Atlantic City is nothing like other northeast beach destinations such as the Hamptons and the Cape. This city on the Jersey Shore is described as the Las Vegas of the East Coast, and with bright flashing lights dotting the boardwalk, big events (concerts, boxing matches), and boozed-up visitors, it's clear the reputation is deserved.
But although entertainment revolves around flashy clubs and casinos, this is a historic city. It's one of the nation's oldest beach resorts, and has been identified as a tourist destination since the late 1800s. Atlantic City boomed in the early 1900s, when large hotels were built along the now iconic boardwalk, and had something of a golden age during Prohibition, when liquor laws were hardly enforced and mob-run bootlegging prevailed. (The city is the inspiration for the acclaimed HBO series Boardwalk Empire.) The city declined in the mid-20th century, but had its resurgence in 1976, when inhabitants voted to legalize gambling.
Today it's back, and some say, better than ever. Steel Pier's Ferris wheel and double-decker carousel glow long into the night. Adults mingle over cocktails at casino hotel lounges, or gamble into the wee hours of the morning. During the daytime, urbanites and out-of-towners can be found sprawled out on the sand. And many choose to indulge in salt water taffy during their stay -- the city's most celebrated treat.
Stay in a resort along the oceanfront boardwalk to be closest to the action. For a more secluded alternative, you may want to opt for a hotel in the Marina District. Foodies will want to stay in or near some of the casino hotels, which offer the best of the best when it comes to Atlantic City restaurants. Families may want to check out Gardner's Basin, a small section within the city, which offers superb whale and dolphin watching, as well as a family-friendly aquarium.