Top Atlantic City Attractions Prove It’s Not Just Another Casino Town
If you’re planning a trip to Atlantic City, you don’t have to be afraid of getting bored of gambling with nothing else to do. In all honesty, I’m not such a gambler myself and was pleasantly surprised to find a whole world of alternatives to the casinos in and around the Atlantic City area. If you play your cards right (no pun intended), there are tons of things to do for the entire family. Here are a couple of not-to-be-missed cultural and recreational attractions for your next AC vacation.
The Atlantic City Aquarium
Of course part and parcel of visiting AC is spending your days soaking up the rays on one of the free beaches. After taking a swim in the Atlantic, however, wouldn’t you like to see what else is swimming there besides you? The AC Aquarium offers over eighteen tanks of exotic and local fish, including the 25,000 gallon tank featuring sea creatures indigenous to New Jersey and the greater Mid-Atlantic region. Make sure to time your visit to make it for the “Dive and Dine” show that features the aquarium’s diver at feeding time. Children (and adults) can watch and interact with the diver as she hand-feeds cownose rays, nurse sharks, and dogfish. Brave kids will love the 900 gallon Touch Tanks (not for the squeamish), where you can touch and feed White Spotted Bamboo Sharks, Southern Stingrays, Cownose Rays, and a variety of local intertidal creatures. Feeding times are scheduled for 12 and 3 PM daily but it always pays to call ahead of time to confirm (609-348-2880).
- Hours: 10 am to 5 pm
- Admission: Adults: $8; Seniors: $6; Children (4-12): $4; Toddlers up to 3): free
- Location: Historic Gardner’s Basin at 800 North New Hampshire Avenue
- Web: www.acaquarium.com
The Absecon Lighthouse
If you’re in the mood for some history, a spectacular view, and some exercise (and sore legs), I highly recommend a trip to the Absecon Lighthouse. Built in 1855, the Absecon Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey and the third tallest in the country. After climbing up the 228 steps to the top, you are greeted by an unbeatable 360 degree view of the Jersey Shore. The same Fresnel lens used to light up the night for seafarers when the Lighthouse first opened over 150 years ago is still in use today and Lighthouse Keepers are happy to show it off to visitors.
- Hours: September through June: Thursday through Monday 11am to 4pm, July and August: Open Daily 10am to 5pm
- Admission: Adults: $7; Seniors: $5; Children (ages 4-12): $4; Toddlers (under 4): free
- Location: 31 South Rhode Island Avenue
- Wharton State Park and Batsto Village
Wharton State Forest
If you really need a break from the hustle and bustle of the boardwalk and casinos, make sure to drive a short way out of the city to the Wharton State Forest. Wharton is the largest New Jersey State park, offering 500 miles of pristine hiking in the Pine Barrens, canoeing on the Mullica River, horseback riding, fishing, and bike riding. If you’re lucky (and quiet) you may spot bald eagles, swans, ospreys, owls, river otters, foxes and the tiny Pine Barrens tree frog. The area is replete with a number of old settlements and ghost towns like the Batsto Village (see below). The cedar swamps, heath plains of stunted pines, and bogs gives the area an eerie feel that strengthens several spooky ghost stories and local legends.
Now for my personal favorite: The Park is also home to Batsto Village, a restored historic village that holds 33 historic structures from 1766 to 1867. Batsto, once a bog iron and glass making industrial center, contains the Batsto Mansion, gristmill, sawmill, general store, blacksmith, workers’ homes and post office. I recommend taking the guided cell phone walking tour – it’s informative and free besides the cost of the local call – (609) 503-9377.
- Hours: Daily 9am – 4pm; Post Office: Wed – Sun; Saw Mill Demonstration: Weekends and Holidays, 1:30, 2, 2:30 pm (starting May 25).
- Site: http://www.batstovillage.org/
The All Wars Memorial Building and the African American Heritage Museum
The All Wars Memorial Building, opened in 1925, is now a public memorial honoring soldiers who served in U.S. wars, featuring local memorabilia from World War I to the present. Inside you’ll also find the African American Heritage Museum – the only one in New Jersey – documenting life of African Americans in the 20th century. The Museum features over 11,000 historical items that are showcased on a rotating basis based on exhibitions. I found this to be a real eye opener into an important period of our country’s history.
Atlantic City Art Center and the Atlantic City Historical Museum
While taking a stroll along the famous boardwalk make sure to visit the Garden Pier, opened in 1908, famous for the beautifully arranged flower gardens on its deck. For the past four decades it’s been the cultural center of AC so if you’re an art fan, the Atlantic City Art Center offers a quaint display of local and national artists with an unbeatable view of the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop. The Center offers frequent events such as concerts, gallery talks, literary readings, and demonstrations but you have to call ahead to find out the schedule. When you’re done enjoying the art, you can buy some too if you have time (and money) in the gallery shop. There you can find unique craft items on sale and as well as a display of handmade glass from historic Wheaton Village in Millville, New Jersey.
Right next door to the Art Center is the Atlantic City Historical Museum that highlights various eras of AC history. It is amazing to get a sense of the city’s rich cultural history over much of the last century. The Al Gold Photography Gallery is a rotating exhibit showcasing the photos of Al Gold – the city’s first Chief Photographer. His career began in 1921 when he photographed the first Miss America pageant and ended at his death in 1964.
- Hours: 10 A.M. – 4 P.M.
Admission and Parking: free
Call: (609) 347-5839 for more info.
So if you think that Atlantic City isn’t for you, think again. There’s something for everyone in this historic beach-front town whether it’s art, recreation, or history. With so much to do, Atlantic City is a worthwhile gamble. Just don’t forget to try your luck in the casino as well – that is why you came in the first place, right?
About The Author: Johnny Hasson is a lifelong adventurer who loves to travel and just have a good time whether it’s checking out a good museum, playing sports in the park, or enjoying a round of Smart Live Gaming. Johnny is always looking for his next trip, so let him know if you’ve heard of any exciting new trip ideas.
Photo Credits – Flickr: #1 Bob Jagendorf, #2 tedkerwin, #3 techfun