The 13 best things to do in Coney Island

May 23, 2023

Photo of the Mermaid Parade by Richie S. on Flickr

Nicknamed the People’s Playground, Coney Island has been the summer getaway of choice for generations of New Yorkers. Located on the southern shores of Brooklyn, the seaside destination is best known for its world-famous amusement district, which contains iconic attractions like the Brooklyn Cyclone roller coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, and the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. The neighborhood offers visitors unforgettable experiences on exhilarating amusement park rides, classic carnival-style treats, and a chance to soak up some sun on the beach. From strolling down the boardwalk and riding the 100-year-old Cyclone to seeing sharks up close at the New York Aquarium, here are some things to do when visiting Coney Island this summer.

Image courtesy of Julie on Flickr

1. Eat a hot dog
If you find yourself looking for a quick bite to eat while in Coney Island, there’s no better option than a hot dog, a snack thought of as inseparable from the famed boardwalk. While there are several vendors selling Franks, there are two that reign supreme: Nathan’s and Feltman’s.

Located on the corner of Stillwell and Surf Avenues, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs was founded 107 years ago where the original store still stands. Over its history, the brand has grown to become a worldwide corporation, serving frankfurters at 198 locations around the globe. Nathan’s historic location also hosts the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, where contestants are tasked with eating as many hot dogs as possible within 10 minutes.

While Nathan’s may be synonymous with Coney Island, Feltman’s was actually the first establishment to serve hot dogs in the neighborhood. In fact, Feltman’s is considered by many to be the inventor of the frankfurter on a bun, having been created by Charles Feltman, a German immigrant, and baker, as a convenient way for beachgoers to enjoy sausages without the need for plates and silverware. Since 1867, Feltman’s has been serving up hot dogs on buns for boardwalk visitors looking for a quick bite to eat.

Image courtesy of Eliza Rinn

2. See the Coney Island Circus Sideshow
The Coney Island Circus Sideshow is the last permanently housed, traditional ten-in-one circus show in the country. The show is a modern adaptation of a tradition that originated in NYC in the 1800s and captivated audiences across the country for over a century, traveling alongside circuses and carnivals as they set up in different towns. The show’s current location was built in 1917 during a high point in the history of sideshows, rivaling other NYC sideshows like P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. Located at 1208 Surf Avenue, this family-friendly activity offers a chance to see classic sideshow acts, including NYC’s most talented sword-swallowers, fire eaters, glass walkers, and aerial & variety artists. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for kids and can be purchased at the door.

Image courtesy of Julie Larsen © NYAquarium

3. Visit the aquarium
The New York Aquarium is one of the Coney Island Boardwalk’s most popular attractions, offering visitors a chance to view hundreds of species of marine life up close and personal. Originally founded in Battery Park, Manhattan in 1896, the New York Aquarium is the oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States. The aquarium’s newest award-winning exhibit Ocean Wonders: Sharks includes interactive and immersive exhibits that feature 18 species of sharks and a hundred other fish species. Other activities at the aquarium include exciting shows where trainers interact with their sea lions, an immersive 4-D theatre, and opportunities to see thousands of other species of sea animals, including sea otters, harbor seals, penguins, sting rays, sea turtles, and more. You can purchase tickets for the aquarium here.

4. Celebrate the start of summer with mermaids
Founded in 1983, the Mermaid Parade is the nation’s largest art parade and a favorite summer event of locals. Hosted by Coney Island USA, the parade celebrates the arrival of the summer season and the artistic vision of New York City with sea-themed costumes, floats, marching bands, dancing groups, and much more. The event attracts thousands of participations and hundreds of thousands of spectators from all around the city. This year’s parade takes place Saturday, June 17 from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Those interested in participating in the 41st annual Mermaid Parade can register here.

5. Check out Brooklyn’s newest entertainment venue
From 2015 to 2018, the Coney Art Walls presented 68 murals and wall projects by some of the world’s most talented graffiti and street artists. Presented by Thor Equities, the project helped highlight a number of emerging artists, many of who have grown increasingly popular since their work debuted in Coney Island.

Now in its place is the Brooklyn Boardwalk, a 53,000-square-foot outdoor entertainment space opening this Memorial Day Weekend. On May 28, the venue will kick off its season with The Day Party, an annual celebration of urban arts with live music, performances, and DJs, with A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie as the headliner. Tickets for Brooklyn Boardwalk’s inaugural concert start at $45. Food and drinks will be available to purchase on-site from a half dozen food vendors.

6. Eat some sweets at William’s Candy Shop
William’s Candy Shop has been sharing sweet treats with the Coney Island community for over 80 years, offering cotton candy, ice cream, popcorn, marshmallow treats, and their signature candy apples to boardwalk goers with a sweet tooth. The shop is located at 1318 Surf Avenue, right next to Nathan’s Famous.

Image courtesy of Gene Han on Flickr

7. Watch the Brooklyn Cyclones
While in Coney Island you can catch a baseball game at Maimonedes Park, home to the minor-league team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, an affiliate of the New York Mets. With picture-perfect views of the famous roller coaster, the stadium also hosts boxing and wrestling matches during the off-season. Take a look at the Cyclone’s game schedule here.

coney island, boardwalk

Image courtesy of Shinya Suzuki via Flickr 

Photo of Coney Island by Dan DeLuca on Flickr

8. Stroll down the iconic boardwalk and the beach
Take a walk down the 2.7-mile-long Riegelmann Boardwalk and take in scenic views of sandy beaches and the roaring waves. The scenic landmark, which opened in May 1923, stretches from Coney Island’s West 37th Street to Brighton 15th Street in Brighton Beach. There are plenty of fun recreation opportunities along the boardwalk, including courts for beach volleyball, handball, and basketball, as well as playgrounds for younger visitors. Or, just set up a beach chair, catch some rays, and enjoy the people-watching. If you’re looking for more than a hot dog, you can stop in at one of the boardwalk’s famous eateries. Ruby’s, the boardwalk’s oldest bar and grill, offers patrons sea-side classics like corn dogs, jumbo shrimp, waffle fries, and a wide selection of beverages.

Photo courtesy of Philipp Potocnik on Unsplash

9. Visit historic amusement parks
One of Coney Island’s most prized and historic fixtures is Luna Park, an iconic amusement park that is home to a number of famous attractions like the Cyclone rollercoaster. Perhaps the most famous attraction on the boardwalk, the Cyclone has been taking visitors on exhilarating rides since 1927. The second-steepest wooden rollercoaster in the world, the Cyclone features an 85-foot drop at nearly 60 degrees, 27 elevation variations, and a whole bunch of thrilling drops and curves. Some of the park’s other highlights include the new Thunderbolt roller coaster and the Sling Shot.

Located just a few steps from Luna Park is Deno’s Wonder Wheel, another storied attraction that is celebrating its 103rd birthday this year. The 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel gives riders a vantage point with views of the surrounding boardwalk, the beach, and out into the water.

Image via WikiCommons

Coney Island, the Whole Drand Family [between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915]; Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress on Flickr

10. Learn about Coney Island’s history
Those looking to learn more about the rich history of Coney Island and the boardwalk should make sure to stop by the Coney Island Museum. The Coney Island Museum is the only institution in the world devoted to sharing the history of Coney Island’s amusement district. The museum contains a collection of more than 5,000 items, including photographs, paintings, amusement-related artifacts, architectural pieces, and vintage signs and advertisements from over the decades. Entry is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, kids, and residents of zip code 11224, and free for members of Coney Island USA.

11. Enjoy a cold drink at the Coney Island Brewing Company
After walking the boardwalk or lounging on the beach on a hot day, there’s nothing better than escaping the heat and enjoying a cold drink. The Coney Island Brewing Company has several offerings on tap, including their signature Mermaid Pilsner and Mermaid IPA. The brewery was originally housed within the historic Coney Island Freakatorium building but relocated in 2015 to 1904 Surf Avenue after the structure was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.

Image courtesy of Howard Brier on Flickr

12. Feel festive during Friday night fireworks
Every Friday night from late June to late August, visitors can enjoy a spectacular light show that fills up the night sky above Coney Island. The show is free to the public and can be seen nearly anywhere on Coney Island. The most scenic spot to watch is from the boardwalk or the beach, with each show lasting approximately 30 minutes from 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

13. Attend a show at the Coney Island Amphitheater
The Coney Island Amphitheater is a 5,000-seat, covered open-air venue that hosts concerts, sports events, comedy shows, and other types of events. Guests can also grab a bite to eat at the Terrace Grill, located directly behind the stage. The amphitheater is located within the state-of-the-art Seaside Park and Community Arts Center. You can check out upcoming events at the amphitheater here.


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