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. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and $4 for children over age 3. For information about tours, call 609-348-2880, Ext. 17.
Gardner's Basin hosts a series of fun-filled cruises during spring, summer and fall aboard Cruisin 1. The Morning Skyline Cruise provides a tour of Atlantic City's ever-changing skyline and calm back bays. Marine Mammal Adventure cruises spot whales in spring and fall, dolphins in summer, and include commentary from an onboard marine naturalist. The Harbor Tour is a late afternoon cruise through the harbors and marinas of Brigantine Beach and Atlantic City. Cocktail Cruises take you through backwaters with perfect sunset vistas, and a Moonlight Dance Party features music from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
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.
Captain Mike's Charters on the "Highroller" also departs from Gardner's Basin for back bay fishing on a 50-foot pontoon boat for a calm-water experience where "Nobody Gets Seasick." There are two trips daily, and private charters are available. For information, visit www.captainmikescharters.com.
Historic Gardner's Basin offers ample opportunity for the weary traveler to rest awhile.
Scales offers a casual waterfront setting for seafood specialties at lunch and dinner. Weather permitting, there's dockside dining and an outdoor bar. For information and seasonal hours, call 609-345-8222.
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.
During the summer, the Lobster Shanty offers fresh-off-the-boat seafood. You can chow down on hearty chowders, clams, crabs and lobsters right along the waterfront. For information call 609-344-9030.
Also open during the summer season, Back Bay Ice Cream offers soft serve ice cream, hand dipped cones, sundaes, water ice, gelatos, beverages and snacks.Call 409-449-0006 for more information.
Shopping and Browsing
At Bayside Antiques, you'll find a treasure trove of items from the past, from the vase that Grandma used to have to a horse carriage. The shop is open seasonally, but is always available by appointment. Call 609-347-7143.
Web Feet Watersports offers everything you need to play by the bay. Rentals and sales of bicycles, kayaks, fishing gear, crafts, collectibles and more. Call 609-572-1004.
And your visit to Gardner's Basin isn't complete without a stroll through the grounds. Among other things, you'll see 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.
Historic Gardner's Basin is also home to an artists colony. The modern docks are available for rent, and boaters are welcome to tie up at the public docks while they visit the Atlantic City Aquarium - Ocean Life Center or the restaurants.
For additional information about the "other Atlantic City," call Gardner's Basin at 609-348-2880.