A beach in New York City is kind of a bizarre concept. I mean, it isn’t called the “concrete jungle” (does anyone actually call it this?) for nothing. But, during the few short months of summer, New Yorkers have plenty of beaches to choose from for their weekend escapes. One of the most famous destinations is Coney Island.
Ever since I was little, I’ve heard the name Coney Island and just pictured a huge amusement park. My mom used to have a picture of the Cyclone (more on that later) on our fridge, but the only time I ever went was to see a concert when I was in high school. We didn’t go to any of the actual parks, so I don’t consider that to be a true visit.
Coney Island is mentioned in so many books, songs, and movies, but it’s never been the first thing I think of when I picture Brooklyn. I had to find out for myself just what this place was about, so I hopped on the F train and took the long (40 stops…) journey to this seaside town in Brooklyn.
First thing’s first – Coney Island is not an island anymore. It used to be an island, but in the 1920s land owners filled in a portion of the 3-mile Coney Island Creek. They later filled in the rest to build the Belt Parkway.
From 1880 to the end of World War 2, Coney Island was the biggest amusement area in the country. There were tons of rides to go on, foods to eat, and things to enjoy. After the war, things started to change. Movie theaters started to get air conditioning, cars became popular (people could now drive to Long Island), and gang problems started to invade. In 1964, the last major theme park (Steeplechase Park) in Coney Island closed and the property was sold to developer Fred Trump. You might know him as the father of...well, you know.
Trump figured that the era of amusement was over, and he wanted to build luxury apartments on the former home of Steeplechase Park. He even invited the media to a mock funeral for “amusement parks” before having the pavilion bulldozed. So really, absolutely nothing has changed.
Fortunately, failure is genetic in the Trump family, and after a decade of court battles, Fred finally gave up on his dream of eliminating the parks. The site remained zoned for amusements only, and Fred leased the property to Norman Kaufman. In 1979, New York City bought Steeplechase Park back. Cut to today, where there are two amusement parks in Coney Island – Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park.
Coney Island is accessible by the D, F, N, and Q trains, as well as some city buses, parkways, and the Ocean Parkway bike path. Stillwell Avenue has a beautiful subway station, which is actually the largest elevated metro station in North America. Even before you make it to the station, you can see the rides from the subway car.
When you leave the subway, one of the first things you see is Nathan’s Famous. I stopped in for a hot dog and fries, but you can find more on that here. Coney Island has a number of other places to eat (including Wahlburgers), but I recommend stopping at Nathan’s on your first visit.
As I said, Coney Island has two amusement parks to enjoy on your visit. If you’re like me and rides terrify you, there are still options for you to enjoy. Luna Park and Deno’s both have smaller rides (not just for the kids!) and carnival games.
Of course, the most famous ride is the Coney Island Cyclone. The wooden coaster just celebrated its 90th birthday, and it is a super popular ride with fans of coasters. My mom told me all about how she rode it as a kid, and that it is really rickety and noisy. Roller coasters scare the hell out of me, so after that enticing review I think I’ll hold off on the Cyclone until I visit with friends.
I did want to take part in something while I was at the park, so I bought a ticket for the Wonder Wheel.
As the sign says, the Wonder Wheel first opened back in 1920. Because it was originally owned by construction men, the highest standard of quality was followed when the ride was built. Each year, the ride is overhauled and painted to keep it protected during the winter months. Since it opened, the Wonder Wheel has never had an accident. I mean, I was convinced that that was about to change, but I went on anyway.
I’ve never been on a Ferris wheel before, so I was almost crying with fear. The Wonder Wheel has two types of cars to ride in: you can go for a traditional, stable car, or you can hop into one of the sliding ones, which move on a track as the wheel rotates.
I went with a stable car, because I didn’t want to scream the entire way around.
I’m happy to report that I survived my trip around. I even managed to smile by the end!
If rides really aren’t your thing, Coney Island is also home to the Cyclones (a minor league baseball team), Cosmos (professional soccer club), a beautiful beach, and the New York Aquarium. I’ve actually been back a few times since my first visit, and I’m hoping to soak up as much summer as I can in this crazy part of Brooklyn.