You’d be a fool to miss out on Coney Island during your next New York stay. Brooklyn’s legendary good-time destination, Coney Island draws locals and globetrotters for carnival thrills, beachside bonding, boardwalk delights, and heaps of city lore.
Coney Island, located at the southernmost end of Brooklyn, is as rich in history and personality as any destination in the five boroughs. More than just a beloved locus of summertime thrills and rollercoasters (though those are certainly part of the deal), this seaside community is home to a grand roster of sporting events, concerts, cultural happenings, fireworks displays, and laid-back eateries — many of them year-round. As much a part of the city as the Empire State Building or Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square or the Plaza Hotel, Coney Island teems with New York personality, and residents take intense pride in what’s rightfully been dubbed “America’s Playground.”
Coney Island’s first tourist-centric structures were erected in the 1840s. In the years since, the area has inspired memories for generations of leisure-seekers who have strolled its beaches and boardwalks. It has been immortalised in the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, O. Henry, and Joseph Heller. It has been featured prominently in films ranging from Annie Hall, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Paper Moon to The Warriors, A.I., Cloverfield, and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. Musicians Lana Del Rey, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and the band Franz Ferdinand have dedicated songs to it, while Beyonce’s “XO” video is a visual love letter to the community.
Inspired? Here are some of the best places to search out on a trip to Coney Island.
1. Art lovers are all aflutter over Coney Art Walls, an incredible al fresco museum dedicated to street art. There’s also a restored Shooting Gallery/Arts Annex, which has been refurbished to its original lustre since first opening in 1939. Feeling reflective? Visit the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance at MCU Park, dedicated to the memory of those lost on September 11, 2001. Feeling nostalgic? Hit the Coney Island Museum.
2. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs serves up famous frankfurters at their flagship eatery, best washed down with some inventive beers from Coney Island Brewing Company. Other great Coney Island food spots include the sweet shop Williams Candy, old-school Italian eateries like Gargiulo’s and Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana, and the super-satisfying, Jamaica Bay-adjacent Thai Rock.
3. An impressive New Year’s Eve Spectacular takes place annually on 31st December, complete with a festive countdown-to-midnight and ball drop on the iconic Parachute Jump ride. The next day, 1st January, features an incredible sight: the world-famous Polar Bear Plunge, where brave souls rush into the waters to welcome an invigorating new year. In warmer months, crowds gather every day for sun worship and merrymaking.
When you mention Coney Island to many people, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and its soaring, iconic Ferris wheel spring immediately to mind. It’s within this park that visitors can access the Wonder Wheel as well as bumper cars, arcade games, and the jumpy Spook-A-Rama.
5. When it comes to Coney Island’s amusement parks, Luna Park is the snazzy younger sibling. It’s here that adrenaline junkies will find the iconic Coney Island Cyclone, with its 2,640 feet of climbs, drops, and killer views. Other heart-pounding rides within Luna include the Sling Shot, the Steeplechase coaster, the Brooklyn Flyer swings, Watermania, and the zero-gravity Luna 360.
Of course, the little ones in your party (and those adults who don’t go in for “death drops”) will have plenty to keep them occupied as well. Luna Park also offers up the Tea Party teacup ride; the whimsical Magic Bikes; aquatic-themed rides like the Brooklyn Barge, Seaside Swing, and Speed Boat; and the old-timey B&B Carousell. Throughout the area there are tons of fun carnival booths and spots to pick up street food, drinks and desserts.
6. For more than 30 years, the inspiring and outrageous Mermaid Parade — the world’s largest “art parade,” which dedicates itself to celebrating all things magical, mystical, and mythological — has taken place in mid-June. You definitely will not want to miss it. Why “mermaid,” you ask? The parade was started for and by locals who resided on Mermaid and Neptune Streets. Another popular parade is Coney Island’s annual Halloween Parade, where attendees go all-out against this incredible backdrop.
7. Coney Island also has plenty on offer for sports fans. Baseball is covered by the Brooklyn Cyclones and football by the New York Cosmos. Then there’s the Gotham Girls Roller Derby, trapeze lessons with the Trapeze School of New York, and even Xcite Wrestling shows. The Abe Stark Skating Arena is also worth a visit for all-day, on-the-ice antics as well as hockey games and skate lessons.
Written by Andrew Stone
All imagery © Association for Coney Island Inc.