Go BIG or Go Home
What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

Absecon Lighthouse, Atlantic City – New Jersey’s Tallest Lighthouse

Absecon lighthousePoor Matt. He’s been doing a lot of the “heavy lifting” for the sake of the blog lately, like when we sent him out on a tightrope 70 feet in the air in November. Last month, we sent him up a circular staircase of 228 steps, to the top of Absecon Lighthouse, the third tallest lighthouse in America.

Well, someone has to do it.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

We spent a cold President’s Day weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey, WITH the kids. Despite those obstacles, we still had a great time, and found plenty to do. One of our stops was the Absecon Lighthouse, the tallest in New Jersey and the third tallest in the United States (topped only by the Cape Hatteras Lighhouse in North Carolina, and the Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse in Florida).

Okay, what was so cool about it?

The lighthouse has been decommissioned since 1933, but it’s still lit every night, and open for tours daily.


Absecon Lighthouse, Atlantic City, NJ

Your visit begins in a reproduction of the original keeper’s house, where several displays of photos, maps, and memorabilia tell the lighthouse’s 156-year history. Or, you can “play” the upright piano, which is how The Girl chose to pass the time after checking out the prism on display.


It’s free to check out the displays in this museum, and there’s a moderate fee to climb to the top of the 171-foot, 17-story tower. The Boy, who is hardly ever sick, had a bad cold that weekend, and wasn’t up for ascending the winding staircase to the top. And SOMEONE had to stay with him. (I couldn’t leave my sick child alone, could I?)

So Matt accepted the challenge. The Girl started up with him. About 20 steps in, she realized she was only 1/10th of the way there, and retreated.

spiral stairs

1/10th of the climb, as seen from the doorway to the tower!

When Matt reached the top – it took him about ten minutes — he was really impressed by the panoramic views of Atlantic City and the shore line.

Atlantic Ocean

Views of the Atlantic Ocean from the Absecon Lighthouse

But he was really taken by the original 1857 Fresnal lens, whose light can be seen from a distance of 19 nautical miles. The first one of its kind, it is comprised of 252 pieces of glass acting as prisms which bounce the light.

Fresnal lens

Inside the Fresnal lens

The Boy and I spent our time chatting with Milton, one of the friendly staff members, and learning a lot of interesting tidbits about light house history and the life of the early keepers. I never knew that every lighthouse is painted in a unique way. Nautical charts record the colors, so sailors can tell where they are by looking at the lighthouse’s exterior paint scheme.

Milton also told us about the hardships the light keepers endured for their jobs, including spending hours alone at night, manning the light. He instructed The Boy to lift a heavy two-gallon can, which represented the weight of the whale oil kerosene needed to be carried up to the top of the tower every day to run the light.

How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list): 

Definitely a 9 if you’re ready, willing, and able to climb to the top for those views. You’ll get a “I Saw the Light” card if you do! (And you’ll have jelly legs for the rest of the day.) If you’re not, the museum itself rates about a 6.

Hey YOU! Go BIG!

Absecon Lighthouse
31 South Rhode Island Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ


  1. Mike said,
    March 12, 2013 @ 11:55 am

    What lighthouse would be complete without a “Milton” running the place? Fun post.

  2. March 13, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

    Great job! Be careful, they are very addicting! ;’)

  3. Rob Danforth said,
    April 23, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    Great photos! We found a rack in the lobby of our Hialeah hotel that had a bunch of tours and day trips, etc. We toured one of the popular lighthouses (can’t remember the name) a few years ago. It was a great way to spend a morning in Florida.