Fringed by an eternal ocean, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is sublime in wintertime. In the morning, it’s yours to enjoy, shared only with a few other souls and felines. Relaxing in the sun with a pristine Atlantic Ocean view, breathing in the salty sea air, melting away any niggles brought about by daily stresses – this is the way to escape New York City.
I had arrived to Atlantic City (AC) with preconceived notions, cliches. Previous word associations with the place included gamblers, casinos, rowdy tourists, a beach, Jersey Shore. Having just returned from a trip there, I can tell you that AC proved me utterly wrong. I’ve thrown all sterortypes to the wind. Now I think of it as a never-ending stretch of beautiful beach fronted by a glorious Atlantic Ocean with hedonistic hotel & casino experiences, a historic Boardwalk lined with nostalgic architecture, shops selling salt water taffy, and a setting befitting Boardwalk Empire (I have since started watching the show).
In a similar vein to Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover and the New York Times’ “36 hours in…”, here’s an unraveling of how to spend a night & day in Atlantic City, from my point of view.
6pm: Arrive in Atlantic City. Stay at The Trump Taj Mahal’s Chairman Tower. Located at the northern end of the Boardwalk, it promises space. Breathe a sigh of relief. The path from the main lobby to the Tower rooms traverses a sea of escalators, chandeliers, mosaic tiles, shops and restaurants. It’s dazzling, in a good way. Pause and take in the view from your hotel room – it’s impossible not to, given the wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows usher in a cascade of flickering city lights below.
Lights and reflections: from 93rd floor of Chairman Tower
8pm: Dinner at Trattoria Il Mulino. Carpaccio, Risotto al Frutti di Mare, Salmone Livornese, Arugula & Prosciutto Pizza – delicious Italian food. For kicks, add oysters, prosecco, tiramisu, limoncello – so good! A frosted windowed wall separates the kitchen from its diners; the staff’s hustle and bustle is always on show. Located on the lobby level of the hotel, the restaurant doesn’t feel as if it is within steps of the casino floor.
Trattoria Il Mulino
11pm: Casino Territory. Slot machines, Blackjack tables, Baccarat. Not a huge gambler? Just enjoy the table activity, and admire the Indian-inspired interior design – concave ceilings mirrored surrounds, ornate gilded fringes, and elaborate crystal chandeliers. Have a nightcap – you’re here for one night, after all.
7.30am: The amazingly stunningly gloriously delightfully breathtaking morning view.
Yes, this befuddled sentence makes complete sense when you wake up to blur of the Atlantic Ocean meeting a never-ending sky streaked with pinks and blues. Because it gets so dark in winter, this morning view comes at a surprise. You might feel the sudden urge to grab your coat and head outside. First things first, though: coffee!
“You and your pink sky…” from Sex in the City, Season 5, Episode 3
Order room service. Order freshly brewed coffee and pastries as you wait for the sun rise. If you simply can’t wait, grab a Starbucks coffee and croissant from downstairs. Leave your things with the 24-hour bell desk, head through the casino, and exit onto the brightly lit Boardwalk. Breathing in that fresh sea air!
A Boardwalk perspective
9.30am: Relax. Put your feet up and recline on a bench along the Boardwalk. At this time of year, the beach draws a few wandering souls, puffy seagulls and lazy alley cats, which sleep under-the-boardwalk in the cooler months. Originally built in 1870 as a temporary structure to protect hotel interiors from sand, the Boardwalk underwent about five restorations before it was finally complete. At 4-miles long and 24 feet wide, the loveliest features about it are its Parisian-inspired lamp posts and the herringbone floorboards.
This part of the Boardwalk is defined by Steel Pier. Opened in 1898, the pier was the first one to be built on iron pilings and steel girders. At one time, a visit to the pier required full evening dress and an admission ticket, which allowed for 16 hours of continuous entertainment! Today, the Steel Pier exists as an amusement park, but because it goes on a winter hiatus, I cannot speak to its admission prices. What I can tell you is that the park makes for a beautiful view from the Boardwalk, especially with its Ferris Wheel. set against an ocean-blue sky.
Steel Pier, reflected
Steel Pier – a southern vantage point
10.30am: The Beach. Pathways from the boardwalk lead to the beach, which is quite deserted in winter. It’s the ideal spot to meditate on the gently lapping waves, breathe in the salty sea air, and take in the day’s still beauty, as you crunch across seashells. If you like the ocean, this is a great season to enjoy it.
View – under and through the Steel Pier
11am: Strolling. The boardwalk is built up further south. Admire the decades-old architecture, colourful ice cream and apple dumpling kiosks, and undulating sand dunes.
Ice cream kiosk – empty
“Isn’t this amazing? It’s like a postcard from the twenties…” Carrie Bradshaw
Your stroll along the boardwalk will likely be interrupted by a rolling-chair pusher, who will ask if you’d like a ride. These rolling chairs, imported from the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, debuted on the boardwalk in 1887, and provide the weary walker with an excuse not to walk. This would make sense on a really cold, rainy day, but it would severely limit your photo opportunities.
A rolling-chair pusher
Taffy Time. Stop for some Salt Water Taffy at Fralinger’s, and save some of the sticky treats for later. After a storm swamped a candy store in AC in 1883, it dampened the taffy supply, which created the salt-water taffy everyone loves today. My personal favourites are watermelon, peach and sour apple.
Fralinger’s, on the Boardwalk
Set installation on the Boardwalk
Reflect. Pause at the Korean War Veteran Memorial, located near the arch in Brighton Park. Here. Under an eternal flame, 822 names of soldiers from New Jersey are engraved, and stand for those either killed or still missing in action.
Behind the memorial you’ll notice one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in AC: The Claridge. Opened in the 1930s and known as “The Skyscraper by the Sea”, it hosted Marilyn Monroe when she was grand marshal to a Miss America pageant. Once one of the last pre-casino hotels, it is now owned by Bally’s Atlantic City.
The Claridge (right)
The Claridge – up close
Game Trivia. The hotel stands by Park Place, an area made famous by Charles Darrow, inventor of Monopoly (1929).
A little further on, and you’ll come to ‘The Pier Shops at Caesars’. Walk right through its shop-edged pathway and onto the outdoor deck, where you’ll experience a 360 view of the Atlantic and the Boardwalk. Everything from here looks miniature. You’re livin’ on the edge.
Down the line and on the edge
Voluminous cloud cover
Boardwalk, further south. Boardwalk Hall (right)
12.30pm: Lunch. The mobile kiosks are closed in winter, meaning you’ll have to make do with a casino buffet or a restaurant chain. For a diner experience, head to Johnny Rocket’s and order a burger and fries.
1.30pm: Boardwalk Hall is a beautiful example of Roman Revival and Art Deco architecture. Built in 1929, it was once the largest freestanding building in the world, initially used as a convention centre until WWI turned it into an army training facility.
The hall has hosted Miss America Pageants as well as Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential nomination during the Democratic National Convention. This convention took place one year after Kennedy’s assassination, and a statue of President John F. Kennedy stands in the directly in front of hall. Today, it is a concert/event venue.
Kennedy Plaza’s seats: This space contains an amphitheater for outdoor concerts and is also used as a speaking point by politicians.
2pm: Photo Opps. Head back in the direction of Trump Taj Mahal. Treat this as the perfect opportunity to take photos of what you missed along the way.
Civil Rights. At Central Pier (an amusement arcade), turn onto Martin Luther King Blvd until you get to the Civil Rights Garden, a public space designed by Larry Kirkland, with 11 granite columns inscribed with quotes by American civil rights activists. A sculpture of a hand and bell over a reflective pool anchors the space.
Entrance to the Civil Rights Garden
2.30pm: Back Streets. You’ll walk through a poor neighbourhood; past a lot of churches, abandoned buildings, motels from another time, and storefronts that wouldn’t look out of place on Route 66. The dazzling casinos aren’t far away.
3.30pm: Victorian Houses and Lucy the Elephant. Drive south along Atlantic Avenue towards Margate. Gawk at the beautiful mansions along the way. Large balconies, turrets and spires – there’s some striking architecture here.
Mansions and summer houses, lining the beach
At #9200, you’ll come see Lucy – The World’s Largest Elephant, built to in 1881 as a gimmick to attract potential buyers to South Atlantic City (now Margate). Lucy has been completely restored – at a cost of nearly $2 million — and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Described as “the oldest surviving example of a unique form of zoomorphic architecture, and the oldest roadside attraction in America,” Lucy is open to the public during the warmer months. In winter, gaze upon her from the street or the beach. 4pm: Shopping. Head back down Atlantic Avenue, towards the Atlantic Expressway, and you’ll pass the Outlet shops at the centre of town. Avoid their dedicated Lot; the paid street parking is much closer and a spot isn’t hard to find.
5.30pm: Back to NYC. Bid adieu to AC’s wintry wonderfulness and vow to return in summer.