Maybe you come for the casinos. Maybe a stroll on the Boardwalk or the clean, free beaches are more your style. Some people come and enjoy the fishing, shopping, or entertainment.
But more and more, people are coming to Atlantic City and getting turned on to the off-Boardwalk treasures of Historic Gardner's Basin.
Nestled on a protected channel along the back bays, directly across from the state marina and Coast Guard station, this maritime park on North New Hampshire Avenue replaces the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk with a different type of activity. Sightseeing and fishing cruises come and go from the docks, the restaurants serve up seafood and ale house brews, the Atlantic City Aquarium offers an interactive aquarium and special events attract thousands.
As you look around, it's hard to believe that the site of "The Basin" -- once a lively haven for rumrunners and commercial fishing fleets -- was as recently as the 1960s a trio of overgrown baseball fields.
Accessible by car, jitney or cab, Gardner's Basin is now teeming with life -- and not just marine life. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds come to enjoy the facilities that are tucked away amidst elegant new bay front homes, a municipal park and exclusive Smugglers Cove boathouses (the original owners, rumrunners, built their houses over their docks in order to unload their bootleg bounty in secrecy).
Gardner's Basin's offerings include:
Atlantic City Aquarium
The $4 million Atlantic City Aquarium is the crowning achievement of Historic Gardner's Basin. The three-story aquarium and interactive marine life education center has a mission to foster awareness and appreciation of the ocean and its wonders, and to reveal how they affect our lives.
The Aquarium features 11 tanks exhibiting more than 100 varieties of fish. The main tank spotlights fish of the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Look for flounder, striped bass, and "Groman," the resident loggerhead turtle. Also look for "Nemo" in the tropical tank. You can also see moray eels, venomous fish and live jellyfish. Touch tanks allows visitors to "pet" starfish, crabs, sharks and other sea life.
A 16-station computer center uses interactive games and computer-enhanced information stations let you take a self-tour.
The Aquarium’s third-floor observatory provides a glimpse of the area where the ocean meets the bay. As your eyes follow the path of the bay, you see the island of Brigantine, Absecon Harbor, Harrah's, Golden Nugget and Borgata casinos -- the first visual reminders since entering Gardner's Basin that you're still in Atlantic City. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information call (609) 348-2880, Ext. 17.
Gardner's Basin hosts a series of fun-filled cruises aboard Cruisin 1. For a full schedule and reservations, call (609) 347-7600.
Commercial fishermen aren't the only ones who can enjoy the area's bounty. Gardner's Basin is also home to some of the area's top fishing excursions. For more information, visit www.doatlanticcity.com.
Historic Gardner's Basin offers ample opportunity for the weary traveler to rest awhile.
Back Bay Ale House offers a menu of old favorites and newer recipes, along with unbeatable cocktails, a variety of ales and a great second-story view. The deck provides al fresco dining in the summer and enclosed dining in other seasons. They're open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For information and seasonal hours, call (609) 449-0006.
Located on a lagoon with plenty of outdoor seating and cozy indoor seating, Gilchrist features a hardy array of dining options. Open daily for breakfast and lunch from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. For information call (609) 345-8278.
Shopping and Browsing
A trip to Gardner's Basin isn't complete without a stroll through the grounds. Visit quaint seasonal and year-round shops offering art, hand-crafted jewelry, apparel and more. On your walk, you’ll come across early underwater exploration vehicles and the "Diving Bell" that was used as a ride and attraction on the Steel Pier, lowering guests into the ocean for a glimpse of underwater life.
For additional information about the "other Atlantic City," call Gardner's Basin at 609-348-2880.