When most people think of visiting New York, they have a list of decadent restaurants, historical monuments, tourist traps, Broadway shows, specific neighborhoods or guided tours on their itinerary. What you might be missing is Coney Island. It’s a unique pit stop for your inner child (or freak).
Now, I have one caveat: I suggest visiting in the spring, summer, fall or in the winter for annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge if you’re that hardcore!
Coney Island is deep in the cut of Brooklyn. It’s not an actual island, it sits along the Atlantic Ocean shore at the last stop on the D, F, N, Q subway lines. It has a kitschy beach town feel yet with gritty New York energy. The streets are even named Surf Avenue and Mermaid Avenue, it’s adorable. It’s been home to a world renown amusement park for over a century, and a home to the freak shows and weirdo artists. Totally my vibe.
First off, there’s a beach! It’s not the most picturesque and the water is not blue. What it lacks in swimming potential, it makes up for in ambiance and sunbathing opportunities. Sometimes after being stuck in the concrete jungle, you just wanna put your feet in the sand and eat an Italian ice.
For the thrill-seekers, Luna Park is the main attraction with rides for the little ones and for adults. It’s super family-friendly, date friendly or hot gurl summer friendly. Beyonce fans might remember she filmed the “XO” video there and totally captured the spirit of joy and community. (I just cried watching that video because it makes me so happy and I’m emo.) It’s also known as the backdrop for the classic film, The Warriors.
The first roller coaster debuted there in 1884 and Coney Island has been a site for adventurers ever since. Today, you can still ride on legendary Cyclone roller coaster, an official New York City landmark, which just celebrated its 95th anniversary. It’s a bucket list activity if you love roller coasters like I do. But in the words of Wu-Tang, protect ya neck, because it is rickety!
My absolute favorite ride, and the one thing I most recommend, is the Wonder Wheel. EVERY time I visit Coney Island I go on it and scream my head off. It opened in 1920 and has been a centerpiece of Coney Island even as the parks have changed owners or rides have come and gone over the decades. It’s pretty epic and you’ll get amazing views of the ocean and the boardwalk. For the thrill seekers, I recommend the swinging cars which are legit scary in the most fun “omg am I gonna die today” kinda way. As the ferris wheel turns, the cars run along a track and it looks (and feels!) like the car is gonna fly away. It obviously doesn’t but whew your stomach and heart will feel it! If you want something a little more chill, choose the stationary white cable cars for views only!
Coney Island USA’s Sideshows by the Seashore Theater is home to the last permanently housed, traditional ten-in-one circus sideshow in the country. You can go see the Coney Island Circus Sideshow with fire eaters and sword swallowers to get a proper experience! Also make sure to check their calendar because you can see some of the city’s best burlesque performers really letting loose being (literally) cheeky, raucous and experimental.
If you’re looking for something a little more chill, the boardwalk is KEY for people watching. If you can get a seat on a bench, pull up with a drink and some funnel cake to take in the sights. On the summer weekends, there’s usually a DJ spinning house music, or salsa, and folks will be out there dancing and living their best life. It’s just peak NYC flavor.
Thanks to Summerstage, there’s also free concerts in the summer. The Amphitheater at the Coney Island Boardwalk is open air and seats about 5000 people. There’s (expensive) drink and food vendors as to be expected but the concert experience is top-notch. Below WanderWomxn sis Linda and I went to see La India and got our entire life! Every Puerto Rican titi was there to see our girl tear up the stage. I’ve also been to (paid) concerts for artists like Mary J. Blige during the off season and definitely recommend.
The summer months are when Coney Island really comes alive. Every Friday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day, there’s free fireworks. Grab your blanket and a cutie, and have a fun little picnic. There’s also Brooklyn Cyclones baseball games and the New York Aquarium. But my favorite event is the annual Mermaid Parade, taking place on the first Saturday of the summer. Thousands of folks come from all over the country to dress up in sea themed costumes. You will see all sorts of interpretations of mermaids or sea creatures often with lots of glitter and nudity. It is such a joyful event where you have a costume or not!
There really is something for everyone and it’s a sweet little escape from the intense and hectic energy of the city. If you’re rolling solo or in a small group of women and femmes, I’d recommend not staying too late or if your’e at a show, rolling out to the subway with the crowds. It’s still New York City and some of the not-so pleasant freaks are out at night. But it’s the perfect spot to spend the day or evening delighting your inner child!