Midway along the Jersey Shore, the world-famous beach resort of Atlantic City (pop. 39,558) has ridden the ups and downs of history. Home of the world’s oldest beachfront boardwalk and the first pleasure pier, Atlantic City also spawned the picture postcard and the Miss America beauty contest. Perhaps most significant of all, the street names for Monopoly were taken from Atlantic City, although the city’s layout bears little resemblance to the board game (and there’s no “Get Out of Jail Free” card, either).
Atlantic City reached its peak at the turn of the 20th century, when thousands of city-dwellers flocked here from New York and Philadelphia each weekend. Later on, as automobiles and airplanes brought better beaches and more exotic locales within reach, Atlantic City went into a half century of decline until gambling was legalized in the 1970s and millions of dollars flowed into the local economy from speculating real-estate developers like Donald Trump, whose name is emblazoned on a number of towering resort hotels. These days, the Boardwalk of Atlantic City has been transformed from a derelict relic into a glitzy gambling resort, attracting some 30 million annual visitors and millions of dollars daily to its casinos. It’s no Las Vegas, and the population is still comparatively poor and shrinking, but the clattering of slot machines and the buzz of the craps tables continues 24 hours a day year-round.
The Boardwalk, backed by a wall of 25-story casino/hotels, is still the main focus of Atlantic City, running along the beach for over two miles. Few of the remaining pleasure piers offer much of interest, and only the rebuilt Steel Pier, located opposite Trump’s Taj Mahal, holds the traditional seaside rides and arcade games, plus a sometimes-lively branch of the House of Blues nightclub chain.
Besides constituting Atlantic City’s main attractions, the casinos hold most of the places to eat, apart from the dozens of fast-food stands along the Boardwalk. That said, a couple of old favorites stand out from the seedy crowd of ramshackle businesses that fill the nearby streets. One is the birthplace of the “submarine” sandwich, the chrome White House Sub Shop (2301 Arctic Ave., 609/345-8599). A block away, but at the other end of the aesthetic and budgetary spectrum, is Dock’s Oyster House (2405 Atlantic Ave., 609/345-0092), a white-linen, dinner-only restaurant that’s been serving great seafood since 1897. Along with a number of national chains, the casinos also control accommodation options—expect to pay upwards of $100 a night, though off-peak bargains can be found.