crazy Mouse roller coaster and a carousel.
Atlantic City Historical Museum. The museum is located on the Boardwalk's Garden Pier at New Jersey Avenue. It's free and open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and features a range of exhibits that you can breeze through in about 20 minutes. The permanent showcase highlights "Atlantic City: Playground of the Nation," and temporary displays touch such topics as the Prohibition era, Hispanic heritage, hotels and photography. A 35-minute documentary on Atlantic City shows continuously in the lobby theater.
New Jersey Korean War Memorial. When strolling along, make sure to stop by this impressive war memorial. The arrangement of flags, statues, sculpture and plaques was opened in 2001 to honor the legacy of New Jersey natives who served. The impressive centerpiece of the installation is a 12-foot-tall figure of the "Mourning Soldier" holding dog tags.
Junk food. Find funnel cakes, ice cream, pizza, fudge, hot dogs, candy, water ice and more all along the Boardwalk, which is lined with shops, carts and kiosks to tempt you. But if you have to choose just one indulgence that is uniquely Atlantic City, grab some saltwater taffy from Fralinger's. Located on the Boardwalk at New York Avenue, Fralinger's Original has been stretching and swirling the creamy sweet treat since 1885. It has 16 flavors to try!
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