Coney Island: Best Things to Do for Kids and Families
The shores at Coney Island and Brighton Beach open for the season this Memorial Day weekend, and boardwalk staples like the New York Aquarium and Luna Park are already going strong. Sounds like it's time for a Brooklyn daycation!
Although the future of Coney Island is still up in the air (will that controversial redevelopment ever happen?), for summer 2012 at least, it's still a funky family fun zone. Plus there are also a few new rides at Luna Park's Scream Zone. Read on to find out the best things to do in Coney Island with your kids this season.
Hit the beach
Yes, we realize this sounds like a no-brainer. But you'd be surprised how many folks are afraid to dip even a toe into the water. (Urban beaches get a bad rap.) Well, we love swimming at Coney. Kids will dig the 2 ½ miles of oceanfront, as well as two cool marine-themed playgrounds (one in Coney, the other in Brighton), complete with sprinklers. If you are planning on swimming, make sure you come in your bathing suit: Changing in the public bathrooms isn't allowed. If you're caught doing it you will be yelled at!
Enjoy family rides at Luna Park and Deno’s
Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park has been around a while, although not as long as its namesake Ferris wheel, which began turning in 1920. The park's got 17 carnival rides for kids, including spinning dragons, a tame roller coaster, a carousel and the historic Wonder Wheel, which has no height requirement and offers incredible views of Coney. If you don't want your stomach jumping into your throat, choose a stationary car; it goes higher but is less scary. If you want to raise your heart rate, take a car that swings; it's positively terrifying—even for grownups!
Luna Park, which opened in 2010 and is run by the same folks behind Victorian Gardens in Central Park, also has a bunch of family-friendly rides. If you've been to Victorian Gardens, many of them will be familiar, including the Balloon Expedition, Lynn's Trapeze and the Hang Glider. Also like VG, Luna regularly features entertainment for kids, including clowns, jugglers and other performers.
Brave the Cyclone or Scream Zone
For older kids or more adventurous families, Luna Park now oversees the famous wooden roller coaster, which is No. 26 on our list of 100 things to do with your kids before they grow up. The height requirement for this exciting two-minute ride is 54 inches, and we know many grownups who'd be scared to dare it. Thrill-seekers will also want to hit Luna Park's Scream Zone, which opened two new rides this past Memorial Day weekend: Boardwalk Flight, which allows you to soar 200 feet in the air at 60 miles per hour, and Coney Island Raceway, where you can ride a go-kart on 900 feet of challenging track.
Catch a baseball game
At the western end of the boardwalk is MCU Park, home of the minor league team Brooklyn Cyclones. Games are short, inexpensive ($9-$16) and extremely family-friendly. The stadium is small, so every seat has a great view, and there are lots of promotions, giveaways and special activities, like fireworks on Saturdays or the chance to run the bases on the field at select games. Plan ahead: The Cyclones are really popular so tickets sell out quickly. The season opener is Monday, June 18. Read more about minor league and other non-MLB baseball in the NYC.
Groove to free concerts
On Thursday nights in July and August, you can catch cool bands as part of the free Seaside Summer Concert Series, The 2012 schedule hasn’t been released yet, but last year's lineup included big names like Joan Jett and Aretha Franklin. Once the schedule and location info for 2012 is set, you'll find it here.
On select summer nights, the Coney Island sky comes alive with fireworks. On Friday nights from June 15 through Labor Day weekend, the beach and boardwalk area are lit up at 9:30pm courtesy of Deno's Wonder Wheel. Meanwhile The Cyclones set off blazing displays after select games, usually Mondays and Saturdays. Click here for the schedule.
Visit the New York Aquarium
It's the only aquarium in NYC, and this year, in addition to its lovely and long-standing exhibits of marine life, families can check out a brand-new exhibit, A-MAZE-ING Water from June 8-September 9.
Gawk at the Coney Island Circus Sideshow
Admittedly, this won't be every family's cup of kooky, but there is a children's price ($5, adults pay $10) so clearly some folks bring the kids. Six performers tackle 10 outrageous acts, everything from magic to contortion to sword swallowing to fire eating to snake charming. Upstairs, the Coney Island Museum showcases relics of the past, including parts of old rides. Admission is $5.
See a free film on the beach
On Mondays from July 2 to August 6, you can catch movies on a jumbo 40-foot screen by the ocean. There are only two little-kid friendly flicks in this summer's lineup, namely Ghostbusters (July 2) and The Muppets (July 23), but if your children are old enough to handle R rated films, it's worth browsing the full schedule.
Attend an iconic annual event like the Mermaid Parade
There's always something wild going on in Coney, but there are certain annual celebrations every family should try at least once. Warning: These events are usually insanely crowded!
The Mermaid Parade – Saturday, June 23
The procession kicks off at 2pm, but revelers sporting sea-themed ensembles begin arriving much earlier. You can still register to march (it's fun! But younger kids may get bored. There's a lot of waiting around involved). Or you can just watch. Take the subway as parking is next to impossible. Even the NY Aquarium and MCU Park lots tend to fill up before noon.
Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest – July 4 time TBD
The name says it all: Hearty eaters compete to see who can chow down on the most franks. Approximately 40,000 fans watched last year's contest live. Come see if U.S.A's Joey Chestnut, who holds the world record for eating 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, can hold onto his title.
Sand Sculpting Contest and Unity Day – Saturday, July 21 noon-5pm
This annual gathering attracts pros and neophytes, all of whom show off their best sand sculpting skills in this friendly competition.
Eat unhealthy food
C'mon, it's just one day. Totonno’s Pizza, highly regarded in the world of pizza, started on Neptune Avenue back in 1924. The restaurant's Brooklyn-style, brick-oven pies are seriously good. Go hungry or with friends: Totonno’s only sells pizza by the pie, no slices here.
Nathan's Famous serves delicious hot dogs, of course, but you can also have burgers, beer, clams on the half shell or chicken.
Boardwalk snacks include cotton candy, candy apples and other treats. William’s Candy, right next to Nathan’s on Surf Avenue, is another Coney Island landmark. It's an old-school candy store that makes its own sweets, like marshmallow caramel balls. Kids will literally eat it up, as will parents.
Looking for more summer fun? Check out our Summer Fun Guide.