Atlantic City, New Jersey, is only about an hour drive from Philadelphia. This makes it a perfect pit stop on a road trip (like from Boston to Miami) or as an overnight when enjoying Philly for the weekend. The Jersey Shore has always been a popular destination from Philly locals, with AC being one of its iconic spots.
You know, there’s endless things to do in Atlantic City besides gamble too. This destination has undergone several transformations over the decades, and it was such a nice place to unwind for an overnight away from it all at the end of the summer. I’ve put together a guide so you can maximize your time in Atlantic City and have the best trip there ever.
Morning: Beach time and boardwalk
If you only have an overnight or a weekend in Atlantic City, you’ll want to make sure your hotel is close to perfect. You can check-in before you cruise the boardwalk and hit the beach. There are several options on and off the boardwalk, but one of the newest and most versatile is the Ocean Resort and Casino. This modern glass-walled resort is on the end of the boardwalk in one of the calmest areas along the shoreline. Rooms are generous in size and comfort, connected to more then a dozen restaurants, lounges, the casino and entertainment onsite. Check-in there and get out in the AC sunshine!
The Jersey Shore is full of sandy beaches – which are pretty, but often crowded. Among some of the best things to do in Atlantic City is visit its beaches, because they’re usually just as scenic and much less known to tourists. You can head down to Brigantine Island and Brigantine Beach for lots of waves, swimming and sunbathing – fairly close to the boardwalk. It’s also a conservation area for local wildlife. Other options for beaches are all within an hour of the city, but you don’t have to leave to enjoy the shore.
The Ocean Resort and Casino has a small beach in front of the property that’s open to the public. There’s just enough space to stretch our on the sand and go for a dip. Be mindful that there’s strong rip current there, although there is a lifeguard on duty. You can also walk along the jetty if the tide isn’t too high. It’s the ideal spot to sip a mimosa to-go and dip your toes in the water on your first day.
Things to do in Atlantic City along the Boardwalk
There’s a little bit of something for everyone in Atlantic City. If you want to hit up a couple more activities before lunchtime, there’s some fun things to do in Atlantic City along the 4-mile boardwalk. PS – you can definitely walk along the main boardwalk drag and hit all the hotspots. There’s also a tram-like transport that takes you from one end to the other for a daily fee.
Of course, there’s the classic carnival-like rides on Steel Pier to try that open at noon on the weekends. The crowning jewel, the ferris wheel, has been recently upgraded to have enclosed observation gondolas for great views of the ocean and city.
Another way to have a bird’s eye view of Atlantic City is visiting Absecon Lighthouse. This is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey at 171 feet, and you can climb by moonlight some evenings to see the littering lights of the boardwalk below. For some history, don’t miss the dueling, historic organs just on the other side of the boardwalk from Chickenbone Beach and the Playground Pier. The preservation organization who looks after the organs offers tours on their history and significance in Atlantic City.
Afternoon and early evening: Trying your luck and Spanish tapas
If you do decide to go down to the Casino floor at The Ocean Resort, feel free to sign up for their free Player’s Club. If you’ve driven to Atlantic City or plan to rent a car, they offer complimentary parking validation with the Player’s Club membership. There’s other casinos along the ‘strip’, but the Ocean Resort boasts one of the most sophistcated ones if you like to enjoy some time at the tables or slot machines.
Some high stakes winning might have you working up an appetite. This burger spot was actually started ten minutes from my home. I love that you can find the Boston-based chain now all over the place, because they really do have some of the best grub – especially the tater tots! Walhburgers keeps its nice and simple, with burgers (including turkey and the Impossible Burger), salads and sandwiches paired with heaping piles of fries or tater tots. You can add in a decadent adult milkshake too.
Amada for dinner
Finding wonderfully authentic Spanish cuisine in Atlantic City was honestly not something I expected! Amada is a upscale experience for dining on the boardwalk with a love of Spain. I enjoyed the menu of shared plates that reminded me of my favorite places throughout Spain, including garlic shrimp, lamb meatballs and classic ‘pan con tomate’.
The wine selection was extensive as well, with many Spanish riojas and tempranillos available – not to mention a couple Spanish beer, like Alhambra, that I’ve never seen stateside! There’s nothing better than tapas overlooking the ocean, paired with a wafting Spanish guitar. It’s a treat to dine there and celebrate Spain.
Night-time: Speakeasys and burlesque
It goes without saying that those heading to AC are often night owls. Things to do happen 24-hours a day, and often run well into the night. All the major resorts along the bardwalk have varying nightclubs restaurants, casinos, concert venues and more to keep you entertained at all times. For a quick trip, we stuck mostly to our own resort and still found a great variety of options for a little bit of fun after dark.
HQ2 Beachclub and Nightclub
The Ocean Resort has a large nightclub that is open on weekends until 4AM. Huge DJ performances spin all night long for the popular club, which also doubles as a beachclub during summer months with pool scene during the day. During the week, the Ocean Resort offers the Saint & Villians bar too, alongside a golf-themed bar and late-night restaurant options.
1927 Lounge and Speakeasy
For a nightcap, we wandered into the resort’s newest lounge, which is 1920s-style in decor and entertainment. There’s an interesting bar set-up that doubles as a walking stage, for a fun (but tame) burlesque show that happens hourly. We enjoyed a few drinks before turning in for the night there (and maybe swinging through the slots one last time too).
Next morning: Breakfast, Spa and pool
Obviously, sleep in a bit and treat yourself after surviving your first night in Atlantic City. When it’s time to venture out for food and a bit more fun, there’s a few great options at your fingertips.
Most of us want something hearty in the morning after a long night of debauchery in Atlantic City. I tucked into a stack of chicken and waffles at Harper’s that did not disappoint. Paired with strong coffee and quick service, it’s ideal for groups any time of the morning to have something to chase away any jitters from the night before.
Exhale Spa and Bathhouse
One of my favorite spots at the Ocean Resort is the spa. I did have a lovely facial treatment, and my skin felt smooth as silk afterwards. I do wish the products were explained during the process, as I enjoy sometimes purchasing the products I like best. Other treatments such as massages and peels are also available for singles and couples.
The highlight though was the bathhouse, which has a beautiful grotto feel. Next to the lounge seating, there’s a chic soaking pool tiled in blue. Guests can also spend time in the hot tub, sauna areas, salt room an steam room. There’s a phone to order drinks if you’d like to stay a while on your day pass and enjoy the ambiance.
Obviously there’s a lot more to experience in Atlantic City, but hopefully this is just enough to give you a taste in a 24-hour period or a leisurely weekend. We hope to make a quick trip to AC a new annual thing!
Where’s your favorite place on the East Coast? Have you been to Atlantic City? Do you like to stay out at night or turn in early when you’re traveling?