Atlantic City: My Family’s Favorite Summer Playground
For many years, this was Atlantic City's slogan: Atlantic City: America's Favorite Playground. The motto has since changed, but the marketing folks who coined the phrase would not be surprised to learn that Atlantic City has become my family's favorite summer playground. And, it can be your playground too-there's so much to do: family activities, great entertainment and some fantastic family restaurants.
The Atlantic City experience starts with two of the greatest attractions that won't cost you a penny: the boardwalk and the beach. Atlantic City's beach is perfect for kids: there are plenty of lifeguards and the summer water temperature is inviting. And, once you've built your last sandcastle and the kids are all dry, the boardwalk is full of activity and it's a place to walk, bicycle ride, or just people watch. My favorite destinations on the boardwalk are the amusements at Steel Pier; the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, a place filled with unusual exhibits; Garden Pier, where the Atlantic City Art Center & Historical Museum highlights Atlantic City's long and exciting history; the Atlantic City Miniature Golf course at Mississippi Avenue and the Wild Wild West display at Bally's. For national acts, kid-friendly shows and sporting events, visit Boardwalk Hall. But, the best part of the boardwalk may be its assortment of traditional seaside treats such as salt-water taffy, ice cream, French fries and fudge.
The boardwalk is only the beginning. Once you venture onto land, there are numerous hidden gems to discover. We never miss a visit to Gardener's Basin marina park and home of the Ocean Life Center with educational hands-on exhibits. There are also boats to charter for deep sea fishing expeditions or whale and dolphin watching excursions. Once you've "fished your wish," stroll The Walk, home of outlet shopping, restaurants, and PassPort: Voyages of Discovery, a multisensory "movie ride" that combines flight simulation technology, surround sound and special effects. Nearby is the Absecon Lighthouse, where the kids can climb the 228 steps to the top. Also, be sure to check out the Oscar E. McClinton, Jr. Waterfront Park, featuring a large open lawn area, a central pavilion with amazing views of the Absecon Inlet and a children's play area. When it's really hot, we enjoy the Flyers Skate Zone where the kids can learn to ice skate or enjoy a family skate during open hours. But, perhaps our favorite spot is the Sandcastle where the Atlantic City Surf Professional Baseball Club plays. The Surf organization goes out of its way to cater to families with lots of giveaways and a very approachable mascot named Splash. The stadium also has a play area and reasonably priced tasty ballpark grub. The Fourth of July fireworks show at the Sandcastle has become a family tradition. The stadium also has fireworks on other dates throughout the season.
Atlantic City also provides some unusual and kid friendly modes of transportation to its various attractions. The boardwalk's Rolling Chairs have been around since 1884. The kids love to take a ride in a rolling chair and a "driver" with a little personality will not only negotiate a reasonable fare, but he'll entertain the kids with spins and wheelies. Off boardwalk, the streets are filled with little blue buses called Jitney's. The Jitney is fun and inexpensive to ride and is the perfect way to travel to the attractions of Atlantic City.
For meals, Atlantic City has some of the most kid-friendly places at the shore. At the top of our list is Tony's Baltimore Grill. This place has character, as well as a wide range of choices, and the best pizza in town. The White House Sandwich Shop is another Atlantic City institution. The line is always out the door and the environment, although hectic and intimidating for first timers, is uniquely Atlantic City. For Mexican (and there are many choices) we prefer the Mexico Restaurant at 3810 Ventnor Avenue in the more residential part of town known as Chelsea. For breakfast (especially hotcakes and grits), our favorite spot is Gilchrist located off the beaten track in the northwest corner of Atlantic City in the shadows of the marina casinos. And while we are not gamblers, we admit that the casinos can be fun for kids. In fact, we all love the Tropicana's Quarter. The Old World Havana setting is pure fantasy, and the selection of restaurants and shops is equally enticing. Top it off by seeing an IMAX movie (on the premises) and it makes for an ideal place for the whole family to beat the heat or the rain. The Trump Plaza is home to the Rainforest Café, complete with waterfalls, jungle animals, butterflies and other surprises; the place also serves pretty good food. We also enjoy breakfast at the Hilton, and although delicious, the wait can be long.
So whether we plan a day trip or an overnight stay, there is always plenty to do in Atlantic City. The place is Always Turned On for families!
Matthew G. Rosenberger is author of "ABC Travel Guides for Kids-Philadelphia" and "ABC Atlantic City: A Travel Guide for Kids."