Atlantic City’s $150 million marketing campaign started winding down its first year this weekend with free coffee.

Intended to thank tourists for their patronage during the slower shoulder season, the promotion kicked off with perfect weather for strolling the Boardwalk. It also afforded the opportunity for Boardwalk Ambassadors to pick visitors’ brains about their experience in the resort.

Joan Hollar, 58, of Summit Hill, Pa., spent her childhood vacationing here and restarted regular trips about five years ago.

“I started coming back again because it’s a getaway,” Hollar said. “Casinos in Pennsylvania are just a day trip. Here is just more of a getaway. And there’s the beach. You can’t compare to the ocean, walking out of the casinos and seeing nature — it’s beautiful.”

Hollar said she hadn’t really noticed the five-year marketing campaign launched in April by the Atlantic City Alliance, a nonprofit marketing coalition.

But her mind-set encompasses part of its aim: to attract people to the city and get them hooked on what’s here other than gambling: the beach, the Boardwalk, dining, shopping. All the things lacking in gambling markets in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and Delaware that have compounded the effects of the recession on Atlantic City.

Louna Hill, 33, of Montgomery County, Md., also said she wasn’t drawn to the city by direct marketing. Instead, she happened upon a deal for rooms at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort online and decided to take a weekend trip for her fifth wedding anniversary.

She and her husband, Anthony, will be back during the peak season hoping to find the city is a bit livelier at that time — and to experience it under better circumstances: He was sick and she had studying to do for classes she’s taking toward her bachelor’s degree in legal studies.

“We need a do over,” Hill said. “The Boardwalk, we were expecting it to be more alive. Last night, stuff closed early. Maybe we’ll come again during the summer so we can check out the beach.”

The Boardwalk was filling up quickly with bicyclists, walkers and runners as Hill spoke late Sunday morning. And the line for coffee was 10 people deep.

Complimentary caffeine was among the no-charge events and activities focused on by the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority’s weekly “Do AC Free” promotion.

The highlight: a 3-D light show went off twice every hour minutes after sundown at Boardwalk Hall. Eight and a half minutes long, the $3 million production was created by Montreal media and entertainment company Moment Factory and is reportedly the only permanent one in the U.S.

Other favorite freebies included the long-standing farmer’s market and movies under the stars, said Kim Butler, spokeswoman for the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. The Alliance is the CRDA’s nonprofit marketing arm.

The CRDA’s Special Improvement Division and Atlantic City Public Library have run the movies for a decade, but expanded last summer to three locations from the original one in the resort’s Lower Chelsea neighborhood.

Contact Emily Previti:

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