Coney Island is a very unique section of New York City. When most people think about what New York City is, they don’t typically think about an ocean beach. It is a place of dreams and the imagination. I always think about Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “A Coney Island of the Mind”.
Ferlinghetti’s take on Coney Island was one of anti-establishment, there was a time when Coney Island was a resort where wealthy people went for enjoyment. While Coney Island has gone through many transformations over the years, it still maintains the spirit of the older days. There are numerous books songs and films that take place in Coney Island.
Once upon a time Coney Island was an island. In the early 20th century it was joined to the mainland with landfill. While it is no longer an island it is rather like a world unto itself. For many New Yorkers including myself, it is just a very diverse and cool urban beach.
You can get there by subway in about 45 minutes from Manhattan. You can smell the salt water upon exiting the train station. And you will immediately see the original Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs restaurant as well as the countdown clock to the next hot dog eating contest which happens on July 4th every year.
You will see the famous boardwalk which is lined with restaurants, bars and a few shops. Some of them have been there for many years now and are family run businesses.
There are also a number of amusement parks, an aquarium and a pier where you will often find fishers casting their poles hopping to get lucky.
Aside from the hotdog eating contest, there is also the annual Polar Bear Swim on January 1st. It is a big party and a fabulous photographic opportunity with at least 100 people braving the frigid water temperatures to swim. You can also see the polar bears swim every Sunday from November through April.
Another fabulous event on Coney Island is the annual Mermaid Parade with one million people lining the streets to view the costumed parade that occurs near the date of the Summer Solstice. I have photographed it from 2008-2018. It is always fabulous fun.
There are 3 historic monuments on Coney Island. They are the Cyclone which is a rollercoaster that’s been around for about a 100 years. Also the Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel which has been around for more than 90 years. And the Parachute Jump which hasn’t been operational for many years. But it is there on the horizon.
A little farther down the boardwalk from the Aquarium you will find yourself in Brighton Beach which is a Russian and Ukrainian neighborhood and will be the subject of another neighborhood guide.
Coney Island isn’t the beach of jet setters. Rather it is everyday New Yorkers from all backgrounds. You will find people dancing on the boardwalk and just having a good time! You haven’t really seen New York City if you haven’t been to Coney Island.