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Best Things To Do in Atlantic City

AOL PICK from our Editors
Here's a mind bender for you—Atlantic City's top attractions aren't actually found in its many casinos! The city has become so synonymous with gambling that many forget there are other Atlantic City top attractions: the famous boardwalk, the aquarium, the history museum. Step away from the slot machines (at least momentarily) to take in the best Atlantic City things to do. You won't be disappointed, and you'll likely be surprised at the quirky, funny and even low-key options you can find.

Civil Rights Garden

Neighborhood: Marina District
This spot of quiet reflection seems oddly out of place in live-for-the-moment Atlantic City—it may be the only major attraction in the city not covered in flashing lights. About a block off the boardwalk you'll find this sculpture garden with its 11 granite columns and serene, winding pathways. It's the only memorial of its kind in the nation, dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement and African-Americans' post-slavery struggle for equality. Each column is etched with an inspiring quote from well-known American leaders, among them Martin Luther King. Wander around several freestanding sculptures, including a large, upraised hand and a bronze bell representing liberty. 

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Atlantic City Historical Museum

Neighborhood: Smithville
Who could say no to a life-size replica of Mr. Peanut? Hopefully not you, because that's about the best thing you'll find at the Atlantic City Historical Museum. Given the price (free), the permanent exhibit is worth a once over, if for no other reason than the vast array of Miss America memorabilia. There are plenty of photographs, posters, costumes and artifacts detailing Atlantic City's role as "Playground of the Nation." There's even a tiny re-creation of the famous boardwalk, complete with a miniature beach, one of several examples of “sand art” the museum owns. If you've always wanted to see the famous high-diving horse of Atlantic City, stick around to watch “Boardwalk Ballyhoo,” a documentary on the resort's earliest days. Also on Garden Pier near the Historical Museum is the Atlantic City Art Center, which houses three galleries.

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Absecon Lighthouse

Neighborhood: Smithville
You need to have a head for heights if you're going to trek up the narrow, 228 steps to the top of New Jersey's tallest lighthouse (and third tallest in the country, thank you very much). The Absecon is over 150 years old, and it still flashes its singular light every night, although no longer for navigational purposes. The reward for you is a fantastic view of Atlantic City's skyline and sweeping panoramas of the shore. Thanks to a multimillion dollar restoration, you can also pop into the old oil house (where fuel for the light was once held) and behold a museum. It details the history of the Absecon Lighthouse, built in 1857, but also the Fresnel lens that was first installed there over a century ago.

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Central Pier Arcade & Speedway

Neighborhood: Marina District
It's hard to pass up NASCAR go-carts, and really, who would want to? Zip around this beachfront speedway and see if you can keep up with the kids. You can also sign up for a rousing game of "Shoot the Geek" paintball, or hit the arcade games. You're pretty much guaranteed to win a "prize" at this place, but it's likely to be a chintzy handbag or tiny stuffed animal. If you do manage to strike it big, you could be one of the lucky winners to walk away with a Nano iPod or a life-size SpongeBob SquarePants doll.

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Lucy The Elephant

Neighborhood: Margate
Your eyes are not deceiving you—that is a three-story high elephant rising up out of the dunes in southern Atlantic City. Of course, it's made out of wood, but that doesn't make it any less of a shock when you see it lurking above the sea grass. The massive wooden structure is on the National Register of Historic Places—it's been around since 1881, when a developer built it to bring foot traffic to the then-desolate sandy marshes. Over the years it's been a tavern, a home, a guesthouse and a speakeasy. Take a tour inside and you'll marvel at the ingenious design that put rooms in the elephant's feet and a closet in one of its shoulders. You can also climb the “howdah” on her back for panoramic views. While there, check out Marven Gardens of Monopoly fame nearby.

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Boardwalk

Neighborhood: Marina District
The motto for this city is "always turned on" and you'll see why when you hit the famous Boardwalk. By day it's crowded and rowdy, at night bathed in constant neon, and there's always some kind of rock music blaring from somewhere. When it was first built in 1870 it was meant to be a barrier to keep sand from getting tracked into the chi-chi hotels--now it's a world-famous attraction. Originally it was about a mile long and a few feet wide. Now, nearly 5 miles long and 24 feet wide, it's about four times that size. You'll need the extra width as you bounce from one decadent food stall to the other—the Boardwalk is famous for many things, but chief among them has got to be the gut-busting food on display. One meal here and you'll be glad to flag a rolling chair—a strange holdover from the 1900s when vacationers thought it was cool to hire someone to push you around the Boardwalk in what is essentially a souped up wheelchair. You can still do it, for about $40 an hour.

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Steel Pier

Neighborhood: Marina District
Here's where it really gets fun, at least for those who like crazy seaside rides. Start with the double-decker carousel, move on to the bumper cars (or the Grand Prix go-carts, if you prefer), don't forget the up-and-down zippiness of the Rock-n-Roll ride, and when you think you can't do anymore, that's when you get in line for the piece de resistance: The Rocket. It flings you up about 225 feet in a matter of seconds, then it let's you bounce high above the ocean until you're ready to come down. The Steel Pier is ride after glorious, think-you're-going-to-get-sick ride, and it could take the better part of a day to get through them all.

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IMAX Theatre at Tropicana

Neighborhood: Marina District
Retreat from reality for a while at this giant-screen, 3-D theater (with blissfully cool air conditioning in summer). You can catch recent releases at this IMAX, and also specially-produced 3-D documentaries that take you far into space, up Mount Everest, or deep into the teeming oceans off the African coast. Whichever movie you catch will be shown on a screen about eight-stories high, with ear-thumping digital surround sound. It's located inside the Tropicana casino, so you won't have to walk far from your favorite roulette table to see the latest huge Hollywood blockbuster.

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Ripley's Believe It or Not

Neighborhood: Marina District
Welcome to the strangest place in Atlantic City, if not the creepiest. Lots of Ripley's most famous oddities are on display, like the Fiji Island mermaid that P.T. Barnum once owned (it looks to be a desiccated iguana with a carved coconut face on its head), a lock of George Washington's hair, and a hideous life-size replica of basketball great Michael Jordan made from plastic, paper, wire and broken glass. If you've got a taste for the bizarre this museum might entertain you, but most folks won't find anything remotely scary, intriguing or even amusing about the bulk of its exhibits.

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Atlantic City Aquarium

Neighborhood: Gardner's Basin
Get ready to get your hands wet—this is an aquarium that encourages touching. Not that you should stick your appendages into the main 25,000 gallon feeding tank. Leave that to the diver who goes in there every day to hand-feed the stingrays, dogfish and nurse sharks. You can watch while the food is meted out, and there's a question and answer session afterward with the diver. For your curiosity, there's a smaller “Touch Tank.” Aquarium staff lets you handle the crabs, the starfish and sea urchins, and, in a separate tank, you can pet, for lack of a better word, baby bamboo sharks, southern stingrays and cownose rays.

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Historic Smithville & Village Greene

Neighborhood: Smithville
About 20 minutes outside of Atlantic City is a little town where time has stopped (sort of). Historic Smithville is a quaint village where everyone likes to pretend they’re still in the colonial era, and you can browse through adorable shops and cute cafes. There’s a small carousel (really for kids) and a train ride around the town, but for more adult fun head to Sideways, a 130-year-old working winery that gives guided tours.

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