12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Atlantic City
Atlantic City, perhaps the best-known seaside resort in New Jersey, was founded in the 1850s and offers long sandy beaches and an immense range of entertainment and amusements. It's also widely known as the "Las Vegas of the East," largely due to the numerous revue theaters, which stage shows around the clock, as well as events such as boxing matches and beauty pageants. Most restaurants, boutiques, and entertainment venues are on the Boardwalk, a five-and-a-half-mile long, 60-foot-wide seafront promenade. Although Atlantic City began as a quiet fishing village, by the late 1800s it had blossomed into a leading resort, and for decades has been a popular place to enjoy water sports such as surfing, swimming, and sailing. Since 1870 when the Boardwalk was built, Atlantic City has become one of America's leading tourist destinations with 37 million people spending upwards of four billion dollars at its attractions.
See also: Where to Stay in Atlantic City
1 The Boardwalk
The Boardwalk is the most famous and most popular attraction in Atlantic City. Just about everything worth seeing in the city lines the main four-mile long stretch of wood originally built in 1870, most of which survived 2012's Hurricane Sandy. Easily explored on foot, by bike (between 6am-10am), or in a famous rolling chair - large wicker chairs pushed like a rickshaw - it's a wonderful place to see and be seen as you catch a sea breeze, take in a show, or enjoy a meal or some shopping while the kids blow off steam at the arcades. Another highlight of the Boardwalk is the famous Entrance to the Stars, Atlantic City's version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame with handprints from such stars as Johnny Carson, Cher, Stevie Wonder, and Frank Sinatra.
2 The Steel Pier
The Steel Pier is Atlantic City's answer to Coney Island in New York. Built in 1898, this wonderful old amusement pier - once the nation's most visited attraction - has found a new lease on life after being rebuilt in 1993 with 25 rides including a custom made, double-decker carousel (the infamous Diving Horse has long been absent). While undoubtedly a place for youngsters, it's such an icon on the Boardwalk that it simply must be visited. A little further along the Boardwalk is another old pier, Ocean One, which has attracted visitors since 1906 when Captain John Young opened his famous Million Dollar Pier at this location. The pier has since become a high-end shopping mall, the Pier Shops at Caesars, a highlight of which is its spectacular musical fountain.
Address: 1000 Boardwalk, Atlantic City
3 Absecon Lighthouse
The 228-step Absecon Lighthouse is notable for still having the original First-Order Fresnel lens installed when the structure was built in 1857. At 171 feet, it's the tallest in New Jersey and the third tallest in the US. Renovated to commemorate New Jersey's 300th anniversary, the lighthouse is made of granite blocks, brick, and iron and painted in its original black and yellow. It offers superb views over the Atlantic. Other highlights include the lighthouse keeper's quarters and an interesting museum.
Address: 31 South Rhode Island Ave, Atlantic City
4 Family-Friendly Ocean City
Just 11 miles south of Atlantic City, Ocean City is an extremely popular destination for those traveling with kids. Not only does it offer some of the best beaches on the Atlantic coast, it has been completely alcohol-free since its establishment by church ministers in 1879. Like it's big cousin to the north, it too has an excellent Boardwalk, this one stretching for two-and-a-half miles and boasting an eclectic mix of shops and dining options in its picturesque downtown core. Attractions include several amusement parks, theaters, and the Ocean City Historical Museum with its displays depicting the city's early history through period furniture, artifacts, and vintage clothing, as well as displays of old photographs and postcards.
Address: 1735 Simpson Ave, Ocean City
5 Lucy the Margate Elephant
Few seaside attractions are as iconic as Lucy, a 65-foot, six-story-high wood and tin elephant built in the small coastal town of Margate in 1881 to attract prospective buyers to summer homes in the area. Since then, Lucy has been a tavern, a summer home, and an observation deck. After being rescued from near demise in the 1960s, today Lucy stands proud in Josephine Harron Park and has been listed on the National Park Registry of Historical Landmarks. Highlights of a visit include climbing the spiral staircase up to the "howdah," the small cabin-like structure on her back, with its wonderful panoramic views. Fun guided tours are available.
Address: 9200 Atlantic Ave, Margate City
6 Boardwalk Hall
If you're planning on staying in Atlantic City, be sure to check the concert line-up at the famous Boardwalk Hall. Opened in 1929, it remains the city's most popular concert and event venue, and is particularly famous as the home of the Miss America finals. It's also where you'll find the biggest musical instrument in the world, a pipe organ with 33,000 pipes, eight chambers, and 1,000 stop keys.
Address: 2301 Boardwalk, Atlantic City
7 Atlantic City Aquarium
The Atlantic City Aquarium has many fun hands-on, interactive exhibits showcasing marine life from across the world. Highlights include sea life from the New Jersey coast, such as sea bass, sand tiger sharks, and northern stingrays to creatures from coral reefs, as well as predators. Kids love the tropical shark and stingray touch tanks, as well as the numerous species of reptiles and amphibians on display.
Address: 800 North New Hampshire Ave, Atlantic City
8 Atlantic City Historical Museum
The Atlantic City Historical Museum chronicles the history of the city's conversion from a small fishing village to one of the busiest resort destinations in the US. Exhibits include artifacts, costumes, photographs, song sheets, postcards, and an array of Miss America memorabilia. There are also archival Thomas Edison beach shots, fascinating footage of the Miss America Pageant, and the world famous high-diving horse. Also of interest is the Atlantic City Experience, a series of collections and research materials related to the city's unique development, on display at the Atlantic City Free Public Library (Wed-Thurs only).
Address: Garden Pier, South New Jersey Ave and Boardwalk, Atlantic City
9 War Memorials
Perhaps surprisingly for a city with a reputation for fun, Atlantic City is home to two excellent war memorials. The oldest is the World War I Memorial, built in 1922 and dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Great War of 1914-1918. The other notable monument is the New Jersey Korean War Veterans Memorial, constructed as a reminder of those who died in the name of democracy while fighting in the Korean peninsula from 1950-1953.
10 African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey
The African American Heritage Museum of Southern NJ provides an important and fascinating look at the struggle of African Americans through the centuries with interesting displays and more than 11,000 historical and cultural artifacts. The museum also houses a collection of memorabilia from soldiers from Atlantic County spanning WWI to present day conflicts.
Address: Noyes Art Garage Stockton College, 2200 Fairmount Ave, Atlantic City
11 Gardner's Basin
Gardner's Basin is a maritime village and waterfront park with a variety of interesting features, including original maritime exhibits such as the Steel Pier Diving Bell, once used to lower guests to the seabed. It's also a popular spot from which to embark on a fishing or dolphin-sighting cruise, or just to explore as you visit the unique shops of the Crafters Village. It also offers waterfront dining with fine views over the Atlantic, and is where you'll find the Atlantic City Aquarium.
Address: 800 North New Hampshire Ave, Atlantic City
12 Atlantic City Art Center
The Atlantic City Art Center, the country's only gallery built on a municipal pier, is noted for its exhibits of art from both national and regional artists. The Art Center also offers concerts, gallery talks, artist demonstrations, and literary readings throughout the year, so be sure to check ahead to see what's on.
Address: New Jersey Ave and Boardwalk, Atlantic City
Where to Stay in Atlantic City for Sightseeing
Where to stay in Atlantic City really comes down to personal preference. Some people may prefer to stay near the ocean for easy access to the Boardwalk with its Walk of Fame, the Steel Pier, and of course, the beautiful sandy beach. Alternatively, hotels nearer the main marina offer exceptional amenities and are closer to attractions like the aquarium. Below are some highly-rated hotels in good locations:
- Luxury Hotels: The Borgata Hotel is one of the new hotels in Atlantic City, located near the aquarium. This hotel features modern rooms with upgraded bathrooms, including oversized showers. Nearby, The Water Club by Borgata offers an upscale accommodation option with luxurious rooms and one of the finest spas in the city. Caesars Atlantic City, right on the beach, has exceptional rooms with beautiful ocean views, and the boardwalk is right outside the front doors.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Resorts Hotel is a good beachfront option in this category. A short stroll from the Steel Pier and all its attractions, this smaller hotel has comfortable rooms and an indoor/outdoor pool. Recently renovated, The Claridge Hotel is an iconic Atlantic City property that has hosted famous celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. The hotel restaurant has a 1920s theme. Also recently upgraded is the Wyndham Skyline Tower. The hotel is set back from the beach but offers large one- and two-bedroom suites, some with balconies.
- Budget Hotels: In the center of the action, just a block off the beach, is the BEST WESTERN Envoy Inn. Rooms come with a complimentary breakfast. The Quality Inn Flamingo is a low-rise hotel and has standard rooms, some with mini fridges, and also provides a complimentary breakfast.