Slowly and now reliably, Coney Island has revived to the point where it offers local families one of the most fun and special days anywhere in the city. Here are a few tips from someone who grew up nearby and still goes back with his kids.
*The Aquarium: I often recommend starting a day in Coney with the New York Aquarium, taking in the crowd-pleasing sea lions, plus all sorts of exotic and marine life. (Note: If you’re coming by car, the Aquarium has the most ample parking lot in the area.) nyaquarium.com
*The Cyclone: If you like roller coasters, the historic wooden Cyclone is one of those experiences that just has to be had, and usually more than once. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether to tell the uninitiated about the first drop.
*Luna Park: In the last few years, several large swaths of Coney Island have basically been reconceived and rebuilt under the umbrella name Luna Park, which was one of the great anchors of Coney Island in the past. The remakes bring a lot of varied and wonderful rides and games, so toddlers can have their thrills but so can tweens and teens. One of the new sections, the Scream Zone, incorporates several new roller coasters, including the Steeplechase (another history-minded tribute). lunaparknyc.com
*Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park: For children especially, there’s no better way of immersing yourself in Coney Island than by enjoying the gentle swaying and big vistas of the iconic Wonder Wheel. A proud second-generation operation, Deno’s also features a kiddie park with 17 rides, and a few other classics for adults, including Spook-A-Rama and Bumper Cars. wonderwheel.com
*Nathan’s Famous: I don’t know why it’s true but it is—Nathan’s hot dogs taste even better when purchased at the original home in Coney Island. Same for those thick wedge fries. nathansfamous.com
*Totonno’s: As long as we’re on the topic of food, it’s worth noting that the original Totonno’s, widely recognized by pizza foodies as one of the city’s great brick-oven joints, is also in Coney Island.
*The Brooklyn Cyclones: A lower division off-shoot of the Mets, the Cyclones offer fans the full “Minor League” treatment with lots of special promotions and events that are perfect families. My favorite: Stay after the game on Friday night and watch the fireworks. brooklyncyclones.com
*Beach & Boardwalk Pointers: 1. The Atlantic Ocean doesn’t hit Coney Island head-on (like it
does at Jones Beach, for example); it’s more like a very big inlet, so the waves are almost always kid-friendly. 2. Looking West along the boardwalk, you’ll see the really long Coney Island fishing pier. If you’re in the mood, it’s worth a visit. For a taciturn tribe, fishermen typically love introducing their passion to kids. 3. At end of the day, you could also walk East on the boardwalk, savoring the breezes and the human parade, and end up in Brighton Beach for dinner at a Russian restaurant. If you see a kid looking out the window of his apartment building, that was once me.