Atlantic City has remained one of the world’s premier gambling destinations ever since its first casino opened in 1978.
The East Coast gambling mecca currently features eight casino resorts. And the Hard Rock Atlantic City and Ocean Resort (formerly Revel) will add to this total when they open in the near future.
Based on all of its casinos, this New Jersey resort town will remain known as a gambling haven first. But Atlantic City went through tough times following the Great American Recession of 2008 and ’09 due to their reliance on casino gaming.
Multiple casinos closed during this rough period, including the Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal, and the Revel. This dark time taught Atlantic City a lesson: diversification is a good thing.
The city has since worked hard to build up their non-gambling attractions. And this is great for families who want something to do beyond casinos.
Here’s a closer look at 7 of the best non-gambling attractions in Atlantic City. Many of these sites have been around for a while, but they’re promoted better these days and now have more to offer.
1 – Steel Pier
Steel Pier was originally built in 1898 as an answer to New York’s Coney Island. It drew countless tourists to Atlantic City before eventually losing popularity and being closed.
Steel Pier was rebuilt in 1993 and has only gotten better over the years. Today, it now offers numerous rides, carnival games, and food vendors.
This AC hot spot is especially good for families with kids. Children will have fun with the teacups and tiny trains, while adults can experience thrills on roller coasters, the Flyer, the MIX, and the Slingshot.
Visitors can now enjoy a newer addition too called The Wheel. Standing 227 feet , this Ferris wheel is reminiscent of the one at Chicago’s Navy Pier.
Couples can also take a romantic ride on gondolas, which offer temperature control. This feature is crucial, considering how cold it can get in Atlantic City during the winter.
You can visit Steel Pier at 1000 Boardwalk.
2 – The Boardwalk
No Atlantic City attraction is more iconic than the Boardwalk. Built in 1870, this long stroll gives you the chance to see fantastic ocean views while also taking in the location’s bars, fine dining, hotels, and shopping malls.
One truly unique thing found on the Boardwalk is the electric tram, which consist of large wicker chairs that are pushed like a rickshaw. These rolling chairs let you traverse this 4-mile stretch in style.
A good attraction for the whole family is the Entrance to the Stars, which is similar to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Here, you’ll see handprints from legends like Cher, Johnny Carson, and Frank Sinatra.
You’ll never run out of things to do on the Boardwalk either, given that it offers multiple gourmet restaurants, nightclubs, and high-end retail stores.
Of course, all of this can get expensive. If you’re looking to save money and still enjoy the Boardwalk, then simply look out over the sea and enjoy the cool ocean breeze.
3 – Absecon Lighthouse
The Jersey shore is lined with numerous lighthouses. But none stand bigger than the Absecon Lighthouse, which measures 171 feet (52m).
The Absecon Lighthouse has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, because it’s one of America’s oldest lighthouses. The structure was built in 1857 and was fully operational up until 1933.
While this monument may no longer serve a functional purpose, it does draw numerous people to the seaside resort. Visitors can climb the 228 steps to the top, where they’re treated to fantastic views of the Atlantic City skyline and the ocean.
You’ll also notice that the Absecon Lighthouse is lit up every night for theatrics. This adds to the authenticity and lets you see what ships would’ve viewed in the 1800s and early 1900s.
The structure recently underwent a multi-million dollar restoration, which added a replica of the lightkeeper’s chambers, a museum, gift shop, and Fresnel Lens exhibit. The museum is particularly interesting, because it gives you a chance to explore the Absecon Lighthouse keepers, famous shipwrecks, and the local maritime history.
Taking all of this into account, there’s more to do here than just see a simple lighthouse. The Absecon Lighthouse is found at 31 South Rhode Island Ave in AC.
4 – Atlantic City Aquarium
Located inside the Ocean Life Center, the Atlantic City Aquarium features over 100 types of marine life, along with cool exhibits. The latter is great for anybody who wants to go beyond simply watching fish to create a truly memorable experience.
Some of the marine animals that you’ll see include horseshoe crabs, moon jellies, moray eels, sea bass, seahorses, stingrays, tiger sharks, tropical fish, and Terrapins.
Guests are welcome to feed fish at specific areas, which is one of several hands-on activities that you can enjoy.
Visitors can also take in an exotic animal show that features some of the aquarium’s rarer animals. Viewers will be treated to information on the animals’ habitats, eating habits, and lifespan.
You can check out the Atlantic City Aquarium at 888 North New Hampshire Avenue.
5 – The Quarter at Tropicana
The Quarter at Tropicana is a streetscape that’s fashioned to look like Old Havana. The atmosphere alone is worth a visit, with palm trees, a fake sky, and unique buildings lining the complex.
Of course, the main reason to visit the Quarter isn’t for sightseeing purposes, but rather everything it has to offer. You’ll find gourmet dining, nightclubs, other entertainment, a luxury spa, and a wellness center.
The Blue Mercury Spa is perfect for those looking to be pampered for a few hours. Afterward, you can head out to one of the Quarter’s many high-end stores.
It’s worth working your way to the top story, where you’ll find the IMAX Theatre. This high-tech movie theater offers a five-and-a-half story screen, 3D film technology, and surround sound — all making for a film experience unlike anything else.
You can end the day with a fine-dining experience at places like Carmine’s, Cuba Libre, or Palm Restaurant. You’ll also be able to enjoy a drink in style at the Ra Ra Irish Pub.
Visit the Quarter at Tropicana at Brighton and Boardwalk.
6 – Knife & Fork Inn
The Knife & Fork Inn has both history and atmosphere on its side. This famous eatery was established in 1912, making it one of Atlantic City’s oldest establishments.
The Knife & Fork was originally opened as a men’s club, which drew celebrities and even mobsters like Enoch “Nucky” Johnson.
This historic property underwent a restoration recently and now features a richer look, complete with mahogany millwork, a sweeping staircase, well-crafted dining rooms, and ceiling artwork.
Some of the dishes that you can enjoy here include fresh seafood and prime steak. You can also have a drink off the extensive wine list.
You’ll find the Knife & Fork Inn at 3600 Atlantic City Avenue.
Another option worth mentioning is the Iron Room, which is found at the Atlantic City Bottle company on 648 N. Albany Ave.
The Iron Room fuses American and European cuisine to deliver game meats, seafood, pasta, the chef’s handpicked cheeses, and Duck Confti Cheese Fries.
7 – Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant is another of Atlantic City’s historic offerings. This 65-foot, six-story high elephant, which is crafted from wood and tin, was built in the coastal suburb of Margate in 1881.
Lucy’s original purpose was to attract vacations in hopes that they would also consider summer homes in the area. The iconic elephant has since served a variety of other purposes, including a tavern, summer home, and observation deck.
Lucy the Elephant almost didn’t make it past the 1960s, with the structure deteriorating badly. But it was eventually rescued and added to the National Park Registry of Historical Landmarks.
Today, Lucy stands in Josephine Harron Park and gives visitors an opportunity to tour the iconic elephant. These guided tours include walking up the spiral staircase towards a cabin-like structure found inside the elephant’s back.
Small windows offer a chance to look out at the sea and town of Margate. The guide will also show a video on Lucy’s history and offer other interesting tidbits.
You can find Lucy the Elephant at 9200 Atlantic Avenue in Margate City.
The world may know Atlantic City for its famous casino resorts. But you can see that there’s much more to do here beyond gambling.
Steel Pier, the Boardwalk, and the Tropicana’s Quarter house a variety of entertainment and fine dining in one place. I especially like Steel Pier during the summer, because it offers a carnival type atmosphere with casinos down the road.
The Boardwalk is an excellent spring and summer destination, where you can enjoy both the weather and everything this spot has to offer.
Other Atlantic City spots like the Knife & Fork Inn, Absecon Lighthouse, and Lucy the Elephant offer a historical element. This is great for those who enjoy the atmosphere just as much as the activity.
Like many great vacation destinations, Atlantic City also has an aquarium. This is a great place to visit not only for viewing aquatic life, but also for the activities and exhibits.
If you’re considering an Atlantic City trip, then keep all the attractions in mind that I’ve discussed. These will give you something to do when you’re taking the family and/or have played enough casino games.