When someone says Atlantic City, hopefully, you think of gambling, casinos, or the boardwalk. At one time, Atlantic City was every bit the rival of Las Vegas when it came to attracting show talent, glamourous developers, and fun things to do.
A little bit of the gold plating has fallen off that lily and AC doesn’t shine as bright as it once did. Fortunately, New Jersey is putting time, effort, and resources into bringing back the Atlantic City of yesteryear. Even if they did nothing else, there are still plenty of things to do in the city, whether it’s in the casino or outside of it.
Most people focus on the gambling, but here are 10 things you can do while in Atlantic City that don’t involve gambling, especially for families and those who want to mix up their AC vacation experience.
10 – Seasonal Events
While Atlantic City’s resident population doesn’t pass the 40,000 mark, it’s a tourist city, which means there are always seasonal events happening throughout the year. Whether you want to see a concert, get out on the water, see a holiday cooking show, or do something with the kids, you can find it in Atlantic City.
Because of the tourist nature of the city, most of these events take place on Friday or the weekend, but that’s not atypical of a lot of cities.
A really great calendar of these can be found on Atlantic City’s website or just by doing a Google search. Both places will give you events happening inside the casino and outside of it, too.
9 – Absecon Lighthouse
Absecon Lighthouse is New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse at 171 feet tall and overlooks Absecon Inlet. This towering landmark of Atlantic City has recently undergone a massive renovation, including a “charming gift shop” according to its website.
The renovation has brought new life to the lighthouse and new visitors who are thrilled to climb the lighthouse (inside using the stairs, not outside of it sadly…) and it really is a nice-looking East Coast building.
Also, speaking of seasonal events, the Absecon Lighthouse is part of the Lighthouse Challenge, a weekend-long challenge to visit 14 lighthouses, museums, or lifesaving stops along the shore. Sounds like a good way to spend a weekend in October!
8 – Lucy the Elephant
Who knew the world’s greatest elephant resides in Josephine Harron Park in Margate, New Jersey, roughly six miles from downtown Atlantic City? Lucy, the aforementioned world’s greatest elephant, is a six-story replica of a friendly elephant you can climb through and end up on her back.
Even better, Josephine Harron Park is located very near the coastline, meaning that one can climb up Lucy’s back and get some pretty magnificent views of the ocean. If you want, you can also take a tour of Lucy to hear about her origins back in the 1880s and how Margate ended up with a huge elephant building on its shores.
This is definitely an activity for the kids with the nearby park, which is perfect for enjoying a picnic lunch.
7 – Shopping in The Quarter at Tropicana
The Quarter at Tropicana is a throwback to Old Havana and the luxury of yesteryear. Located at the Tropicana Casino Resort, this shopping area features a large number of outdoor stores, restaurants, nightclubs, and a spa.
You don’t need to stay at the Tropicana to enjoy the Quarter, fortunately, as a parking garage was part of its initial construction. What you do need to do is cut loose and enjoy the classic look and luxury of Old Havana, as you brose at trendy shops or try the restaurant/night club Cuba Libre.
If you go, do look out. You might get swept up by the excitement of a bachelor/bachelorette party or, on the weekends, a bunch of Atlantic City residents looking to cut loose and dance.
6 – Storybook Land
When people think Atlantic City, they think gambling. No one every stops to talk about what there is for families to do. If the giant elephant weren’t enough, Atlantic City also offers Storybook Land, an amusement park for younger children about 20 minutes from downtown Atlantic City.
Storybook Land has everything a child (or an adult who wants to be a child for a while) could need. There are trains, smaller roller coasters, brilliantly painted figures from fairytales, and restaurants with fun, whimsical names like The Gingerbread House and The Dining Depot.
Even better, tickets are very reasonable, especially with so many attractions and things to do in the park.
5 – Atlantic City Aquarium
For those who aren’t ready to return to the table and slot machines, Atlantic City is also home to the Atlantic City Aquarium which is open year-round and offers tickets for about the price of an ante at the blackjack table.
Visitors to the aquarium will be treated to various exhibits, animal enclosures, sweeping tanks full of ocean wildlife, and tons of information about the environment. Also, the aquarium is located in historic Gardner’s Basin which also offers plenty of places to eat, water events, shopping, and other activities.
Really, who needs to gamble?
4 – Playground Pier
No, this is not another family establishment in Atlantic City (that comes next). Playground pier is more of a playground for an older crowd who enjoy fine dining, upscale shopping, and getting married. (Well, maybe not that last part, though there is a banquet hall on the bottom floor that hosts a lot of weddings.)
Anyway, as we were saying, Playground Pier is a four-story shopping location that’s adjoined by the skybridge to Caesars. The first floor features traditional Atlantic City shopping, the second story has the skybridge, the third story is your upscale luxury shops, and the fourth floor hosts the banquet and events hall.
Playground Pier offers something for everyone, making it a playground everyone can enjoy.
3 – Steel Pier Amusement Park
Get ready for Atlantic City’s oldest theme park. Steel Pier is a roughly 1,000-foot-long park situated on an actual pier along Atlantic City’s famous boardwalk. This makes it the perfect blend of beautiful sights and family fun all combined into one famous package.
You have to hand it to Steel Pier. They really did find a way to make use of their somewhat limited space. Most of the rides do cater to a younger crowd, but there’s something for everyone to ride and enjoy. There are also games of skill, boardwalk favorites like ice cream, hot dogs, and pizza, and even a place to throw axes.
All in all, it’s a nice place to enjoy a day or night with the family in between marathons of gambling.
2 – Boardwalk
Even if Steel Pier isn’t your thing (and I recommend you make it your thing if only for a little while), the famous Atlantic City boardwalk is there for your enjoyment. It is well-documented that today’s boardwalk isn’t quite what it used to be, but it’s still a boardwalk. There are still things you can do (even if that means looking out on the ocean).
Be sure to check out the various piers along the boardwalk or use it to access Playground Pier or Steel Pier. With that said, do be careful about going to the boardwalk after dark. Make this a day activity.
1 – The Ocean
While you probably came to Atlantic City to gamble, there’s a whole ocean out there just waiting for you to swim in it. That’s right, Atlantic City’s beach is free for you to enjoy as long as the weather (and in some cases, state politics) permits. There are lifeguards on the beach from 10 AM to 6 PM during the summer.
Certain areas in Atlantic City also offer kitesurfing and kayaking for those who want to do more than swim the Atlantic’s blue waters. Even better, the boardwalk is not far from the ocean so you can drop in for a quick meal then get back to enjoy those amazing blue waters.
Atlantic City is a land full of surprises. When people talk about AC, they tend to only mention either the boardwalk or the casinos (and frankly, both aren’t spoken of very nicely). However, as you can see, there’s a lot you can be doing besides just gambling in Atlantic City.
Now, you may be wondering why you would want to do any such thing, but clearly, there’s something for every taste in Atlantic City. Whether that’s shopping at Playground Pier, dancing at the Quarter, eating hot dogs, hopping on rides until you’re sick at Steel Pier, or climbing into an elephant’s insides, you can do it along the coast of New Jersey.
Then, of course, after all that family fun and shopping is had, you can quickly take a stroll through your favorite casino and get back to hot poker action. Just because AC’s fun, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any gambling at all.