What are the first things that pop to mind when you think of “Americana”? Apple pie, rock-n-roll, Kentuck Fried Chicken, Marilyn Monroe, for sure … But how about beach boardwalks, carnival rides and circus sideshow freaks?
Earlier this year, I visited and reviewed Venice Beach, as one of the iconic beach boardwalks of America. The difference between Venice Beach and Coney Island couldn’t be more day vs. night. Not only does Coney Island have a stronger historical vibe, but it houses three amusement parks, making it the only “neighborhood amusement park” in Brooklyn and all of America. Visiting Coney Island is a must for your New York trip bucket list.
Coney Island attractions pack a treasure trove of historical landmarks, delicious foods (you can start your diet after visiting) and entertainment sights, which Coney Island an American icon.
Watch my Experiential Tour of Coney Island Attractions
In my video, I’ll take you inside the top attractions and show you what makes Coney Island an ‘American Pop Icon’.
Top Things to Do Coney Island
#1 Williams Candy
If you want to reminisce about the sweet tooth of Americana, it isn’t only apple pie. Amusement park food can range from cotton candy to marshmellow treats, marshmellow balls and candied apples. The candied apples are heavenly and Williams Candy serves up all of its sweet treats so fresh, you can smell the tempting aroma of sweet from the streets! Location: 1318 Surf Ave, across the street sharing the same block as Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs.
#2 Coney Island boardwalk
Built in 1937, the boardwalk is the longest and widest boardwalk in the world… the world! A stroll along the boardwalk you’ll find amusement rides, the screams of rollercoaster-riding children, seagulls, the aroma of delicious carnival food, a lot of picnicking locals and families and retired Russian (Brighton Beach is a neighbor to Coney Island and has a large Russian community) folks hanging out. It’s a great spot for people watching and street photography. Occasionally there are street performers doing acts on the boardwalk too.
#3 Munch on Boardwalk Food
Manhattan is a foodie’s city but Coney Island can be as well! Just strolling down the boardwalk, you can smell the sugar of the funnel cakes, pizza, hot dogs. You see people eating ice cream, Italian ices (aka gelato)… The smell is part beach and part amusement park. Boardwalk food prices are moderate; not the inflated cost you’d normally find at commercial theme parks.
#4 Eat a Knish
Knishes were made popular in New York by Eastern Eurpoean immigrants in the early 1900s. They are deep fried potato wedges and taste extra special with spicy mustard. In fact, everything tastes good with the mustard at Coney Island. They sell knishes on the boardwalk; you’ll find them at Nathan’s Famous too!
#5 The Wonder Wheel (at Dino’s Park)
Built in 1815-1820, it’s the king focus of the Wonder Wheel at Dino’s Amusement Park. You can see the wheel lit up at night from the boardwalk. Right off the boardwalk, entrance into Dino’s Park is free. But cost of the Wonder Wheel and other rides are $8 each. If you’re planning to experience more than one ride, you can buy the 5 pack for $35.
#6 Coney Island Circus Sideshow
Contortionists, sword swallowers, bearded ladies, .. Sideshows by the Seashore (aka Coney Island Circus Sideshow) is where it all takes place! It’s several sideshows (aka freak shows) squeezed into roughly a 45 – 60 minute act for the cost of $10 Adults ( $5 children) and it is totally worth it! It’s literally going back into time and reliving the days of watching circus sideshows and human feats which would make crowds wince or gasp. You sit on bleachers and the show is played continuously from 1:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., so you can stay as long as you want or leave.
Coney Island USA is a non-profit that preserves the spirit and history of Coney Island. It hosts a daily freak show, a sideshow university, where you can master your inner circus freakdom and the annual mermaid day parade.
Location: Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Ave.
#7 Coney Island Museum
If you want to learn a bit about the history of Coney Island and its boardwalk of circus and amusement fun, a Coney Island Museum is a must. The museum is small but showcases some of the area’s history, artifacts, old funhouse mirrors and rare 100 year old postcards.
Location: Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Ave. Same address at the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Admission is $5 for Adults
#8 Cyclone Rollercoaster (at Luna Park)
One of the top things to do in Coney Island is to take a ride on the Cyclone Rollercoaster is one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in America that is still in operation. That first drop is an 85 foot 60 degree drop. For roller coaster aficionados, this would be on your bucketlist. It’s such a relic, some riders almost feel like the car will fly off the tracks. It’s definitely a ride for roller coaster aficcionados. Admission: $8 or $9 . Location: Lunt Park, next to the New York Aquarium.
#9 Coney Island Beach
You can’t visit Coney Island Beach without at least taking a dip in the ocean. The beaches in New York have a lot of sand, meaning it’s quite a stroll to get from the boardwalk to the water. The beach isn’t a pretty beach and the water looks a little murky. But taking a dip, especially on a hot day, is a definite must. Well, at least get your toes wet.
Los Angeles’ Venice Beach has a Muscle Beach, where body builders flex, bask and preen in the outdoor beach gym while getting a tan. Well, Coney Island has its own version of Muscle Beach , which is much more no-nonsense, very Brooklyn streets and they guys here are definitely not working out for the show. You can see which you like best. Only in New York.
#10 Have a dog at Nathan’s Famous
Nathan’s Famous is known for their hot dogs. The original hotdog stand was built in 1916 and this joint has been a landmark ever since. Location: 1310 Surf Ave (across the subway)
#11 . Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest
Nathan’s Famous also holds a pretty famous annual hot dog eating contest every fourth of July. The world hot dog eating record is 69 hotdogs in ten minutes. How many hot dogs do you think you can eat?
#12 . Coney Island Mermaid Parade
New York City has always been a staunch supporter or summer arts and all sorts of free art and performance festivals come alive in the summer. The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is one of them and is a strange annual Coney Island tradition and arts festival, which celebrates the beginning of the summer season (late June). The parade started in 1983 as a way to revive and celebrate the neighborhood residents on the streets Mermaid and Neptune (yes, those are actual street names in Coney Island ) and allow for creative expression. Artists will dress up in mermaid fashion and march alongside pageant floats. The parade generall starts around West 21st Street and Surf Avenue and ends at West 10th Street. Plan your schedule accordingly, to survive the crowds.
#13 New York Aquarium
The New York Aquarium is the oldest aquarium in the United States, opening in 1896 but relocated to Coney Island in 1957. The aquarium is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose mission is to educated, promote awareness of issues threatening the oceans and save wildlife around the globe. They run a New York Seascape program, a conservation program which aids the restoration of healthy marine species and protects New York waters. You wouldn’t guess it from the outside, but the facility occupies 14 acres and boasts 266 marine species. Location: Surf Avenue & West 8th Street (you can also get there by way of the boardwalk) Hours:10:00 AM – 4:30 PM, Admission: $12
#15 Fireworks on the Beach
Fireworks start at 9:30pm every Friday night. Firework season is generally the late June to Labor Day.
Amusement Park tips
Unlike amusement parks like Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm or Great America, which are centrally managed and you pay one admission price for the entire day, Coney Island, has three separate independently-owned amusement parks (Luna Park, Dino’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, Adventurers Amusement Park) . You must purchase rides individually or purchase an unlimited ticket per amusement park. Individual tickets can be pretty steep.
How To Get to Coney Island
Coney Island is located in far south in Brooklyn.
By Subway from Manhattan: Take the N, Q, F or D train to Stillwell Avenue stop. It takes approximately 45 – 60 minutes from midtown Manhattan. It’s a stop away from Brighton Beach.
When is the best time to visit Coney Island
Supposedly Coney Island is operating year round. Summer (late June) is the best season to visit as New York rolls into summer festivals, there’s Friday fireworks and you might be able to catch the hot dog eating contest or mermaid parade. Avoid winter. Winter can be wicked cold. With the frost bitten wind coming off the freezing ocean waters, the wind chill can be wicked. I know this because I tried filming here for my Master thesis and had to go during my winter weekends. I was miserably cold.
And that’s how you can enjoy Coney Island. Which of these Coney Island attractions will you put on your bucket list?
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