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Atlantic City lives up to its reputation as America’s playground. Often thought of as the epicenter of East Coast casinos, the New Jersey shore town really grew out of its beach culture. In an effort to keep sand off of hotel carpeting in 1870, the city built a boardwalk — the first in the world. Though it had a practical purpose, it gave birth to a entirely new genre of beachgoing. Now the four-mile-long walk is itself a piece of Americana, serving as a magnet for both family fun and around-the-clock frivolous entertainment. The area is also known for its outlet shopping, golfing, spas, and fine dining—with top-name chefs heralding restaurants throughout the city.
The quickest way into Atlantic City is to fly into Atlantic City International Airport (ACY), just a 20-minute drive from the boardwalk. Taxis and rideshare services are available, as are car rentals. More flight options are available to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), just about an hour away via the Atlantic City Expressway. You can take a train to the terminal next to the Atlantic City Convention Center via NJ Transit, while buses run from New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Once you’re in town, the major casinos have their own parking garages — and it might be easiest to leave your car there and get around town on the jitney, which runs 24 hours a day every day. While trams run along the boardwalk, for a more classic experience, get a push on the rolling chairs, which were introduced in the 1880s when they were the only vehicles allowed on the planks.
New York City has the New Year’s Eve ball drop, but here in Atlantic City, it’s all about the Beach Ball Drop, the seaside city’s official method of ringing in the summer season Memorial Day Weekend. From that holiday weekend through Labor Day, the peak season brings warm beach weather along with plenty of festivities, such as summer concerts, live entertainment, and outdoor movies. But along with the beachfront thrills come the big crowds. The spring and fall months allow for more room to breathe, but also usher in cooler weather. While the casinos are popular year-round, many area attractions follow the ebb and flow of the crowds, closing for the season in the fall and reopening when the temperatures rise.
No doubt the marquee attraction of the Jersey Shore, the boardwalk traces the beach, where surfing, parasailing, fishing, boating, windsurfing, and kayaking are all options. On the other side, large-scale casinos are interspersed with throwback shops, serving up famous saltwater taffy and frozen custard. And for a true taste of Americana, head out to the Steel Pier amusement park, dating back to 1898.
Just off the northern end of the boardwalk rises New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse — and the country’s third-tallest — at 171 feet high. Climb its 228 steps to a vantage point mixing Atlantic City’s skyline with a view of the vast ocean, as well as an original Fresnel lens used when the beacon opened in 1857.
Atlantic City hosts the first large Civil Rights monument in a northern state, which opened in 2001 by the Carnegie Library. Eleven black granite columns line the winding path through the garden representing the road from slavery to equality. Also on site are a reflecting pool and bronze bell, whose vibrations cause ripples in the water.