Alternative New York – A returning visitors guide #1 – Coney Island

It’s a good while since I returned from New York, New York. The Big Apple. The city so nice they named it twice, the one that never sleeps.

I went with my gal pal Jenna, and we’d both been twice before, so we agreed that the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Times Square were all off the table.

We both like art (very much of the street variety), design, and retro stuff. I probably like food and drink more than she does, and she likes fun and games more than I do.

Photo of Wonder Wheel Coney IslandSo, if like us, you’re returning to New York and you share our interests, my round up might give you some ideas of places to mark on your map.

My guide for returning visitors to New York: Coney Island

The last couple of times I went to New York I’d hoped to get to Coney Island but didn’t quite make it. For many visitors, it’s a bit out of the way, especially if you’re only visiting for a few nights.

Coney Island isn’t an island, but a seaside neighbourhood way down the bottom of Brooklyn with a theme park or fairground with around 50 rides and attractions.

It’s everything that Blackpool wants to be: a promenade (or boardwalk as it’s called over there) filled with strolling visitors; colourful lights twinkling as it turns to dusk; traditional greasy spoons serving fried foods to eager patrons.  It’s delightfully kitsch too.

Photo of Paul's Daughter at Coney IslandConey Island Sideshow and Museum

The great thing about Coney Island is they’re embracing their history of popular culture and live arts there, with a non-profit organisation leading the preservation of tradition through annual events like the Mermaid Parade and the Congress of Curious People; daily performances (every hour !) of the Circus Sideshow; and a film society and festival.

We visited the museum that exhibits its weird amusement heritage and it’s definitely worth the low entrance fee. You’re not allowed to take photos in there, but the types of exhibits are like cool old signage and nick-nacks from the circus.

We also went to the Circus Sideshow – I wanted to visit it since the first time I visited New York. It was really fun and we saw about six different weird and funny performances including a guy who hammered a nail into his face and a fire eater. Definitely one for the Greatest Showman fans (don’t quote me on that though, because I haven’t actually seen the film!).

📍 1208 Surf Ave. Brooklyn

💸 Museum entry $5

💸 Sideshow $10 for adults, $5 for children under 12 years old

Coney street art

Coney is a street art lovers dream! Back in 2005, Stephen ‘ESPO’ Powers’ curated “The Dreamland Artists Club”, a project in which professional artists helped Coney Island merchants by repainting their signs. More than twenty-five emerging and established artists repainted rides and created custom signs, murals, and scenic backdrops for a range of attractions.

There’s also Coney Arts walls, an ‘Outdoor museum of street art’, basically more than 30 free standing walls with urban art on. There’s some food stalls there but they weren’t particularly busy, given that the art walls are right next door to Nathan’s they don’t really stand a chance at becoming super popular.

Anyway, the art walls are super fun posing in front of for Instagram, the reason most people were there.

📍 3050 Stillwell Avenue, Brooklyn

💸 Free!

Luna Park and Deno’s Park

Luna Park and Deno’s Park are the theme parks at Coney Island. At Luna you can buy an all day ticket for $40 and at Deno’s you can walk around for free and pay-as-you-ride. The two parks kinda merge into one as far as I was concerned, but if you’re planning on looking round coney island it’s probably not worth investing in a day ticket.

We just went on the Wonder Wheel at Deno’s because to me it looked like a relaxing ride with views, perfect for my Nana persona. I opted to ‘swing’ because it sounded kinda breezy. What I did not realise was that ‘swinging’ was like a mini roller coaster within the wheel.  At the point it was ready to ‘swing’ I genuinely thought the cabin was falling off the wheel and I have never screamed and panicked as much.

Not really for the faint hearted 🎡

📍 Deno’s, The Boardwalk, Coney Island

💸 $8 per person, per ride. Group packs available.

Nathans Famous hotdogs

I’d read about Nathan’s when I researched New York for last time I visited and I knew I needed to tick their cheese fries eaten with their iconic red fork off my bucket list.

I also had another guilty bucket list need. Corn dog! It’s not something we have in the UK and I’ve seen them on the TV and wanted to see what they were like. I queued for half an hour on the board walk to try one of those motherf’s and I did not enjoy it one bit. Unsurprising, given I don’t like hotdogs.  It’s like a hotdog on a stick with a crunchy jacket that tastes a bit like donut, but savoury.

The cheese fries were much better – crinkle cut fries topped with cheesy sauce (like nacho cheese sauce we get at the cinema – and we enjoyed those at the Surf Avenue branch.

ACS_0099The business has been on the go since 1916 and hosts famous hotdog eating contests.  When you look at their historical photos you can see that they kept with their original look and feel without letting the paint peel, and it keeps people coming back!

📍 Nathan’s Famous, 1310 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn

💸 Approx: Fries $3, old fashioned lemonade $2, corn dog on a stick $3

Friday fireworks

Every week on a Friday at 9.30pm through the summer there is a free firework display on the boardwalk.  We stuck around and waited for them, but it dropped quite chilly following the high temperatures during the day. Take a cardigan!

The breeze from the sea actually swept in a lot of the hot debris from the fireworks which landed on your face as you looked up. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, so we left early to miss the queues on the subway.

📍 Coney Island boardwalk

💸 Free

The thing I love most about Coney Island is that they’re not trying to modernise, but restoring the heritage of the place for what it is: a place to see the astonishing and experience something new, just for a day.

Expect the unexpected – visit Coney if you’re heading back to New York some time soon.

Guide nutshell: Coney Island

🎡 Thrilling entertainment

🌭 Well kept pop-culture heritage

🌈 Instagrammable

🚇 Bit of a distance for a short trip and needs a full day

Photo of Coney Island rollercoaster at night