CONEY ISLAND - MAR 14: Children from around the world still ride the famous Astro Land Wonder Wheel in Coney Island, March 14, 2010, over 90 years after it was built.; Shutterstock ID 53769967; Your name (First / Last): Josh Vogel; Project no. or GL code: 56530; Network activity no. or Cost Centre: Online-Design; Product or Project: 65050/7529/Josh Vogel/ Destination Galleries

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Coney Island

Top choice in New York City

About an hour 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's still possible to ride the 15-storey-high 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.

Not centrally managed, Coney Island's various rides and attractions are generally open every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day (the same period in which lifeguards patrol the beach). From Easter to Memorial Day and Labor Day to the end of October, rides open only on weekends, and the place practically shuts down from November to Easter.

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