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 late 1970s, and millions of dollars began to flow into the local economy from tax subsidies for speculating real-estate developers like future president Donald Trump, whose name used to be emblazoned on a number of towering resort hotels. These days, the Boardwalk of Atlantic City still attracts millions of annual visitors and millions of dollars daily to its casinos. It’s no Monte Carlo, not even a Las Vegas, but the clattering of slot machines and the buzz of the craps tables continues. The Boardwalk runs along the beach for over two miles. Few of the remaining pleasure piers offer much of interest, and only the rebuilt Steel Pier holds any sign of the traditional seaside rides and arcade games that people used to come to the shore to enjoy.
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 happy-hour and dinner-only restaurant that’s been serving great seafood since 1897. Along with a number of national chains, the casinos also control accommodations—expect to pay upward of $100, though off-peak bargains can be found.