Coney Island

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Located in southern Brooklyn, Coney Island is a New York City landmark with a storied history of fun and leisure. Since it began its reign as the city’s home to amusement parks and sideshows in the 1830s, Coney Island, its resorts, and beached have been a much sought after vacation destination for Manhattanites as well as visitors to the city. Through its peak, its decline, and its revitalization, Coney Island remains strong.

History

Despite its name, the area of Brooklyn known as Coney Island is actually a peninsula thanks to landfill over the former Coney Island Creek which used to separate it from Brooklyn proper. Geographically speaking, Coney Island is actually one of the barrier islands of Long Island though it is politically part of New York City.

The history of Coney Island as a tourist destination dates back to the 1830s and 40s when the development of steamship service and carriage roads in and around Manhattan made getting there a short two-hour trip, as opposed to a half day’s journey. At that time, the original Coney Island Hotel was constructed to accommodate travelers from the city looking for a holiday. Recognized by the natives asNarrioch or the “land without shadows” because of its location which allowed the beach to stay in full sun throughout the day, Coney Island was a great spot to escape the pressures of city life without travelling too far.

Not long after the first hotel was built, others followed suit. This included the Brighton Hotel, Manhattan Beach Hotel, and Oriental Hotel. Each new building was meant to surpass the modernity and luxury of the one before, drawing many of the City’s richest members into its rooms. In 1876, the first carousel was opened on Coney Island, designed by woodcarver Charles I.D. Looff. Later on, after the installment of the Sea Beach Subway line in 1915, more businesses and amusements began to pop up. This included Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, founded in 1916 and still the national icon most closely associated with Coney Island.

The attraction of Coney Island as a resort for New Yorkers reached its peak in the mid-twentieth century before street gang problems, improved transportation, and the development of home and movie theatre air conditioning drove local visitors away. Though the beach always received its steady summer flow, other amusements, most notably the “tawdry” elements of burlesque and sideshows, began to see less business. Throughout most of the late twentieth century any effort to revive Coney Island fell on death ears, though staples like Nathan’s and rides like the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel remained.

Real Coney Island revitalization projects began in the mid-1990s when then-mayor Rudy Giuliani helped pave the way for the construction of a ballpark which is now home to the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league franchise owned by the New York Mets. Several other efforts to revitalize Coney Island have been taken up in the interim which has brought some prestige and money back to the area. Most notably, the founding of Coney Island USA, a not-for-profit dedicated to the preservation of American popular culture and the Coney Island tradition, in 1980.

Today, Coney Island welcomes thousands of tourists each year to its beaches, amusement rides, sideshows, and more. For those who live in and around New York it is a sacred area rich in history and tradition. To outsiders, a visit to Coney Island is a lesson in the New York of the past as well as the future.

Main Attraction

The main “season” for Coney Island rides runs from Easter to Halloween. From the springtime through Memorial Day and Labor Day through the end of October, most rides and attractions are only open weekends. During the peak summertime, however, everything is open 7-days a week. Coney Island beaches and boardwalk are maintained by the City of New York and free to the public to use. They, along with the New York Aquarium, are open year round.

Unlike large, corporate amusement parks in Florida and California, Coney Island is run as a series of rides and attractions that are independently owned and operated. This means that, technically, the options each season could change completely. It also means that there is no “pass” that visitors can purchase to enjoy the rides. Instead, each attraction is paid for individually, though the costs for those operated by the same company may be combined. This also means that providing a list of the attractions and rides to see on Coney Island is tough, since, technically, it could change at any time. The only exceptions to this rule are three Coney Island rides which have been designated national historic landmarks. They are, The Cyclone, one of America’s oldest wooden roller-coasters, Wonder Wheel, the Ferris wheel in operation since 1920, and Parachute Jump, a 190 foot free fall-style ride which first debuted at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Why It’s a Must-See

There are so many things to do on a trip to Coney Island that spending just one day there may not be enough. From the beauty of the 2.5 miles of pristine beach and its accompanied Boardwalk to the New York Aquarium, famous roller-coasters and rides, sideshows and food, there is a little bit of something for everyone at Coney Island. Choosing to visit this magical peninsula is choosing to engage in something truly and uniquely New York which far outdates many of the more modern and famous attractions.