A Day @: Coney Island Is As Fun As It Ever Was
By Anne Marie Kelly, Contributing Writer, June 20, 2018
If the Hamptons is a haven for New York’s elite, then Coney Island is for everyone else. It’s not posh, but, boy, is it fun! It’s an offbeat mix of old-school amusement park, beachside restaurants, a boardwalk perfect for people watching, and a sandy (and free) beach. After a few decades of neglect, it has reemerged as a destination that looks and feels like a throwback to earlier, more carefree times.
Coney Island began as a resort and amusement park after the U.S. Civil War, and has experienced a veritable rollercoaster ride of ups and downs ever since. It’s been the backdrop for countless movies, including Annie Hall, Brooklyn and The Wiz and Beyonce featured it in her “XO” music video. This comes as no surprise since it’s home to the biggest and best of so many things: its boardwalk is the widest and deepest boardwalk in the world; it’s the birthplace of the hot dog; and the infamous Cyclone is the country’s oldest wooden rollercoaster. Coney Island takes itself seriously – but is anything but pretentious. It’s low-tech, low-stress and completely authentic.
Here are a few of the not-to-be-missed attractions:
Coney Island’s famous amusement area has more than 50 separate rides and games — and it’s where the retro feeling of Coney Island is most apparent. Many rides originated in the early 1900s. They’ve all been rebuilt (thankfully), but their original design and names remain. Rides range from the “gentle enough for a baby” experience to the “are you out of your mind?” variety. The B&B Carousell, for instance, will speak to young children and the nostalgic at heart. Just looking at the ornate, hand-carved wooden horses as they go round and round will transport you to simpler times. The Wonder Wheel gives riders majestic views of lower Manhattan, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and the Atlantic Ocean — with no stomach flops. And then there’s The Cyclone – the mother of all roller coasters. It’s 85 feet tall at its highest point, drops straight down at close to a 60-degree angle and has a top speed of 60 miles per hour — not a ride for wimps! Coney Island’s amusement park is not centrally managed, and many of the rides and attractions don’t have websites or contact information, but Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, are the two main operators overseeing the majority of the attractions.
Coney Island beach is among just a handful of beaches accessible by the NYC subway system. After a one-hour ride from mid-town Manhattan, you’re relaxing on a wide, sandy beach. Lifeguards are on duty from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend to the Sunday after Labor Day. Restrooms are clean and plentiful on the nearby boardwalk. In other words, perfect for a beach daytripper.
The Riegelmann Boardwalk just turned 95 and recently earned U.S. landmark status. Small wonder. It’s pleasurably wide and long (it’s the second longest boardwalk in the world) with turn-of-the-century street lights, pavilions for shade, benches for sitting, water fountains and lots of restaurants. It’s brilliant for people and street-performer watching.
The New York Aquarium is (of course) the oldest continuingly operating aquarium in the U. S. and it’s directly at one end of the boardwalk. While it’s still recovering from Hurricane Sandy damage, even partially open there’s still a lot to take in. A particular crowd-pleaser is the sea lion show in the outdoor Aquatheatre. Make friends with young and really old sea lions as they play, perform and, along with their trainers, help the audience better understand ways to help our waters. Coming soon – a shimmering new home for the Aquarium’s newest exhibit Ocean Wonders: Sharks! which opens on June 30.
One of the newer additions to the attraction list is the Ford Amphitheater which opened in 2016. The open-air 5,000 seat venue hosts a number of concerts over the course of the season from now through September, with this summer’s offerings including appearances by Barenaked Ladies all the way to nostalgia performances by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, and Gladys Knight and the O’Jays. Located right beside is the newly opened — and painstakingly restored last year — Childs Building (built in 1923) which now houses a restaurant, Kitchen 21, boasting an 84 foot bar and serving innovative takes on American cuisine throughout the year.
But wait, there’s more: free fireworks every Friday night; an annual Mermaid Parade; a Fourth of July hot dog eating competition sponsored by Nathan’s Famous; it’s home to the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team; and even has a non-profit organization overseeing its sideshow attractions — Coney Island USA! So you can see Coney Island has a lot going on. Enjoy its bustle, or just chill out on the beach. Keep in mind the warmer weather increases its popularity, so if you’re looking for a less crowded option, you might consider planning a mid-week excursion. But go — you’ll be so glad you did.
Fire in Dreamland, a play receiving its New York premiere at the Public Theater received its inspiration from Coney Island and its rich history. The production’s description states: “In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a disillusioned do-gooder named Kate (Rebecca Naomi Jones) meets Jaap (Enver Gjokaj), a charismatic European making a film about the 1911 fire that burned Coney Island’s Dreamland amusement park to ashes. Desperate for something to live for, Kate buys a ticket on the thrill ride of Jaap’s passion. The only trick is to keep the roller coaster from running off the rails before it destroys them all. Using imagery from Coney Island’s amusement park past, while breaking the boundaries of time and narrative, this play explores the astonishing things communities can create in the face of adversity.”
Running through August 5. For more information and to purchase tickets click here.
Cover: A view of Coney Island from the pier.