A Budget Traveler's Guide to Atlantic City, NJ

The casino floor
The casino floor | ingret9
Photo of Kate Morgan
9 February 2018

Atlantic City, the “Las Vegas of the East,” may not seem like a wallet-friendly destination, but you can have a great weekend there, even if you’re ballin’ on a budget. All you need are a few handy travel tips (and maybe one great blackjack hand), to leave Atlantic City in the black. Here’s where to start:

Where to eat:

It’s true that AC is home to a number of world-class restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a great meal on the cheap. At Bill’s or Maria’s, you’ll get an affordable, satisfying meal, and save your money for all the entertainment the city has to offer.

Whether you’re in the mood for a classic gyro or breakfast – which is served all day – Bill’s is the place the locals head for a snack and a cold beer. In the summer, it’s usually open all night long.


There’s almost nothing that cures an Atlantic City hangover quite like breakfast at Maria’s. No frills, and nothing fancy on the menu: just good, solid food at a great price.


Where to drink:

Here’s a secret only the savviest visitors know: as long as you’re gambling, you drink for free. Grab a spot on the casino floor – either around a blackjack table or on a penny slot machine – and wait for a waitress to show up. You can order anything from water to complimentary cocktails, and if you tip your server she’ll keep ’em coming.

What to do:

There’s an unbelievable number of free or cheap things to do in Atlantic City, and one of the best might seem obvious: hit the beach. There are no fees (unlike most other beaches in the state), so just kick off your shoes, step off the boardwalk, and pick a spot on the sand.

Atlantic City’s beach | wjWalrus

Beginning in April, you can take a Happy Hour or dolphin-spotting cruise with Atlantic City Cruises. Hop aboard the vessel Cruisn 1, lean back and enjoy the breeze as your captain takes you on a tour of the bay. It’s a luxury experience for just $20 per adult.


If you’re looking to escape the crowds for a little while, head to the New Jersey Korean War Veterans Memorial or the Civil Rights Garden. Admission is free to both, and the latter is the first large-scale monument to civil rights in a northern state. Its location in Atlantic City is fitting, as it was the site of the 1964 Democratic Convention where Fannie Lou Hamer challenged the all-white delegation representing her home state of Mississippi, marking a big step forward in legislative equality. If you visit the garden, make your way down the path to the bronze bell. When it rings, it causes ripples in the reflecting pool that symbolize the ever-growing civil rights movement.


Hotel hack:

Prices can get a little steep at the hotel-casinos along the boardwalk in mid-summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t catch a break. A few months before your trip, sign up for a handful of hotel mailing lists. On weekends when rooms are under-booked, most of them send out deep discount offers on lodging.

Travel tip:

If you’re headed to Atlantic City from a nearby major metropolis, you can get a great deal by taking the bus. Most bus companies offer voucher deals when you buy a round-trip ticket. When you arrive at your hotel, take your voucher to the casino floor and trade it for quarters or game play. If you win, even a little, it’s like free money!

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