Coney Island

Top choice area in Brooklyn: Coney Island & Brighton Beach

About 50 minutes by subway from Midtown, this popular seaside neighborhood makes for a great day trip. The wide sandy beach has retained its nostalgic, kitschy and slightly sleazy charms, wood-plank boardwalk and famous Cyclone roller coaster amid a modern amusement-park area. Nathan's Famous churns out hot dogs, and the New York Aquarium is a big hit with kids, as is taking in an early-evening baseball game at MCU Park, the waterfront stadium for the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones.

Coney Island traces its amusement-park roots to the mid-1800s, when inhabitants of the increasingly industrialized city began to seek relief from their sweltering tenements in summer. By the late 19th century, the area was a rough-and-tumble party spot dubbed ‘Sodom by the Sea.’ In the early 1900s, however, family amusements began to materialize. The most famous, Luna Park, opened in 1903 – a dream world with live camels and elephants, illuminated by more than a million bulbs. Today, it is still possible to ride the Wonder Wheel (opened in 1920) and the clackety Cyclone roller coaster (1927). The area was a bit of a ghost town in the ’80s, but it has experienced a resurgence in recent years, drawing New Yorkers who come to chow on hot dogs, catch a sideshow, and dress up like punk mermaids at the annual Mermaid Parade. It ain’t Disney – but it isn’t meant to be.