This post has the essentials of visiting Coney Island. We include how to get there, what there is to do, where to eat and a history of what was once called America’s Playground when amusement rides began to open there in the late 19th Century. Although the amusement area has shrunk, Coney Island has become a destination once again, with a new Luna Park, a clean sandy beach, a boardwalk for strolling and the renovated New York Aquarium. Not to mention it’s the original home to the most famous New York hot dogs – Nathan’s!
Coney Island is located on the southern tip of Brooklyn, approximately 1 hour by subway from Times Square. Take the yellow Q line, or orange F or D line to Coney Island- Stillwell Avenue. Use this link for directions to Coney Island from Manhattan or anywhere in the NYC area.
You’ll be only a 5-minute walk away from the subway to the most famous Coney Island sites.
(A) Luna Park at 1000 Surf Avenue opened in 2010 and is the first new amusement park in Coney in over 40 years.
(B) The Cyclone: at 834 Surf Avenue which 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.
(C) The Thunderbolt: at West 16th Street and the Boardwalk open in 2014 at the same location as the original Thunderbolt which was shut down in 1982 after 60 years of service and demolished in 2000.
(D) Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park: at 3059 Denos D. Vourderis Pl. (formerly W. 12th St.)
(E) Coney Island Circus Sideshow: at 1208 Surf Avenue, is the last permanently housed venue in the USA where you can experience the thrill of a traditional ten-in-one circus sideshow, featuring freaks, wonders, and human curiosities! They’re here, they’re real and they’re alive!
(F) Brooklyn Cyclones Baseball Stadium: at 1904 Surf Avenue is a minor league baseball stadium of the Brooklyn Cyclones who are affiliated with the New York Mets baseball team. It’s has a seating capacity of 7,500 with an additional capacity for 2,500 people. It opened in 2001. It is located on the site of the old Steeplechase Park. The ballpark’s concert set-up allows for approximately 12,000 fans, and bands including Furthur, Wilco, Phish, Daft Punk, Def Leppard, and Bryan Adams have all played to sold-out crowds.
(G) The New York Aquarium: at 602 Surf Avenue and West 8th Street, has been at the Coney Island Boardwalk since 1957. It occupies 14 acres and has 266 species of water wildlife. Find out all the details of exhibits and ticket prices from our post, What to See at the New York Aquarium.
To see the Coney Island calendar of events, click here.
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 open as the area’s first hotel and 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”. By 1904 three new amusement parks opened along Surf Avenue, the avenue nearest to the ocean: Steeplechase Park, Luna Park, and 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, sideshows and 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
In 1903, 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 like the Alps, the Tower of Seville, Venetian villages, miniature locomotives, concert halls, a circus, a Lilliputian village 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 1920, the subway arrived at Coney Island, bringing New Yorkers to its amusements with a five-cent ride. In 1900, a nice Sunday in the summer might draw 100,000 to Coney’s beach, restaurants, hotels, and attractions; in 1920 Sunday attendance sometimes reached over a million. 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 built in 1927 and still operating) and the 1920 Wonder Wheel. in 1923, the Boardwalk opened.
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 visitors, America’s playground is once again back in business.