From Slots To Tots

As Gambling Gives Way To A New Generation Of Visitors, Here Are 10 Things To Do With Your Family In Atlantic City

July 05, 2009|By Diane Stoneback | Diane Stoneback,Tribune Newspapers

Atlantic City's attractions are being rediscovered like delicate seashells emerging from the surf because tides are changing in the seaside resort.

Thirty-one years after Atlantic City was reborn as the East Coast's answer to Las Vegas, visitors no longer have to head for the Jersey shore town to gamble. They can do it closer to home, now that Pennsylvania and other nearby states also have legalized casino gambling.

Operators of family-style attractions say they sense a growing spirit of cooperation from the big guys lining the Boardwalk's Casino Row and at the Marina. The emphasis has shifted from keeping visitors "captive" at slot machines and gaming tables to touting all kinds of activities and attractions to help keep them streaming into the city.

Families can spend a few hours, a weekend or a week doing far more than the usual searching for shells and jumping the waves at the city's free beaches.

Visit the Boardwalk for a quintessential part of the Atlantic City experience. It's much more than a walkway between casinos. It has been traversed by millions of feet and multiple generations, particularly when Atlantic City was America's premiere resort during the first half of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century.

Then venture beyond the Boardwalk to visit the city's historic Absecon Lighthouse as well as scenic Gardner's Basin, where you can take a dolphin-watching cruise, explore the aquarium, enjoy a picnic or dine at restaurants overlooking pleasure boats at anchor. Finally, wind up your time at the shore with a quick trip to Margate to visit Lucy, a wooden elephant that stands six stories tall.

Between beach time and sightseeing, the family even can work in a little gambling that won't cost a cent. Just remember to pack a Monopoly game so that everyone can pick up a few chances and buy real estate while rounding the game board that has Atlantic City at its heart.

Here, then, are 10 things to do for a memorable family trip to Atlantic City:


Walk or bike the Boardwalk. : Hit the boards to breathe in the salt air and see and be seen. Rent bikes and take a spin between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., when it's legal and your efforts will endanger fewer pedestrians.


Ride in a rolling chair. : The tradition dates to 1880, when an enterprising hardware store owner began renting wheelchairs. Soon, he began renting chairs seating two or more people. Propelled by a single person's push power at the rear, the chairs may not be as romantic as a carriage ride or as exotic as a rickshaw ride. But the kids will remember the experience that's just $5 to ride five blocks.


Shop for salt water taffy. : It's an Atlantic City tradition that began in the late 1880s with a tale about an enterprising young merchant who discovered his entire stock of taffy had been soaked by waves of ocean water during a bad storm and began calling it "salt water taffy."

But should you buy James' 37 flavors that are "cut to fit the mouth" or Fralinger's 16 flavors with "sea air and sunshine sealed in every box"?

Taste both, unless you're bound by family tradition to select one over the other. Then, let the kids create their own assortments of favorite flavors. Incidentally, descendants of the James family now own both brands but meticulously stick to the original recipes. So the two kinds of taffy still have different tastes and textures.


Visit Atlantic City Historical Museum. : Located at Garden Pier, it's free and contains an informative video telling the story of Atlantic City's evolution. It includes colorful moments such as when a diving horse's exploits amazed visitors, and how visitors themselves climbed into a diving bell for an experience of their own. Here, you'll also find the stories of all that is Atlantic City, from Miss America and Monopoly to Mr. Peanut, who was the city's unofficial ambassador for 70 years.


Eat a 17-inch-long sandwich.: White House Sub Shop sandwiches offer a special taste of Atlantic City. Call in a lunch-time takeout order no later than 10 a.m. and preferably closer to 7 a.m. if you want to have hope of getting them at noon. They're the makings of a great picnic lunch on the beach or Boardwalk.

Best-sellers at the landmark eatery that opened in 1946 are the cheesesteak subs and the White House Special cold subs. But they're just a taste of the full sandwich line. And every sandwich is packed into a fresh 17-inch-long Italian roll. How fresh? The rolls get delivered as many as 11 times a day.

Want to eat inside? Be prepared to wait 30 minutes or more at peak times. But packing into a booth, watching the crew "build" their blockbuster sandwiches (as many as 1,000 per day) and ogling photos of celebrities who've downed White House subs is part of the fun, too. Penn & Teller, and Earth, Wind & Fire have been recent stars to chow down.


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