Guide to Coney Island

Often referred to as “America’s playground,” Coney Island is the famed birthplace for the modern amusement park and stands as an icon representing summer Americana. Lying on the Southwest rim of Brooklyn, it is shrouded in an interesting dichotomy of whimsical, old-timey charm and vibrant art. For over 120 years, it has provided a wonderland of leisure and entertainment options as an escape from the glamour and bustle of Manhattan.

Correspondingly, its locals are just as unique and interesting as their environment. People of all trades and backgrounds call Coney Island home and contribute to its dynamic atmosphere. Coney Island’s vivacious spirit is well portrayed in its art walls, an eclectic series of street artworks, displaying a vast variety of works ranging from the slightly disturbing to pleasantly playful. Between the amusing attractions it offers and diverse characters it attracts, Coney Island is a delightful hub for entertainment, excitement, and fun.

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Entertainment & Activities
On any warm, summer day, Coney Island attracts masses of people, converging in two main spots: the beach and the boardwalk. These places function as Coney Island’s epicenter, where most of the action takes place. Between relaxing at the beach and enjoying the boardwalk’s tasty offerings, it’s easy to hang out for an entire day.

Those seeking more exhilarating leisure, on the other hand, might visit Coney Island’s beloved amusement park, Luna Park. Built in 1903, Luna Park has become a Coney Island icon, supplying innumerable delights throughout the years, while still maintaining its historic charm. The park’s variety of rides, shopping, dining, and games make it a great place for families and people of all thrill-seeking levels to enjoy.

The Cyclone, perhaps the park’s most famous attraction, is a massive, wooden roller coaster. It’s been delivering rip-roaring thrills since opening in 1927. For those looking for a ride that provokes less adrenaline, there’s the Wonder Wheel, a giant Ferris wheel that provides riders with a 360-degree view of Coney Island from 155 feet in the air. All day passes for Luna Park are between $40-$69 at the gate and $29-$41 if purchased online, in advance.

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For those looking for an alternative to the amusement park, The New York Aquarium is right next door and provides a variety of aquatic wildlife experiences. Visitors can view seals, walruses, sharks, otters, turtles, rays and more in the aquarium’s galleries, shows, and 4-D theater. For a more interactive experience, there are touch pools and opportunities to feed the animals, as well. Ticket prices may vary between age and promotions, but usually remain under $30.

Just off the boardwalk, baseball fans can attend a game at MCU Park to see the Brooklyn Cyclones, the minor league team for the New York Mets. The tickets are under $20, and nothing says “summer” like a trip to the ballpark.

For those that prefer popstars over peanuts can attend a show at the Ford Amphitheater, an outdoor music venue with a wide variety of acts from an assortment of genres and chart rankings. For example, Wiz Khalifa, The Beach Boys, Gladys Knight, and compilations of artists from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s were among acts in the summer of 2018.

The Coney Island Circus Sideshow is a spectacular showcase of bizarre human talents. Between freak shows and fire-eating, the performers deliver entertainment in true Coney Island fashion. Spectators leave impressed, disturbed, perplexed, delighted, or a combination of each. The show’s purpose is not only to entertain; it is intentionally designed to keep alive the art of human oddities in a live context. Shows run between May and September and tickets are sold at the reasonable price of $5-$10.

Finally, if there’s one attraction that celebrates all the dynamic aspects of Coney Island—the peculiar, classic, eclectic and whimsical—it’s the Coney Island Museum. The museum showcases a multitude of oddities and artifacts that have either become synonymous with Coney Island, or somehow significant in its history. The exhibits are said to be full of fascinating peculiarities and lots of nostalgia for anyone who cherishes the area.

 

Food
Much of the food on Coney Island is like the food served at a fair, meaning fried and sugary treats galore! Along with a massive selection of these indulgences, Coney Island is known for its unparalleled hot dogs and adding a unique twist on an assortment of tastes.

 Hot dogs from Nathan's are a Coney Island staple.

Hot dogs from Nathan's are a Coney Island staple.

  • Coney Island is home to the original Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs & Restaurant, a global brand with fans worldwide. Nathan’s serves french fries, clams, and their signature hot dogs—great food for a seaside summer day.
  • Next door to Nathan’s is William’s Candy—every sweet tooth’s dream. William’s offers an assortment of sugary concoctions including fudge, cotton candy, ice cream, popcorn, and candy apples, just to name a few.
  • At Ruby’s Bar and Grill, beachgoers and board-walkers come far and wide for sustenance of the crunchy, fried, or greasy persuasion. Masses of swimwear-dawning patrons enjoy Ruby’s for their quintessential Coney Island cuisine including corn dogs, pizza, beer, jumbo fried shrimp, and waffle fries.
  • Totonno’s Pizzeria is a beloved New York style pizza joint just a few blocks from the boardwalk. It’s a popular favorite and has been a Coney Island mainstay for the last 90 years.
  • Gargiulo’s Italian Restaurant is unique to Coney Island’s casual atmosphere as a formal dining option, beloved particularly for its seafood and pasta entrees.
  • Feltman’s Kitchen is the birthplace of the hot dog, where patrons can dress their artisan franks with assorted toppings from ketchup and mustard to chili and sauerkraut.
  • The nature of Coney Island cuisine is also embodied in Paul’s Daughter, which serves boardwalk and summertime favorites including fries, beer, funnel cakes, cotton candy, sausages, Italian ices, soft serve, and seafood such as half shell clams and fried calamari.
  • Margarita Island is a small, tiki/dive bar, specializing in frozen, fruity refreshments. Here, the outdoor patio often hosts food vendors and the margaritas are poured until late.

 

Transit
Coney Island is easy to visit by public transportation. Via Subway, Coney Island is at the end of the D, F, N, or Q train at the Stillwell Avenue stop. By bus, routes B1, B68, and B36 all stop near the boardwalk at West Brighton Avenue, Brighton Beach Avenue, and Ocean Parkway.

 

Special Events
Throughout the year, Coney Island hosts a handful of interesting events, perhaps the most famous being the Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. There, 20 contestants face off every year to eat as many hot dogs as possible in 10 minutes. In recent years, total numbers have been in the lower 70s for men and the upper 30s for women. An estimated 35,000 spectators attend to watch the winner take home $10,000.

 Mermaid Parade, photo by Time Out New York

Mermaid Parade, photo by Time Out New York

In addition to the super bowl of eating contests, Coney Island is host to the largest art parade in the U.S., the annual Mermaid Parade. Every summer, people from far and wide flock the streets of Coney Island, to celebrate art and community, in this nautical-themed festival. It’s a holiday invented by artists, where performers and floats decked out in colorful, aquatic, costumes hit the streets and take ownership of the bizarre reputation that surrounds Coney Island. Every year, the parade awards a “Queen Mermaid” and “King Neptune,” who are usually people that support the arts, or artists themselves. This creative, real life art display is meant to bring myths to life, perpetuate positive self-esteem, and provide New Yorkers with an outlet for self-expression.

Whether it’s to try a world-renowned hot dog for yourself, escape the concrete jungle for the day, or be delighted by the many unique attractions that it provides, the only way to experience the wonder of Coney Island is to plan a visit for yourself.

Kim Hill