What to Do During a Coney Island Day Trip from NYC
When I found out I was traveling to New York City for work, my first thought was that I needed to explore outside of Manhattan. I’ve scoured the popular borough by foot multiple times but have never taken the time to venture past its boundaries. Of all the day trips from New York City, I had a weird desire to go to Coney Island because of my guilty-pleasure love of boardwalks and carnivals. When I was a kid, my local church carnival was THE PLACE TO BE. It was one of the biggest carnivals in the city and was the source of my best summer memories growing up. I rode my first tilt-a-whirl there, I won my first goldfish there (which died before I got it home) and I learned that I really enjoy gambling against old people playing Bingo. With all those carnival moments in my memory, there’s something about a good boardwalk that I just love. Therefore, the classic and most famous boardwalk located in Coney Island became my #1 must-see in New York.
How to Plan a Coney Island Day Trip from New York
Coney Island is located at the southern tip of Brooklyn and is easily accessible by the D, Q, N, or F train. This means a Coney Island day trip is an amazing way to spend your afternoon no matter where you are in NYC. It is both a neighborhood of New York and one of the city’s top attractions, with an amusement park and beach access. From 1880 to the mid-1900s, Coney Island was the largest resort and amusement area of its kind in the States, made up of three parks that constantly competed for visitor’s attention with new and innovative rides: Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park. These days, those three have been condensed down to Luna Park and Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park which sit side by side, allowing you to wander out of one and into the other with ease. The parks are a bit of a maze so you might not even realize which of the two you’re in however we always looked how far we were from the ocean and the Wonder Wheel (the famous Coney Island ferris wheel) to get our bearings.
Coney Island far exceeded my expectations from the moment I first spotted it from the rails of the Q train. It is MASSIVE, with a huge selection of rides that are very well-kept. I was expecting some glaring safety hazards that would add to the charm of the place while also making you worry that you might break a limb. However much to my surprise, everything was in tip-top shape. As you enter Luna Park, you are surrounded by laughter, screams from the rides, carnival barkers aggressively encouraging you to “step right up” to their rigged carnival games and beeps, dings and lights everywhere.
Explore the Coney Island Attractions and Luna Park Coney Island Rides
Coney Island has over 50 rides you can enjoy, many of which are perfect for the thrill-seekers with stomachs of steel. We passed rides that spun you around in circles in the air, dropped you from multiple stories at high speeds and ones that spun around in the air WHILE dropping you from multiple stories at high speeds. Some of the classic rides include the Wild River water/log ride (perfect for summer), the spinning “Tickler” (which kind of creeps me out for more reasons than one lol), and the Thunderbolt, a more modern coaster with a 90 ft vertical drop, 100 ft loop and a section that makes you feel like you’re flying through zero gravity.
The old Haunted House rides from the 1950s, such as Spook-a-Rama, are also super popular and won’t make you feel like losing your lunch from steep drops and sharp turns. On these you sit in a small cart which is propelled around on a track in the dark as mechanical ghouls and goblins pop out at you. The cheesiness of these particular rides is next-level but totally worth it.
One of my favorite parts about these rides are the classic Coney Island tickets. Printed on old raffle-looking tickets, every single ride ticket has the name of the ride printed on it, so you know exactly which one you can explore. This also makes for a great souvenir of your favorite attractions!
Ride the Wonder Wheel Coney Island
While there are three rides at Coney Island that have been granted Landmark status, the most popular is by far the Wonder Wheel, built in 1920 and the only wheel of its kind in the world. This is the crown jewel of Coney Island and a must-ride for anyone visiting the park for the first time. Originally known as the “Dip-the-Dip” the ride adds a bit of crazy to a typical ferris wheel. At 150 ft tall, it has 24 fully enclosed cars in three different colors: white, red and blue. If you want the normal Ferris wheel experience, you know where you just slowly go up and around in a circle and calmly take in the views, hop in a white car. However, the red and blue cars are on sloped tracks, which causes the cars to slide down and fling outward as the Ferris wheel spins. It’s a bit unnerving at first, especially if you get a wind gust as the same time your car starts sliding, but each ride will get you four good swings. I had a blast on this ride. As someone who doesn’t have the stomach for roller coasters (I will be queasy the rest of the day), this was a lot of fun with a bit of thrill. Plus it’s a Coney Island classic.
Another historic landmark is the Coney Island Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster from 1927. This attraction sits up against the street and is one of the more prominent staples of Coney Island from afar. There have been multiple replicas of the coaster in different forms throughout the world, while the original has been updated and upgraded to follow modern safety laws.
Other landmark rides in Coney Island include the tall red metal structure of the now defunct Parachute Jump and the kid-friendly B&B Carousel.
Binge on Coney Island Food
There is honestly nothing better than eating your way through unhealthy boardwalk food in sunny, warm weather. Whether it’s deep-fried Oreos or funnel cake, you better make sure you’re not counting your calories. One of the most famous food stops is Nathan’s for a classic Coney Island corn dog, which has been at its boardwalk location for over 100 years. The line will be long but make sure you stick it out to grab a perfectly deep-fried corn dog on a stick for lunch. As a Chicago girl, it even rivals the classic Chicago-style hot dog that’s so near and dear to my heart. Nathan’s is also home to the famous Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest held every year at the establishment on the 4th of July (in case you wanted to check it out, or just avoid it that day at all costs lol).
Another classic Coney Island food staple that you have to binge on is ice cream. Every boardwalk in the U.S. has its own unique ice cream shop and here it’s the gelato at Coney’s Cones. You can also grab an amazing lobster roll, an east coast classic, at either Paul’s Daughter Coney Island or Place to Beach, and go home with your weight in candy apples or fudge from William’s Candy Shop.
Check Out the Curiosities at Sideshows by the Seashore
With all the history and allure surrounding Coney Island, you know you’re going to find some pretty unique stops along the boardwalk. Sideshows by the Seashore is a taste of old-time Coney Island in the 21st-century. First of all, the outside of this building is a sideshow in itself. The 1920’s design of old-school carnival signs will draw you in and convince you to AT LEAST walk into the building lobby. Who wouldn’t want to see classics like a sword-swallower, a bearded lady, and all the typical freakshow “freaks” in this 21st century politically-correct climate we live in? Only Coney Island could pull this sideshow off flawlessly. A simple $10 entry fee will get you in to see a roughly 45 minute show with multiple performances. It’s a rolling show with no real start or end time, so feel free to wander in when you can and have a seat. You may catch anything from contortionists to illusionists to a woman covered in snakes to a fire-breather. Open seasonally, make sure you check the schedule if you are traveling outside of the summer months.
Save Time for Coney Island Beach
Coney Island is not only home to games, rides, and unhealthy but delicious food, but it also has almost three miles of beachfront. Some time in the sand will perfectly top off your summer Coney Island day trip. This beach is free to the public, which means it will get crowded but we had no trouble carving out a little spot for ourselves. During the summer there are fireworks off the beach every Friday at 9:30 pm (turning your day trip into a bit of a night trip as well).
If you hate getting sand in your shoes (I don’t blame you) or didn’t bring a swimsuit, you can still enjoy the ocean by walking to the edge of the pier, formally known as the Pat Auletta Steeplechase Pier. Walking down this pier, you’ll see many people lining the edge with fishing poles in the water. A local fisherman told me he was often fishing for Bluefish, Bass and even crabs. This pier is a beloved staple of Coney Island and has been rebuilt multiple times from storm damage, the most recent due to Hurricane Sandy. Now it provides the perfect spot to catch the breeze off the water and a front row seat to the summer fireworks display.
Coney Island is definitely the perfect getaway for the day from the craziness of New York City and Manhattan. With the ocean breeze in you hair and a corn dog in your hand, you really can’t go wrong. Not only are there so many rides and carnival games to tackle, but you have easy access to the beach and other fun attractions. Some other great stops nearby include the New York Aquarium and seeing the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league team play at MCU Park. No matter what you choose to do, Coney Island will be such a unique experience and will make you feel like a kid all over again.
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