Coney Island is one of NYC's most iconic locations. With so much to do besides relax on the beach, a visit is well worth your time.
Below we cover how things to do and see, and where to eat, as well as a short history of what was once called America's playground.
As local tour guides, many of whom reside in Brooklyn, we know Coney Island. Some of us even live here.
And while we don't run regular walking tours here, we wanted to share our knowledge, which is why we created this post.
In addition to our insider knowledge, we also asked the roughly 200k members of our popular NYC Travel Tips Facebook group what they thought.
And boy did they share their thoughts.
This group consists of locals, like our tour guides, veteran NYC visitors, as well as newbies to the city.
You don't need to become a member to read the posts, comments, and recommendations.
Check out the group when you are finished reading this post.
THINGS TO DO ON CONEY ISLAND
Check Out the Beach!
First and foremost, there is the beach! In the summer, you can lay out on the sand and take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
It's free, family-friendly, and amazing for people-watching!
By the way, visiting this iconic New York location is one of the best free things to do in NYC in the summer.
Even in the cooler months, you can still visit Coney Island and stroll its famous boardwalk.
The Boardwalk at Coney Island runs along miles of sandy beaches from West 37th Street at the border of Coney Island and Sea Gate to Ocean Parkway in Brighton Beach.
At 2.7 miles (4.5 km) long, it's the longest and widest boardwalk in the world!
Self-Guided Tour of Coney Island
Here is a map of things to see on Coney Island. Descriptions and addresses are below the map.
The map is interactive. Scroll around or click on the icon in the upper right-hand corner to make the map bigger.
(1) Luna Park at 1000 Surf Avenue.
This amusement park opened in 2010 and is the first new amusement park in Coney in over 40 years. It has dozens of rides and games and is a great destination day or night.
It's also very family-friendly. In fact, it's on our list of best things to do with kids in NYC.
Several of its best rides are listed below.
TIP: Luna Park is included for free in most NYC discount tourist passes.
Every Friday at 9:30 pm, from June 23rd until August 25th, Luna Park puts on a fireworks display.
It's free to watch, just step inside the main area of Luna Park and enjoy the dazzling show.
(2) The Cyclone
The Coney Island Cyclone at Luna Park opened in 1927 is a New York City Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is the Mother of American roller coaster culture and the “Big Momma” of Coney Island.
Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park at 3059 Denos D. Vourderis Pl. has five adult rides and 16 kiddie rides, including a dozen family-friendly rides that kids and adults can enjoy together.
(4) The Thunderbolt
The Thunderbolt at Luna Park opened in 2014 at the same location as the original Thunderbolt was located.
It was shut down in 1982 after 60 years of service and demolished in 2000.
Coney Island Museum at 1208 Surf Avenue.
This small but fascinating museum showcases relics from Coney Island's past including photographs, amusement-related objects, vintage signs, and other ephemera.
It also has special exhibits.
Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for seniors 65+ and kids (under 12).
Its hours are:
- June through September: Friday 12 pm - 5 pm; Saturday and Sunday 12 pm - 6 pm
- September through December: Saturday and Sunday 12 pm - 5 pm
Coney Island Circus Sideshow at 1208 Surf Avenue is the last permanently housed venue in the United States.
Here you can experience the thrill of a traditional ten-in-one circus sideshow, featuring freaks, wonders, and human curiosities.
At 602 Surf Avenue and West 8th Street.
The aquarium has been at the Coney Island Boardwalk since 1957. Don't be fooled by its age - it is quite modern.
It occupies 14 acres and has 266 species of water wildlife. It also has a fantastic exhibit hall dedicated to sharks.
See our post about the Aquarium for all the details on visiting.
The Aquarium does charge an admission fee, but it is free on Wednesdays from 3 pm to the last entry.
TIP: Find out about other museums with free days/hours from our post on Free Museums in NYC.
(8) MCU Park
MCU Park at 1904 Surf Avenue is home to a minor league baseball stadium of the Brooklyn Cyclones which is affiliated with the New York Mets baseball team.
Coney Island Amphitheater at 3052 West 21st St. is a music venue that has affordable concerts in the warmer months. Find out who is playing here.
Also, several free concerts as part of NYC's SummerStage series are held here.
(10) Play Sports
There are several sports courts at Coney Island where you can play handball and basketball.
For the little ones, there are two playgrounds.
(11) Go Ice Skating
Yes, you read that right. Ice skating near the beach.
From late fall until mid-March, there is ice skating at the Abe Stark Rink.
For other places to get out on the ice, see our post, Ice Skating Rinks in NYC.
To see the full Coney Island calendar of events, click here.
Some standout things to do at Coney Island are:
Annual Mermaid Parade
The video below says it all. One of the most popular summer events in NYC.
It takes place every year in June. In 2023, it is on June 17 at 1 pm.
This is one of the very best free things to do in NYC!
See our post about things to do in June in NYC to find out more about it.
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
The biggest and most famous hot dog eating contest in the world, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, takes place in Coney Island on July 4th.
The contest has been held at the original location on Coney Island since the early 1970s.
Contestants try to consume as many Nathan's hot dogs as possible in ten minutes.
See our post on things to do in July in NYC for other summer fun that month.
Fourth of July Fireworks
A good pyrotechnics show is put on here for the 4th of July.
If you prefer to see the Macy's Fireworks, read our post, See the Fireworks on the 4th of July in NYC.
Nathan’s Famous at 1205 Boardwalk
In 1916, Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker started a nickel hot dog stand on Coney Island with a $300 loan from two friends and his wife’s secret spice recipe.
Today, Nathan's is the most famous hot dog in America.
Get a dog, slather it with mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, and relish, order a side of fries and now you are living like the locals do!
Totonno’s Pizza at 1524 Neptune Avenue between West 15th and West 16th Street.
The Totonno family has been making some of the best pizzas in New York City for over 89 years.
At Totonno's in Coney Island, pizza has been made the same way since 1924.
Williams Candy at 1318 Surf Avenue.
It is the Coney Island place for candy apples, soft-serve ice cream, chocolate-covered marshmallow treats, marshmallow balls covered in peanuts, and fresh chocolate-covered strawberries.
Ruby’s Bar and Grill at 1213 Riegelman Boardwalk.
The boardwalk space that Ruby’s occupies has been a Coney Island tradition since 1934 when it started as the Hebrew National Deli and Bar.
Coney Island emerged as an amusement area at about the same time that Brooklyn was developing as a major American city with a personality distinct from that of the big city on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The area was named by the Dutch for the wild rabbits that thrived there during the 17th century.
The area began to develop as a playground after 1824 when the Coney Island House opened as the area’s first hotel.
After the Civil War, five railroads were built connecting the area to the rest of Brooklyn.
Some of the early attractions included heavyweight championship boxing matches, gambling dens, dance halls, and brothels.
It came to be known as “Sodom by the Sea”.
In 1884, the first roller coaster in America opened at Coney Island.
By 1904 three new amusement parks opened along Surf Avenue, the avenue nearest to the ocean: Steeplechase Park, Luna Parky Dreamland.
Steeplechase Park - Coney Island
Steeplechase Park opened in 1897 and was known for the “The Funny Face” cartoon figure whose expression of crazed hilarity set the tone for the park’s amusements.
The park featured a race in which visitors rode mechanical horses attached to iron rails, mechanical devices, and sideshows.
There were shocking rides like the “Hoopla” which threw male and female riders together in a manner that was shocking to Victorian society but visitors loved it.
Luna Park - Coney Island
IIn 1903, the original Luna Park opened and offered an environment more fantastical than funny, evoking a fantasy realm of far-off and exotic lands.
Luna featured a circus, the popular Trip to the Moon, a bamboo slide for adults, historical extravaganzas, restaurants, gardens, and more.
But the most spectacular attraction was Luna itself, a fairy-tale fantasy land lit at night by thousands of electric lights.
In 1904 the average daily attendance at Luna Park was 90,000 people.
Dreamland - Coney Island
In 1904, Dreamland opened and was designed as a cosmopolitan genteel alternative to the other parks. Its grounds were decorated with replicas of international landmarks.
One could go to Coney Island and see the Swiss Alps, the Tower of Seville, Venetian villages, miniature locomotives, concert halls, a circus, a Lilliputian town inhabited by three hundred Little People, and more.
At the park’s entrance stood a monumental sculpture of Eve. It was probably too cultivated for fun-seekers and was never as popular as the other parks.
In 1900, a nice Sunday in the summer might draw 100,000 to Coney Island Beach, the restaurants, hotels, and attractions.
In 1920, a new subway stop opened at "Stillwell Avenue-Coney Island" and at just 5 cents a ride, the Sunday crowds would sometimes reach over a million people!
People began calling it the “Nickel Empire” as the subway fare, an amusement park ride, and a hotdog at Nathan’s each cost a nickel.
Visitors were drawn to such rides as the Cyclone Roller Coaster (built in 1927 and still operating) and the 1920 Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel.
Then, in 1923, the Boardwalk opened, drawing even more people to Coney Island.
During World War II, attendance rose as visitors were attracted by new rides like the Parachute Jump originally built for the 1939 World’s Fair and brought to Steeplechase Park.
But the post-war era brought trouble for Coney as many city dwellers moved to the suburbs and a rising car culture drew people away to the new beaches like Jones Beach accessible only by highways and middle-class automobiles.
The final blow came in 1965 when Steeplechase Park, the last of the great parks, closed. Around the amusement park area, the neighborhood was changing and becoming more residential.
Fortunately for New Yorkers and tourists, America's playground is once again back in business.
If you want to know about how to get to Coney Island using various modes of transportation like subway and ferries, do check out our post on How to Get to Coney Island.