Gone for 24 Hours: A Wintry Escape to Atlantic City, NJ

Fringed by an eternal ocean, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is sublime in wintertime. In the morning, it’s yours to enjoy, shared with only a few other souls and felines. Relaxing in the sun with a pristine Atlantic Ocean view, breathing in the salty sea air, melting away any niggles brought about by daily stresses, I think this is the perfect escape from New York City.

I had arrived to Atlantic City (AC) with preconceived notions, my mind filled with cliches. Previous word associations with the place included gambling, casinos, rowdy tourists, a beach, Jersey Shore. Having just returned from a trip there, I can tell you that AC proved me utterly wrong; I’ve thrown all stereotypes to the wind. Now I think of it as a never-ending stretch of beautiful beach fronted by a glorious Atlantic Ocean, where one can pass the time without a care in the world.

In a similar vein to Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover and the New York Times’ “36 hours in…”, here’s how to spend a night & day in Atlantic City, from my point of view.

NIGHT

6pm: Arrive in Atlantic City. Stay at The Trump Taj Mahal’s Chairman Tower. Located at the northern end of the Boardwalk, it is one of the most spacious hotels to stay in. The path from the main lobby to the Tower rooms wind along a sea of escalators, under chandeliers, past mosaics, shops, and restaurants. It’s dazzling, in a good way.

Pause and take in the view from your hotel room –  it’s impossible not to, given the wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows usher in a cascade of flickering city lights below.

Lights and reflections: from 93rd floor of Chairman Tower

8pm: Dinner at Trattoria Il Mulino. Carpaccio, risotto al frutti di mare, salmone livornese, arugula & prosciutto pizza – it’s all delicious Italian food. For kicks, add oysters, prosecco, tiramisu, limoncello – so good! A frosted windowed wall separates the kitchen from the dining room. but the staff’s hustle and bustle is always on show. Located on the lobby level of the hotel, the restaurant hardly feels as if it is steps away from the casino floor.

Trattoria Il Mulino

11pm: Casino Territory. Slot machines, Blackjack tables, Baccarat. Not a huge gambler? Just enjoy the table activity, and admire the Indian-inspired interior design: arched ceilings, mirrored interiors, gilded fringes, and crystal chandeliers. Have a nightcap – you’re here for one night, after all.

NEXT DAY

7.30am: The amazing, stunning, glorious, delightful, breathtaking morning view.

Yes, this befuddled sentence makes complete sense when you wake up to a blur of the Atlantic Ocean and a pink- and blue-streaked sky. Because it gets so dark in winter, this morning view comes at a surprise. You’ll feel the sudden urge to grab your coat and head outside. But first, coffee!

“You and your pink sky…” from Sex in the City, Season 5, Episode 3

Order fresh-brewed coffee and pastries and watch the sun rise. If you simply can’t wait, grab a Starbucks coffee and croissant from downstairs, leave your things with the 24-hour bell desk, and make a beeline through the casino and out onto the brightly lit Boardwalk. Breathe in that fresh sea air.

A Boardwalk perspective

9.30am: Relax. Put your feet up and recline on a bench along the Boardwalk. In winter, the beach draws a few wandering souls, puffy seagulls, and lazy alley cats, who sleep  under the boardwalk in the cooler months. Originally built in 1870 as a temporary structure to protect hotel interiors from sand, the Boardwalk underwent about five restorations before it was finally completed. At 4-miles long and 24-feet wide, the Boardwalk’s loveliest features are its Parisian-inspired lamp posts and the herringbone floorboards.

This part of the Boardwalk is defined by Steel Pier. Opened in 1898, the pier was the first of its kind to be built on iron pilings and steel girders. At one time, a visit to the pier required full evening dress and an admission ticket, which allowed  for 16 hours of continuous entertainment. Today, the Steel Pier exists as an amusement park, but because it goes on hiatus during winter, I cannot speak to its admission prices. What I can tell you is that the park makes for a beautiful view from the Boardwalk, especially with its Ferris Wheel set against an ocean-blue sky.

Steel Pier, reflected

Steel Pier – a southern vantage point

10.30am: The Beach. Pathways from the boardwalk lead to the beach, which is quite deserted in winter. It’s the ideal spot to meditate on the gently lapping waves, breathe in the salty sea air, and take in the day’s still beauty, as you crunch across seashells. If you like the ocean, this is a great season to enjoy it.

View – under and through the Steel Pier

Wandering soul

11am: Strolling. head south along the boardwalk to admire decades-old architecture,  ice cream and apple dumpling kiosks, and undulating sand dunes.

Ice cream kiosk – empty

“Isn’t this amazing? It’s like a postcard from the twenties…” Carrie Bradshaw

Your stroll along the boardwalk will likely be interrupted by a rolling-chair pusher, who will ask if you’d like a ride. These rolling chairs, imported from the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, debuted on the boardwalk in 1887, to provide the weary walker with a respite. A ride would make sense on a really cold, rainy day. Otherwise, it severely limits photo opportunities.

A rolling-chair pusher

Taffy Time. Stop for some salt water taffy at Fralinger’s. Buy lots and save some sticky treats  for later. How did salt water taffy come about? After a storm swamped an AC candy store in 1883, it dampened the taffy supply. But instead of tossing the candy, the combination created the salt-water taffy that everyone loves today.  My favourite flavours are watermelon, peach, and sour apple.

Fralinger’s, on the Boardwalk

Set installation on the Boardwalk

Reflect. Pause at the Korean War Veteran Memorial, located near the arch in Brighton Park. Here, under an eternal flame, you’ll see 822 engraved names of New Jersey soldiers, who were killed or are still missing in action.

Behind the memorial you’ll notice one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in AC — The Claridge. Opened in the 1930s as “The Skyscraper by the Sea”, it hosted Marilyn Monroe when she was grand marshal to a Miss America pageant. Once one of the last pre-casino hotels, The Claridge is now owned by Bally’s Atlantic City.

The Claridge (right)

The Claridge – up close

Game Trivia. The Claridge stands by Park Place, an area made famous by Charles Darrow, who invented Monopoly (1929).

A little further on, you’ll come to ‘The Pier Shops at Caesars’. Walk through, shop, and head for the outdoor deck, where you’ll see a 280-degree view of the Atlantic and the Boardwalk. Everything from here looks miniature. You’re livin’ on the edge.

Down the line and on the edge

Voluminous cloud cover

Boardwalk, further south. Boardwalk Hall (right)

12.30pm: Lunch. The mobile kiosks are closed in winter, meaning you’ll have to make do with a casino buffet or a restaurant chain. It’s a good excuse to head to Johnny Rocket’s for a burger and fries.

1.30pm: Boardwalk Hall is a beautiful example of Roman Revival and Art Deco architecture. Built in 1929, it was once the largest freestanding building in the world, and initially used as a convention centre until WWI turned it into an army training facility.

The hall has hosted Miss America Pageants as well as Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential nomination during the Democratic National Convention. This convention took place one year after Kennedy’s assassination, and a statue of President John F. Kennedy stands directly in front of hall. Today, the hall is a concert venue.

Boardwalk Hall

Kennedy Plaza’s seats:  This space contains an amphitheater for outdoor concerts. It was used as a speaking point by politicians.

2pm: Photo Opps. Head toward Trump Taj Mahal. Take photos of what you may have missed along the way.

Civil Rights. At Central Pier (an amusement arcade), turn onto Martin Luther King Blvd, when you’ll spot the Civil Rights Garden, a public space designed by Larry Kirkland. It is defined by 11 granite columns inscribed with quotes by American civil rights activists, and a sculpture of a hand and bell set in the middle of a pool.

Entrance to the Civil Rights Garden

2.30pm: Back Streets.  You’ll walk through a poor neighbourhood, past a lot of churches, motels, and storefronts that wouldn’t look out of place on Route 66. The dazzling casinos aren’t far away.

3.30pm: Victorian Houses and Lucy the Elephant. Hop in the car and drive south along Atlantic Avenue towards Margate. Gawk at the beautiful mansions along the way. Large balconies, turrets, and spires – there’s some striking architecture here.

Mansions and summer houses, lining the beach

At #9200, you’ll see Lucy – The World’s Largest Elephant, built in 1881 as a gimmick to attract potential buyers to Margate, which used to be called South Atlantic City. Lucy has been completely restored – at a cost of nearly $2 million — and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Described as “the oldest surviving example of a unique form of zoomorphic architecture, and the oldest roadside attraction in America, Lucy is open to the public during the warmer months. 4pm: Shopping. Head back down Atlantic Avenue, towards the Atlantic Expressway, until you see the town’s outlets. Avoid their dedicated Lot as paid street parking is closer.

5.30pm: Back to NYC. Bid adieu to AC’s wintry wonderfulness and plan a return trip in summer.

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