An hour by subway from midtown Manhattan, Coney Island was once New York's most popular beachside amusement area. After decades in the doldrums, revitalization has brought the summertime crowds back for hot dogs, roller coasters, minor-league baseball games and strolls down the boardwalk. Directly to the east along the boardwalk is Brighton Beach, dubbed 'Little Odessa' for its large population of Ukrainian and Russian families. Running under the elevated subway tracks, its bustling main street, Brighton Beach Ave, is lined with Slavic shops, restaurants and cafes.
It takes a while to get out to Coney Island by subway – about 40 minutes from Downtown Brooklyn and at least an hour from midtown Manhattan – so plan to have a day trip, preferably in spring or summer when the weather's nice and the amusement parks are open for the season (daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day; weekends only in April, May, September and October). The beach and boardwalk are open year-round, though lifeguards don't patrol out of season.
In high season, aim to get there by noon so you can hit up Luna Park and try the rides before it gets too crowded. After you've had your fill of thrills, grab a couple of Nathan's Famous hot dogs, then spend some time on the beach and the boardwalk, dipping your toes in the Atlantic when you start feeling the heat. If you prefer a bit more international flair, walk a mile east along the boardwalk for some Russian food in Brighton Beach. Spend some time browsing the shops along Brighton Beach Ave and hop either the subway or bus back to Stillwell Ave for some authentic old-time pizza at Totonno's.
Cap it off with an evening game of minor-league baseball to cheer on the Brooklyn Cyclones (especially if they're playing crosstown rivals the Staten Island Yankees), or else just relax with some beer on the boardwalk at Ruby's and watch the sun go down. If you're there on a Friday night in July or August, stick around for the fireworks show at 9:30pm.
- Luna Park Screaming with excitement as your car races down the tracks on the Cyclone, the most famous wooden roller coaster in the world.
- Deno's Wonder Wheel Gazing over the lights of Brooklyn by night from 15 stories up on this cherished ride.
- MCU Park Cheering on the Brooklyn Cyclones minor-league baseball team as they rack up the runs.
- Totonno's Stuffing your face with a fresh, steaming-hot pizza right out of the oven at this decades-old family restaurant.
- Coney Art Walls Street-partying it up at this open-air gallery of amazing murals by international artists, complete with food trucks and live music.
Many of the amusement parks and other seasonal sights at Coney Island have variable closing times, dependent on weather and crowds (or lack thereof). During the week in high season, rides and attractions usually open at noon and run until the late evening. On weekends, they may open an hour earlier and run until the early morning. If the weather forecast is mixed you may want to give them a call before you start the trip out there.
Coney Island USA (www.coneyisland.com) Nonprofit arts organization that puts on the Mermaid Parade and other events.
Coney Island Fun Guide (www.coneyislandfunguide.com) Events calendar and visitor info on sights, shops, food and drink.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveler forum and more.