After a seven-year fling in Las Vegas, the Miss America Pageant is returning in a week to its birthplace, Atlantic City, N.J.
The pageant began in 1921 as a beachfront bathing-suit contest between beauty competition winners from eight Northeastern cities. At that time, Atlantic City was a fashionable oceanfront resort with brilliant beaches, grandiose hotels, charming seaside shops and a stylish summertime following. Droves of visitors generated success for the region until economic upheavals beginning in the1960s launched the shore town into a depression that lasted decades.
Today, after weathering a half-century of economic highs and lows, the city has undergone a decade-long series of resurgences and makeovers intended to reinstate its original glitz and glamour. Has it worked? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Those attending this year's pageant will discover that Atlantic City's most glamorous runway isn't inside Boardwalk Hall, the longtime venue for the competition, but rather the four-mile wooden boardwalk that gleams with vibrant hues streaming from casino marquees and waterfront amusements. The city's beautiful beachscape, replenished from any superstorm Sandy distress, is a worthy competitor for any of the 53 contestants (50 states plus Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia).
In the spirit of the Miss America Pageant, here's a guide to the reigning beauties and crowning attractions that make up Atlantic City.
Most beautiful beach: The nearly deserted sloping dunes just north of the Steel Pier, past the Revel resort all the way to the inlet, are dotted with newly installed native plantings, birds darting toward the waves and very few people. The entire Atlantic City shoreline, which continues south from the Steel Pier down to Margate, boasts attractive walking paths and festive beach bars.
Most beautiful place for a drink overlooking the ocean: Resorts Casino's new Landshark Bar and Grill. Folks must be wondering what took so long. Atlantic City's first year-round oceanfront bar and restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows and a giant wrap-around deck finally opened its doors this summer on the site of the old Steeplechase Pier. It's five o'clock all day here, with booze in the blender and live music. This venture is only one portion of the new Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville enterprise. There are plenty more cheeseburgers in paradise nearby at the entrance to the casino, where Buffett's signature Margaritaville restaurant has its nightly live performances, a tiki bar and and outdoor dining deck. (1133 Boardwalk, 609-431-4100, margaritavilleatlanticcity.com)
Most beautiful outdoor pool: The Chelsea. The scene is a perpetual pageant of chic peeps, celebrity DJs, elegant cabanas and crafty cocktails on the hotel's scenic fifth-floor rooftop deck. And only insiders know where to slip away for a free soothing saltwater soak — the Chelsea's Oasis Pool, by the spa. (111 S. Chelsea Ave., 800-548-3030, thechelsea-ac.com)
If you prefer to swim with a cover charge ($30 for women and $40 for men), head over to Revel's New HQ Beach Club, a daylight pool lounge with funky geometric-shaped pools flanked by sand-covered decks and daybeds, with nonstop tunes blasting from the elaborate Turbosound system. (Open Friday to Sunday. 500 Boardwalk – Revel Beach, 609-345-2211, revelnightlife.com)
Best place to spot a bathing beauty: The Deck at the far end of the Pier Shops at Caesars. Atlantic City's once-famous Million Dollar Pier has long been replaced by an ultra-modern glass-enclosed shopping mall with Vegas-esque dancing fountain light shows and glitzy common spaces. But you've seen malls before. What you likely haven't experienced is the view from this mall's outdoor observation deck, jutting out over the Atlantic Ocean for unobstructed views of the coastline and all of the bodies occupying the beach. On blustery days, head inside to the sand-floor lounge deck on the third floor, where you can still enjoy the view, stay warm and laze the day away on colorful beach chairs, without the wind ruffling your magazines. (1 Atlantic Ocean, opposite Caesar's Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, 609-345-3100.)
Best place for beauty treatment and makeup: Immersion Spa. Ascend to the 32nd floor of the Water Club at Borgata. This tranquil, 36,000-square-foot palace with rock gardens and fluty music is so Zen, you'll feel your shoulders instantly lighten and your voice drop to a whisper. Before enjoying a glam-girl Glow Facial, take a glide in the infinity-edge lap pool with panoramic skyline and ocean views. Afterward, finish your princess primp with a Coconut Lime Mani-Pedi and makeup session next door in the Borgata's Salon. (1 Renaissance Way, 609-317-7555, thewaterclubhotel.com/spa)
Best nightspot to see the beautiful people: The Pool After Dark at Harrah's. Where to go after your beauty-queen makeover? Everyone who's anyone knows that this resort pool turns into Atlantic City's most glamorous nightspot. Amid the tropical flora and fauna under a starry glass dome, you'll spot celebs and wannabes sipping on designer cocktails delivered by bikini-clad servers. (777 Harrah's Way, 609-340-2000, harrahsresort.com/poolafterdark)
Best place to shop for beauty-queen shoes: Fixation. Where does a beauty pageant lovely go when she breaks a heel sauntering down the boardwalk? In Atlantic City, she can get her high-fashion kicks at Fixation shoe boutique. It carries sassy runway Jimmy Choo stilettos and Alexander McQueen kitten heels for the dance numbers with the group. Or how about a pair of those Miu Miu patent leather sandals for the bathing suit competition? And really, there's no need to endanger those fancy kickers again; get a lift across the boards from a rolling chair. Available for hire all over the boardwalk for $1 a block. (The Water Club at Borgata, 1 Renaissance Way, 609-317-7772)
Most beautiful outdoor show: AC Dreamin 3-D. This outdoor 3-D sound-and-light show immerses audiences into a modern-day fairy-tale dream journeying through six enchanted environments: "a mysterious train station, a luxurious hotel, a crazy theme park, a surreal lighthouse, a dreamy underwater world" and the luminous nighttime boardwalk. Free nightly screening on the exterior facade of Boardwalk Hall every half-hour from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. weekdays and until 12:30 a.m. on weekends. Showtimes may vary during pageant week. (2301 Boardwalk between South Florida and South Mississippi avenues)
Most beautified empty lots: In an effort to spruce up Atlantic City's dilapidated and abandoned lots, the city has commissioned a series of art installations called ARTLANTIC. These lots are now parks and free-form art spaces, providing a peaceful outdoor respite from the bustling boardwalk. (1700 Pacific Ave. and 2701 Boardwalk)
Most beautiful casino employees: The Borgata. Oh, those "impossibly lovely" babes at the Borgata. Like it or not, the casino recently won a lawsuit entitling it to discipline (through suspensions or firings) the all-female casino serving staff if they gain more than 7 percent of their body weight. The judge in the case cited that upon applying for the job, employees are made aware of the stipulations: being "part fashion model and part cocktail server" is an integral part of the job. Nonetheless, those unconventional rules ensure that these lovelies are the most fetching servers in town. (1 Borgata Way, 866-692-6742, theborgata.com)
Most beautiful restaurants: Azure by Allegretti. That the French Riviera-inspired seafood fare is nothing short of spectacular is almost beside the point. Almost, because chef Alain Allegretti is so talented and in demand that his culinary resume includes cooking for two U.S. presidents. But without your dropping a chief executive's name, they'll own you with the jaw-dropping view: floor-to-ceiling oceanfront windows serving as a mesmerizing backdrop for a contemporary dining room filled with fashionistas and foodies. (Inside Revel resort, 500 Boardwalk, 609-225-9870, azureatrevel.com)
Capriccio is another gorgeous jewel in Atlantic City's dining crown. Sure, inside it's a classically beautiful old-world Italian restaurant. But roll the dice and request a table on the patio, and you could find yourself sipping Bellinis, overlooking the ocean, al fresco at sunset. The fare is deliciously authentic with handmade pastas, antipasti and some of the best osso buco this side of the Atlantic. (Resorts Casino, 1133 Boardwalk, 800-932-0734, resortsac/dine.capriccio)
Most beautiful hotel rooms: Revel Resort. Don't let the romance dwindle after dinner; check into one of Revel resort's stunning guest rooms. The experience begins at check-in, where electronic key cards allow entrance into a posh private lobby to access guest-room elevators. Upstairs, the hallways glow green and red from doorbells alerting housekeeping staff to make up a room or not to disturb. Inside, rooms have panoramic views of the ocean and the city and a remote that operates the window blinds and overhead lights. Down comforters top heavenly beds dressed with crisp, hefty-thread-count linens. The bathrooms don't disappoint, with lavish marble double sinks and walk-in showers. (Revel, 500 Boardwalk, 855-348-0500, revelresorts.com)
Most beautiful way to get to Atlantic City: (…that doesn't involve Interstate 95.) Borgata Casino has instituted its new Fly Borgata charter flights from the Signature Flight Support at BWI-Marshall Airport. High rollers, based on their gambling history, are comped for the flight and offered deals on guest rooms. Only one flight a month operates now but more are expected to be added throughout the year. A "Stay and Fly" package starts at $719 per person. (flyborgata.com)