Coney Island is an essential experience for any New Yorker. The area is candy-coated in nostalgic charm, appealing to a wide audience that ranges from beach-goers to thrill seekers to locals who have witnessed the change that Coney Island has undergone over the years. Read on to discover the food, art and best things to do in Coney Island, New York.
During the summer season, visit Coney Island to watch fireworks every Friday night. It hardly matters whether your toes are in the sand or you’re riding the Wonder Wheel; the fireworks are impressive from every angle. If you’re driving, get there early to find a parking space.
This iconic ride, which is located in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, is no ordinary ferris wheel. Of the 24 passenger cars, are unfixed, allowing them to slide between the hub and the rim as the wheel turns. The experience is thrilling. The wheel was built in 1920 and provides a breathtaking view of Coney Island and Manhattan in the distance. Climb aboard during sunset for a particularly magical experience.
The most obvious attraction on Coney Island is also one of the best. Coney Island’s beach buzzes in the summertime. Waves lap the beach as vendors weave through bunches of beachgoers on towels, calling out their wares. Opposite the ocean, amusement park attractions loom tall. You’ll have to brave a crowded subway and a packed boardwalk for an afternoon on the beach, especially during the height of the summer, but Coney Island’s quirky ambiance makes the trip worthwhile.
Bypass the brightly-colored IT’SUGAR and head to this old-fashioned candy shop instead. Williams Candy has been a Coney Island mainstay for more than 75 years. Customers can opt for ice cream, fudge, popcorn or candy- and caramel-coated apples and marshmallows. A crisp Granny Smith apple coated in caramel and toasted coconut is the ideal end to any day at the beach.
This taco shop stands out on a street of carnival games and drink vendors. Doña Zita’s tacos are hardly a bargain, but they’re a delicious alternative to Coney Island’s standard hot dogs and fries. Customers can add their own toppings, which include pico de gallo, radish slices, lime wedges and two kinds of salsa. Opt for the carnitas tacos and take a seat at one of the picnic tables next to the small stand. To complete your meal, order one of the house-made agua frescas to combat the summer heat.
This old-fashioned sideshow offers an entertaining respite from the heat of the beach. The show touts itself as ‘the last traditional 10-in-1 continuous sideshow.’ Each show features 10 acts, including a contortionist, a man who swallows swords, a fire-eater and more. The show is an enjoyable and budget-friendly way to spend an afternoon while appreciating Coney Island’s quirky charm and willingness to embrace all things unusual.
Coney Art Walls is a collection of free-standing murals by more than a dozen graffiti and street artists. Art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch curated the show, in part, to draw crowds to Coney Island. Many of the murals feature the distinctive imagery of Coney Island, such as mermaids, amusement park rides, and Nathan’s Famous hot dogs. Others are more serious in tone and emphasize Coney Island’s diverse local population. The murals are interspersed with food vendors from New York’s favorite food festival, Smorgasburg. On Sundays during the summer, head to the outdoor exhibit for live music and dancing.
Since opening in 1927, this wooden roller coaster has made its mark on American culture. Bob Dylan sang about the ride, while Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall supposedly grew up in a house situated under the roller coaster. Today, a single ride on the coaster costs $9, but you might want to think twice before boarding the wooden beast. Since the 2015 season began, the roller coaster has gotten stuck with passengers onboard twice. Nonetheless, be sure to at least snap a photo of the ride on your next visit to Coney Island.
Coney Island is home to this popular hot dog chain’s original location. When Nathan and Ida Handwerker opened a small hot dog stand on Coney Island in 1916, they charged a nickel for each juicy, all-beef hot dog. Today, there are two Nathan’s locations on Coney Island. The original, which sits at the intersection of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, offers outdoor seating and a decent seafood bar. A second, even busier store on the boardwalk offers to-go items. Stick with what Nathan’s does best and order a chili cheese dog and fries.
This tiny two-room museum houses a rich variety of Coney Island memorabilia, from early 20th century advertisements to original statues and figurines. The museum is free to visitors, and friendly staff members are happy to answer questions about the history of Coney Island. In addition to featuring changing exhibits, the Coney Island History Project also maintains an online oral history archive dedicated to preserving memories of important people, events and institutions in Coney Island’s history.