The summer season has kicked off throughout the US, though the summer solstice is still about a week away. Across the nation, schools are just about finished shutting for the summer, fire hydrants are opening up, and revelers are partying later into the night. And in the shadow of Manhattan’s skyscrapers and lights, summer’s reemergence means the reawakening of the Coney Island beach and boardwalk area, which has been dormant and empty for what seems like forever.
“If Paris is France, Coney Island, between June and September, is the world.” – George Tilyou
Coney Island is the name of the little peninsula in southern Brooklyn, as well as the name of the beach and the neighborhood that fills in the area. Memorial Day marks summer at Coney Island as open for business each season, and thousands come from all over the metropolitan area and converge around the 4 miles of beachfront land. Coney Island is probably best known for its amusement park area. For over 60 years prior to World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States, attracting several million visitors every year.
If you are visiting New York City this summer, a day-trip to experience summer at Coney Island in Brooklyn will be very rewarding. Stepping foot in this neighborhood is like taking a step back in time. Though many of the attractions from its heyday now are closed or built-over, there are still a great many “originals” to see. Some of the sites to take in when you visit are:
- Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs – Try the most famous hot dog, at the original Nathan’s location on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. Nathan Handwerker first opened up as a little stand on this same corner back in 1916, selling hot dogs for a nickel. Come here every 4th of July for the world’s largest hot dog eating contest, and try to beat Joey Chestnut’s record of
68now 73!!! (as of 2016) hot dogs, with buns!
- The Mermaid Parade – Not a location, but the largest art parade in the United States. Held mid-June every year, this burlesque-themed summer event “pays homage to Coney Island’s forgotten Mardi Gras which lasted from 1903 to 1954, and draws from a host of other sources resulting in a wonderful and wacky event that is unique to Coney Island,” as stated by Coney Island USA, one of Brooklyn’s not-for-profit arts organizations. Participants dress as mermaids, neptunes, and other sea creatures. After the parade, those 21 and up can attend the Mermaid Parade Ball, which will be held at the New York Aquarium, nearby. The 2011 Mermaid Parade will be this upcoming Saturday, June 18th, at 2pm. Brooklyn native Adam Richman, from the Travel Channel’s Man V. Food, will be the King Neptune, and Cat Greenleaf, from New York’s Talk Stoop with Cat Greenleaf, will be the Queen Mermaid.
- New York Aquarium – Visit the oldest continually-operating aquarium in the United States, since its birth back in 1896 in Battery Park, Manhattan. The 14 acres that the aquarium is situated on is home to over 350 different species of animals. Make sure to check out the Aquatheater to see the Sea Lion exhibition.
- The Wonder Wheel – Located inside Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, this is really an Eccentric Wheel, as opposed to a Ferris Wheel. An Eccentric Wheel is one where the cars are not fixed to the rails of the wheel, but instead have the freedom to slide back and forth on rails as the wheel rotates. The Wonder Wheel has both fixed cars and Eccentric cars, and the latter often adds a little excitement every few minutes when the gravity catches and it slides back on the rail. There are great views to be seen from here, from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Manhattan on a clear day. Summer at Coney Island, or just Coney Island in general, is not complete without it!
- The Cyclone – This is one of the most famous, as well as one of the oldest, roller coasters in the country. The wooden Cyclone was built in 1927, and now a registered landmark. This ride is $8 for the one minute ride, each time(except for the $5 re-ride option), and is anxiety-inducing and rickety; it may seem literally like a pain in the ass, but the grin on your face when you get off will have everyone around you assured that it was worth it!
- Parachute Jump – This red steel skeleton is a Brooklyn landmark, thought defunct now for some time. No trip to Coney Island is complete without a photo of yourself with the Parachute Jump in the backdrop.
- Luna Park – Though the original Luna Park closed decades ago, this reincarnation, which opened in 2010, features 19 rides. The Scream Zone, which is a new addition for 2011, features 4 brand new rides. The original Luna Park made such an impact on amusement parks in general, that today, many countries refer to amusement parks as “luna parks”, such as in Italy and Israel. In Turkey, “lunapark” is the name of every amusement park.
- Beach and Boardwalk at Coney Island – The actual beach and its boardwalk during summer at Coney Island attracts many New Yorkers year-round. Lifeguards are on duty throughout the “business hours”. The boardwalk is the means by which to get to almost every destination around Coney Island. Most of the small amusement parks can be entered from the boardwalk, and there are many bars and food offerings along the way. If you continue down the boardwalk in an easterly direction, you will quickly reach Brighton Beach, which has a strong Russian influence. There are many European restaurants in this area.
- MCU Park – Formerly Keyspan Park, this is where the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team plays. The Cyclones are a professional, short-season, minor league affiliate of the New York Mets. There are many concerts and other events held here to make this destination a plausible opportunity.
Summer at Coney Island, whether just for a day or the entire weekend, is an unforgettable experience. When in New York City, one can conveniently travel via public transportation to the Coney Island area; The New York City MTA Subway service has 4 lines (D, F, N, Q) that stop at Coney Island. The neighborhood has so much more to offer than the few things stated here, and it can be a cultural, historical, culinary, and educational experience, a microcosm of the New York City experience. As George Tilyou, the founder of Coney Island’s famous Steeplechase Park stated once in 1886, “If Paris is France, Coney Island, between June and September, is the world.”