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Cape May, New Jersey

Spotlight: Atlantic City

Wander the world’s most famous boardwalk

Welcome to the glittering Atlantic City boardwalk, a six-mile-long open-air playground bridging white sandy beaches and rolling Atlantic surf with a buffet of world-class restaurants, shops, casinos and luxury hotels. It’s almost hard to believe it all started as a way of simply keeping sand from being tracked into hotel lobbies and train cars.

It was 1870, and an exacerbated hotel owner and railroad conductor had just successfully petitioned the city to build a wooden boardwalk, all in the pursuit of saving their carpets and floors. The finished walk cost $5,000, was only one mile in length and had to be picked back up again at the end of each summer season and stored for the winter. A bizarre city ordinance also barred commerce from within 100 feet of the walk.

But like sand tracked from beach to heel to hotel lobby, the early inertia of the boardwalk was hard to contain or altogether control. Less than 20 years after the walk’s first plank was laid, the ordinance barring commerce was “tossed to sea,” as some put at the time. Stores, stalls and stands flooded the increasingly popular beachfront. Business boomed and the boardwalk was continuously expanded, reinvented and transformed over the course of the next century into the powerhouse of entertainment we know today.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Boardwalk Empire

The history and growth of the boardwalk is a fascinating tale, and can be explored in-depth at the Atlantic City Historical Museum. Located on Garden Pier, it showcases the rise of the boardwalk into a world-class entertainment destination with a slate of state-of-the-art interactive digital exhibits. The collections also include artifacts and paraphernalia from some of the earliest Miss America pageants.

Looks can be deceiving here, however. Even as the uncontested gambling capital of the entire eastern seaboard—home to the likes of the Trump Taj Mahal, Golden Nugget and the Tropicana—the city has managed to somehow still retain a measure of its humble and practical roots. The beaches are free, the boardwalk is an attraction in itself, and one of the best things a visitor can do is simply snag a bite or two of some authentic Atlantic City salt water taffy (invented when a storm surge flooded a candy store).

If you’re a recreation hound or outdoorsy type, you can safely skip the glitzy casinos entirely and spend all of your time on the beach or in the water.

Downtown Beach, Crystal Beach and Delaware Avenue Beach are popular surfing spots. A variety of on-site vendors provide board rentals and surfing lessons. Kayakers and windsurfers can find similar options at Jackson Avenue Beach. For anglers, Maine Avenue is a busy spot, but all beaches are open to shallow-water surf fishing in the early mornings and late evenings, so avoid the crowds by watching the sun rise or set while casting for some trophy-class Striped Bass.

Family-Friendly Fun

If you’re traveling with kids, a quartet of family-friendly attractions will arouse your attention. The Steel Pier amusement park, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, the Atlantic City Aquarium and the Monopoly Monument at the corner of Boardwalk and Park Place are all must-visits.

Steel Pier first opened in 1898, and throughout its colorful history has played host to entertainers like Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. Today it’s home to more than 25 thrill rides, a classic Ferris wheel, a row of challenging carnival games and a range of eclectic exhibits.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, for its part, is for the curious and the strong-willed. It’s filled to the brim with some of the strangest artifacts and artistic exhibits you’ll ever see, from shrunken heads and roulette tables made of jellybeans, to a giant Laser Maze and a spider web made of scissors.

For a more educational experience, head to the Atlantic City Aquarium, located at Historic Gardiner’s Basin. It’s home to the likes of loggerhead sea turtles, moray eels, tropical sharks and a range of exotic reptiles.

Finally there’s the Monopoly Monument. As you walk the boardwalk you’ll notice a central theme surrounding the streets and avenues that spill onto the waterfront. Properties and place-names in the legendary board game were named after existing streets and places in Atlantic City. Today, a life-sized version of the game sits at the corner of the real Boardwalk and real Park Place, making it one of the absolute must-visit photo-op stops of any visit to Atlantic City.

It’s been more than a century now, and there’s just no stopping Atlantic City. From sand to anti-commerce laws to the competition from Las Vegas to surging tropical storms—the boardwalk has stared down them all and continues to thrive.

For More Information

Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority
New Jersey Department of Tourism