A Sure Bet: Free Family Fun in Atlantic City, NJ

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Free things to do on the East Coast
Although many Jersey beaches require beach tags, you can still catch the waves free in Atlantic City and the Wildwoods. Photo by Scott Lebeau

Think of Atlantic City and you may picture casinos and slot machines. But this historic Jersey shore town offers year-round fun things to do and many of them are FREE!

Since my sister lives near Philadelphia and I live in New York City, we try to find East Coast getaways convenient to both of us. Atlantic City, New Jersey, fits the bill. We have spent weekends here, never seeing slot machines, Caesars Palace or the nightlife. You can fill your time, chilling by the beach with the whole family and exploring all the free things to do in Atlantic City.

Read More: Top Family Friendly Hotels in Atlantic City

21 Free Things to Do in Atlantic City

1. The Beaches

Stretch of beach with dune grass in foreground, a free thing to do in Atlantic City
Like much of New Jersey, Atlantic City has gorgeous beaches – and they are free! Photo credit: Judy Antell

Unlike many places on the Jersey Shore, Atlantic City’s wide beaches are free, with no beach badges required. There are three surfing beaches, plus a beach for kayaking.

2. Walk the Planks

It’s easy to social distance on the wide Atlantic City Boardwalk. Credit: Judy Antell

Stroll the historic Atlantic City Boardwalk. If you bring your own bikes, you can ride them from 6am – 10am daily, May through September. Hours are extended in the off season.

3. Movies Under the Stars

Two nights a week in summer there are family friendly G or PG movies shown on the beach. Movies start at dusk,  Thursday nights at Bartram Avenue on the beach and Sunday nights at Gardner’s Basin. Bring your own beach chairs and blankets.

4. Historic Smithville and Village Greene

A short drive from the sand and glitz year round, this collection of shops, along cobblestone streets, transports you to a different era. Historic Smithville hosts free weekend events year round, including art walks with live music historic car shows, a pet costume parade for Halloween and a light show on the lake in December. Please note: the carousel is not free, but you’ll probably want to splurge on a spin!

5. Check out the Public Art

Teal and pink mural on the west side of Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ
Looking for an Instagrammable AC moment? Check out the murals. Photo credit: DO AC/Tom Briglia

Atlantic City may have taken a cue from Philadelphia. A mural arts program, part of 48 Blocks AC, now includes over 50 murals painted by local artists.

6. 3D Light Show on Boardwalk Hall

The façade of historic Boardwalk Hall is transformed every evening into a free 3D spectacle.  3D projections and an original musical score transform the exterior of Boardwalk Hall. There are three different shows, so you can return another night.

7. Margate  – See an Elephant

Large grey elephant sculpture called Lucy in Margate, a free thing to do when visiting Atlantic City NJ
Lucy the Elephant, in Margate. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Lucy the Elephant, built in 1884, charges for tours. But you can see the restored historic landmark from the outside. Margate is just a short drive or stroll along the Boardwalk from Atlantic City.

8. Look in the Sky

After missing a year due to Covid-19, the Atlantic City Airshow returns. You can view the show, held every August, from the beaches and the Boardwalk. “A Salute to Those That Serve” will be held August 18.

9. Look in the Sky, Part 2

The Absecon Wildlife Management Area, ideal for birding, has 3,700 acres of open salt marsh habitat. Year round, different species of birds are easy to see. Bring binoculars and a notebook to record your finds.

10. Listen to the Pipes

Boardwalk Hall houses the largest musical instrument on earth. You can see it on the Boardwalk Hall Pipe Organ Tour and Recital, held Mondays through Fridays at noon. The tour and recital each last for 30 minutes.

11. Pay What You Wish

The African American Heritage Museum requests a donation, but you can pay nothing to visit this museum. The museum highlights the collection of Ralph E. Hunter Sr., a retired business executive. Don’t miss the exhibit on stereotypes in advertising and print media.

12. Day Long Music

Historic Gardner’s Basin  has day long music concerts several times each summer. The festivals run from 1 to 7:30pm and include different bands and local food vendors.

13. Gone Fishing

Skip the admission free at the Atlantic City Aquarium with its touch tank and head to The Bass Pro Outpost in Atlantic City. It has a two story Delaware Water Gap waterfall and a 13,000 gallon fresh water fish tank featuring fish found in and around New Jersey. There are wildlife murals throughout the store and bear cave stairs.

14. Catch Wind of a Tour

Jersey Atlantic Wind Farm offers outdoor tours for free. Learn how the Atlantic County Utilities Authority treats millions of gallons of wastewater using renewable energy. These hard hat tours include 5 wind turbines and 2700 solar panels.

15. Summertime Fun

Catch a free concert during the summer in Atlantic City. Photo credit: DO AC/Anthony Smedile

DO AC Boardwalk Summer Entertainment at Kennedy Plaza offers daily live entertainment. The outdoor nightlife runs from 7 – 10 pm all summer long, with rock, jazz and show tunes.

16. Get Some History

A World War 1 Memorial, built in 1992, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Honoring WW I veterans from Atlantic City, the rotunda houses a 9 foot tall bronze statue “Liberty in Distress”.

17. More History

The New Jersey Korean War Memorial honors locals who served in the Korean War. A 12 foot high “Mourning Soldier” holds the dog tags of lost servicemen. 

18. Even More History

The Civil Rights Garden, a  public sculpture garden, includes trees, flowers and inscriptions on 11 granite columns.

19. Learn about Atlantic City

The Atlantic City Experience, located in the lobby of Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, opened July of 2019. You can explore the history of Atlantic City here. The Atlantic City Experience is currently closed due to Covid-19, but you can see some of it virtually.

20. Take a Hike

Bass River State Forest has several family friendly short, flat hikes through the Pine Barrens. In season, there is a parking fee.

21. Take a Drive

Cape May is just a short drive away and  it also has a long boardwalk, plus some of the loveliest historic houses on the East Coast. But remember, you have to pay to go on the beach here!

A Sure Bet for that Drive

The bright & shiny Toyota Camry fits in in Atlantic City. Photo credit: Judy Antell

The 2021 Toyota Camry hybrid gets 47 miles per gallon and looks sharp enough for the high rollers at Borgata. The Celestial Silver exterior set off the red leather interior and the back seat was roomy enough for my three adult children.

The Camry’s sport look: 2 tone black metallic roof, rear spoiler, and black front grille, matched the car’s handling on winding roads. And no gambling on safety here. The Camry has 5 star ratings in all categories, and standard safety tech like automatic high beams, pedestrian detection and lane departure alert.

I easily connected my phone for navigation and also used the destination assist, where an actual person sent directions to the car.

If You’re Feeling Flush…

If you got lucky at the casinos, you can splurge on paid tourist attractions, like

  • Steel Pier amusement park with The Wheel, across from the Hard Rock Hotel
  • IMAX theater
  • Atlantic City aquarium
  • climbing to the top of Absecon lighthouse, New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse, with its giant Fresnel lens
  • exploring Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

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