There are certain things about Brooklyn that still make me smile: a pizza slice from Johnny’s on 5th avenue in Sunset Park, the Manhattan skyline from Sunset Park, riding the F train to the highest subway point in the city (Smith and 9th Sts.), the mist from an open fire hydrant on a hot summer day (fire hydrants can be opened legally by requesting the local Fire Department to provide a spray cap, which they install, on the hydrant you want).
And although much of what I love about Brooklyn has vanished to give way to the trendy, hip, and new, there are still pockets that embrace the history and the endless memories of those of us who were born here and spent so much of our childhood here.
One of these places is Coney Island.
Despite the many transformations the parks, boardwalk, and neighborhood have undergone over the years, it is still easy to return and feel as if you have walked back in time. To me, that is one of its charms and the reason I come often with my children.
Since Coney Island opened its first rollercoaster in 1884 the area has attracted thrill seekers along with those looking to escape to the peninsula’s shore. Coney Island’s first full-fledged amusement park, Sea-Lion Park, opened in 1903, along with Luna Park which was best known for the beautiful 250,000 lights the illuminated the coastal skies. Luna Park would close, only to reopen bigger and better in May of 2010. It is still a beautiful spectacle of lights at night.
We are always in awe of the mechanics and rides in the parks at Coney Island, three of which are protected as New York City landmarks and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the most notable being The Wonder Wheel (1918), now part of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park which is home to some original park rides and a favorite for my kids. Then of course, the Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster (1927), owned by the City and operated by Luna Park is a must ride. Just make sure to not wear a hat or wig as these will fly off and have stopped a few rides in the past. The towering Parachute Jump (1938) hasn’t been in operation since 1968 but remains a prominent landmark in the area.
The historic 1906 B&B Carousel at Luna Park, with 50 hand-carved wooden horses & 2 chariots.
View of The Thunderbolt’s 90 degree vertical drop.
The place to be for people-watching is the boardwalk, newly constructed after the impact of Sandy in 2012. The community, already struggling before the hurricane, found itself hit especially hard, leaving its residents trying to recover years later and its parks completely isolated. But the push for revitalization continues through the efforts of community organizations such as the Coney Island Alliance, who often partner with local businesses to help the community as well as host events that cater to residents and visitors from all over.
Much of it may seem newer and shinier, but my favorite things still remain, such as the food I always have to have: soft serve ice cream, or cotton candy, and of course, a Nathan’s Hot Dog, and there a few newer shops too that are fun to explore. The boardwalk dance parties are always a hit, especially on a sunny day and things get really colorful and interesting at night too.
A fun day would also include baseball during the summer months. The Brooklyn Cyclones play at the MCU stadium right next door to the park.
For a bit of history, visit the Coney Island Museum, and for a bit of art, check out the Coney Art Walls, an open museum which features the works of leading painters and sculptures in New York, as well as celebrated street artists. This is new and it is one of my absolute favorite spots. The installations change every year.
I don’t know now how many times I have been to Coney Island in my life time as a child and now with my kids, but for me it’s a place that I never tire of. With the ever-changing landscape of my beloved hometown often giving me mixed feelings and the loss of so many favorite spots that once were so iconic, it’s nice to go to a place that – although changing as well – hasn’t become so unrecognizable and too isolating to enjoy.
Something which I hope to do for many more years to come.
Some things to keep in mind:
Luna Park has all-day wrist bands, which are a great deal, especially for the thrill-loving family who can now ride as many times and as many rides as they want.
Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park is celebrating its 97th birthday this year (2017)! A true symbol of the long-lasting affection for this park over generations. (This is a separate park, with separate fees, from Luna Park).
Coney Island Museum is always hosting new as well as permanent exhibits that the entire family can enjoy. Truly worth it, especially for history buffs.
The New York Aquarium is currently undergoing an expansion, but is open to the paying public and members.
Penguins enjoying a rainy day at the aquarium.
Thank you to the Coney Island Alliance and their partners for a fun day at the boardwalk!