With at least another month of relentless winter weather ahead (thanks, Staten Island Chuck), it's safe to say that most New Yorkers are looking forward to spring. So when the weather finally breaks, the two-hour drive or bus ride to Atlantic City, home to one of the top East Coast beaches and a legendary boardwalk, is an easy weekend escape.
"America's Favorite Playground" has plenty of fun in store -- including festivals, waterfront dining, outlet shopping and hotel deals. Here's a sampling of activities and specials to add to your spring fling in AC itinerary.
The ninth annual Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival, also known as "The Celebration of Suds," features more than 100 different craft beers from local and national breweries. This year's brew fest also includes indie rock artists, beer seminars and bites from local eateries.
April 4-5, Atlantic City Convention Center, 1 Convention Boulevard; $60 ($55 in advance), celebrationofthesuds.com
Located on the Boardwalk near Taj Mahal and Jimmy Buffet's new Margaritaville, the renovated Steel Pier has more than 25 classic kiddie and extreme rides, games and a pub located on the water's edge. The amusement park is officially open weekends starting April 26, but you can get a jump on the season and take the kids the weekends of Palm Sunday (April 12-13) or Easter (April 19-20).
1000 Boardwalk; tickets start at $1 per ride and ticket books with coupons range from $30-$120, steelpier.com
Spectacles of sound
If live entertainment is your thing, year-round, every casino in AC hosts free performances in its lounges and free open-air concerts during warmer months. After dark, crowds also gather outside each night at Boardwalk Hall to see one of four different free 3-D Light and Sound Shows projected onto the iconic building every half-hour. And don't miss the elaborate water, light and sound extravaganza at The Pier Shops at Caesars, located on the Boardwalk level at the ocean end of the upscale shopping plaza.
Shop 'til you drop
Bargain hunters should head to Tanger Outlets The Walk, which houses more than 100 retailers including a J. Crew Factory Store, LOFT Outlet, Old Navy Outlet and Timberland Factory Store. For specialty shops like Bluemercury Apothecary and The Old Farmer's Almanac General Store, visit The Quarter at Tropicana. And the Boardwalk can't be beat for souvenirs, homemade fudge and saltwater taffy. Best of all, New Jersey is always tax-free, so shoppers save 4-6% on every purchase.
For a change of pace from the oft-overpriced resort restaurants, try a few local favorites. For authentic pho, head to Little Saigon, (2801 Arctic Avenue), a modest Vietnamese cafe. Across from Bader Field, Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House (672 N. Trenton Avenue) is a popular hot spot for sliders, Belgian-style fries and a stellar beer selection. Or kick back at Back Bay Ale House (800 N. New Hampshire Avenue) on the inlet and enjoy a Mason jar margarita, mussels with red sauce and a variety of ales on tap. To nosh on fancier fare, dine at the historic Dock's Oyster House (2405 Atlantic Avenue), the city's oldest restaurant, or Knife & Fork (3600 Atlantic Avenue), a steak and seafood restaurant that was a favorite haunt for Frank Sinatra and Burt Lancaster.
Through March 31, 11 Atlantic City resort hotel casinos and spas are offering "Taste of Summer" packages that include rooms with ocean views, indoor pool and spa passes and complimentary drinks and summer cocktail specials. To keep the good vibrations flowing, each participating hotel has a summer-inspired sand sculpture and each "Taste of Summer" hotel guest gets a free beach ball at check-in. Rates range from $55-$169. www.doatlanticcity.com/tasteofsummer