Disney World or Six Flags Great Adventure it ainít. For a refreshing alternative to corporate-owned amusement parks, take a day trip to Brooklynís Coney Island.
One of the countries most celebrated beach resorts during the first half of the 20th Century, Coney Island remains a mecca for summer fun even today.
Yes, many rides are antiquated and the area is battling its way back from urban blight. But donít let that deter you. Itís all part of Coneyís charm.
Over the years, Coney Island has been referred to as a poor manís paradise. Just an hour by subway from midtown Manhattan, Coney offers an abundance of sun, sand and surf, especially to city dwellers unable to afford costly summer getaways. The beach is free, wide, and groomed regularly. Exiting the train, you can practically taste the salty Atlantic lingering in the air.
The area has even taken on a chic honky-tonk hipness as of late, serving as a backdrop for music videos, fashion shoots, TV shows and movies. Remember the scene with the house under the roller coaster in the Woody Allen film "Annie Hall"? That was Coney Islandís now abandoned Thunderbolt.
The amusement area is open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, although some attractions may be open earlier or later in the season, depending upon the weather. If youíve never ventured to this peninsula at the southernmost reaches of Brooklyn, you owe it to yourself and your kids to join the millions who have left their footprints in the sands of Coney Island.
|On sunny days, Coney Islandís 3-mile boardwalk brings out swells of joggers, bikers, leisurely strolling couples and mothers pushing strollers. Heading east, the boardwalk runs into Brighton Beach, nicknamed "Little Odessa" for the thousands of Russian immigrants who settled here in the 1980s. For a truly ethnic experience, enjoy a bite at one of the outdoor Russian cafes lining the boardwalk in Brighton.|
|The warning posted outside the Cyclone reads "DO NOT RIDE IF YOU ARE PREGNANT, WEAR A PACEMAKER OR SUFFER FROM OTHER MEDICAL CONDITIONS," and they mean it. This 100-second, 9-hill legendary roller coaster has no upside-down corkscrew loops, but will make you lose your lunch, nevertheless. Winding its way over rickety wooden planks at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, the entire structure feels as if it could collapse at any moment. Whatís even more terrifying after the initial 85 foot plunge, is the way this relic of a roller coaster violently jerks you about. Built in 1927, the Cyclone is now included in the National Register of Historic Places. 834 Surf Avenue and W. 10th Street.|
|At 150 feet, the Wonder Wheel is the worldís tallest Ferris wheel and the centerpiece of the Coney Island amusement area. Built in 1920, this one-of-a-kind ride includes 16 swinging and 8 stationary cars that provide a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, the Jersey Shore and the NYC skyline. While the Wonder Wheel looks like harmless fun, in reality, the swinging cars are nasty nausea-inducing contraptions. In 1989, the structure was declared an official NYC landmark. $2.50 per ride.|
|You stand inside a circular chamber with a dozen other sadomasochists, when suddenly, the chamber starts spinning as the floor drops out. Before you know it, the centrifugal force has you pinned to the wall like a sock during the spin cycle of a washing machine. Dare to throw up and the centrifugal force glues your spew to your body. When the nightmare finally ends, you agree to the ride operatorís offer of a second ride at half price. 12th street between Bowery and the Boardwalk.|
|"Bump, bump, bump your ass off!!!" trumpets the recording over the PA system. Coney Islandís Eldorado Disco Bumper Cars are the perfect way to vent your frustrations. If you ever had the urge to ram you car into the jerk who just cut you off, hereís your opportunity. And with blaring disco music shattering the decibel meter, your victim will never hear you coming. Surf Avenue and W. 12th Street. $2.50 per ride.|
|Built for the 1939 Worldís Fair and dubbed the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn, this designated national landmark hasnít been operational for years. In its day, the Parachute Jump hoisted riders to its summit, then dropped them into a freefall before deploying a parachute. While some view the 262-foot tower as wrought-iron wreckage, others value the distinctive structure as a permanent fixture on the Brooklyn skyline.|
|Step right up and witness the fire eater, the bearded lady, the snake charmer, the human blockhead (who hammers nails into his skull), and a bevy of other human curiosities. Youíll see 10 live acts in all in this good old-fashioned freak show. Staged by the non-profit organization Coney Island USA, shows last from 45 minutes to an hour. Friday nights from 7 PM past midnight, and Saturday and Sundays from 2 PM past midnight during the summer. $3 for adults, $2 for children under 12. West 12th Street off Surf Avenue. (718) 372-5159.|
|Coney Islandís Mardi Gras! Watch floats, antique cars, marching bands, mermaids, Neptunes and other sea creatures march down Surf Avenue and the boardwalk during the 15th Annual Mermaid Parade, June 21, 1997, beginning at 2 PM.|
|When youíve had your fill of cotton candy and stomach-churning rides, get splashed by the dolphins (a "Saltwater Souvenir") at the Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation (formerly known as the NY Aquarium). Considered one of the top marine facilities in the country, the aquarium features 10,000 living specimens including beluga whales, sharks, octopuses, penguins, electric eels, walruses and seals. Catch a show at the new outdoor theater, or reach out to a horseshoe crab in the touch tank. Surf Avenue and W. 8th Street. (718) 265-FISH. Open weekdays 10 AM - 6 PM, weekends 10 AM - 7 PM. General admission - $7.75, children under 12 - $3.50, under 2 - free, seniors 65+ - $3.50.|
|No visit to Coney Island would be complete without stopping off at the original Nathanís Famous. Opened in 1916, some people swear Nathanís makes the best damn hot dogs and French fries on the planet. And we agree. The Nathanís Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every July 4th, is a spectacle in gluttony not to be missed.|
|Other rides and attractions, some of which operate independently of Coneyís two major amusement parks include carousels, a water flume, spook houses, go karts, batting ranges, BB gun shooting galleries and a variety of carnival games where guys still win kewpie dolls for their sweethearts.|
Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk, Brooklyn, NY.
By Car: Belt Parkway to exit 6. Go south on Cropsey Avenue to Surf Avenue.
By Train: Take the B, D, N or F trains to Stillwell Avenue-Coney Island (the last stop), or take the D or F trains to West 8th Street. (Check NYC subway map. Train routes are subject to change!)
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Copyright © Mitch Lemus