New York City may be famous as the city that never sleeps, but this urban jungle does offer a special place where people can still enjoy a day at the beach. Coney Island is residential neighborhood on the Atlantic Ocean that has become home to a world famous boardwalk and amusement park that draws visitors all summer long.
History of Coney Island
Nestled at the southern tip of Brooklyn, Coney Island was once a barrier island, separated from Brooklyn by a small creek; however it has been transformed into a peninsula over the centuries by development. The Native American people who originally lived on the island called it “the land without shadows” because the beach gets sunlight all day long. It was the Dutch settlers to this area who gave it the name Coney Island, after all the rabbits and rabbit hunting in the area.
Coney Island began attracting visitors in the 1800s, because it became accessible to areas around New York on newly built roads, and yet it was still far enough away to offer a taste of a real vacation. The first hotels were built in the 1830s, streetcars reached the area in the 1860s and steamships began coming in the 1880s.
It was at this same time that Coney Island began to develop its now iconic amusements. The first carousel opened in 1876, the first hot dog stand came in 1916.
Visiting Coney Island
Coney Island is open all year round, as it is a residential neighborhood, but most of its rides and attractions are only open seasonally, from about April through to the end of October.
There are many ways to get to Coney Island. The easiest is to hop on the subway from Manhattan to the Stillwell Avenue, which is the stop nearest to the beach. The trip takes roughly 45 minutes. There are also express busses from Manhattan, which take a little longer. You can also drive along the Belt Parkway to exit number 6.
What to do on Coney Island
While many of the big name amusement parks closed down on Coney Island back in the 1960s, there are still many rides, attractions and things to do along the boardwalk. Luna Park on Coney Island is home to the Cyclone Roller Coaster, which has been a mainstay here since 1927, as well as newer roller coasters and an extreme sling shot ride. Don’t worry if you don’t like rides, there are also plenty of classic arcade games to play here including Whac-a-Mole and Duck Pond.
Right next to Luna Park, the New York Aquarium is open all year long, and features incredible exhibits with sea lions, otters and Pacific walruses. It’s one of the oldest continually operating aquariums in the United States, and has been a big attraction on Coney Island since the 1950s.
Friday nights are a fun time to visit the Coney Island boardwalk, because of the weekly fireworks display on the beach.
Coney Island & Hot Dogs
When you come to spend the day on Coney Island, you simply must have a hot dog. Coney Island is one of a few places that claims to have invented the modern version of hot dogs, back in 1870 when a German immigrant to named Charles Feltman began selling German sausages in fresh bread rolls right here on the island. Today, there are dozens of hot dog vendors all up and down the boardwalk. The most famous is the original Nathan’s hot dog stand, which was the beginning of a massive hot dog empire, and which still hosts the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest every year.