Best Things to Do in Coney Island With Kids: Luna Park, Aquarium, Beach, Mermaids
The shores of Coney Island and Brighton Beach open for the season Memorial Day weekend, but the amusement park rides have been spinning since the first weekend of April, and the boardwalk and New York Aquarium have also reopened, making this season the perfect time for a Brooklyn day-cation!
New for summer 2021, Coney Island's iconic amusement parks are debuting new rides and attractions. While old-school favorites like the carousel and Nathan's Famous Hot Dog are open for business, some attractions like the Coney Island Museum and Circus Sideshow are still closed. But don't let that stop you from enjoying the sandy beach and waves, amusement park thrills, and delicious sweets and treats. Without further ado, here are the best things to do in Coney Island with kids this season.
Editor's note: While we are trying to promote safer activities that occur outdoors or with social distancing guidelines in place, please keep your family and others safe by always wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. If you arrive at an event that appears too crowded, try using the “nearby” search feature on our Event Calendar to find something else to do.
1. Hit the Beach and the Boardwalk
Yes, we realize this sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at 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, and kids dig (no pun intended) the two and a half miles of sand. If you plan on swimming, make sure to arrive wearing your bathing suit, as changing in the public bathrooms isn't allowed: If you're caught, you will be chastised.
After drying off, grab some great Coney Island memorabilia at shops on the boardwalk, like the Coney Island Beach Shop and Lola Star. The boardwalk is also one of the best places to watch people from all walks of life.
2. Peep Some Street Art
There's usually some amazing street art to see in Coney Island. This year, the Alliance for Coney Island is spearheading a mural project to cover 15 storefront gates with original, Coney Island-themed murals. “We are ecstatic to be able to bring public arts to our streets and creativity to our business storefronts both on Surf Avenue and the boardwalk along with Mermaid Avenue,” says Alexandra Silversmith, director of the local business group. New York City artists who are chosen for the project will see their work covering the gates of Coney Island icons such as Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, the Brooklyn Beach Shop on the boardwalk, the Cyclone, and Deno’s Wonder Wheel. The painting of the murals begins soon.
3. Enjoy the Rides
Luna Park, which opened in 2010, has a bunch of family-friendly rides, including the Seaside Swing and the Tea Party spinning teacups. A brand new Rope Circus provides multiple zip line courses for all ages, plus stunning views of the boardwalk, beach, and beyond. The beautifully restored B&B Carousell is also a Coney Island must-see, though it's located outside of Luna Park, off the boardwalk. Looking for more of a thrill? There are several high-octane rides like the Thunderbolt and the Cyclone, which is on our list of 100 Things to Do in NYC with Kids Before They Grow Up.
Debuting this season is a log flume ride whose tracks intertwine with a new steel coaster, which is even ADA accessible. A new ride, dubbed "Big Wavez," promises to bring King Neptune to life on a video screen equipped with motion-activated sensors. Visitors' movements create a different experience each go-round, though the one certainty is, you will get wet.
The brand new Phoenix Roller Coaster is under construction, bringing a new view of Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park to life. Photo courtesy of Deno's
Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park has been around a while, though not as long as its namesake Ferris wheel, which began turning in 1920 and offers breathtaking views of the ocean. The park has 16 carnival rides for kids, like spinning dragons, a tame roller coaster, a carousel, plus a handful of "adult" rides, including the Spook-a-Rama and a virtual-reality experience. Since the Wonder Wheel has no height requirement, you can even take babies. If you don't want your stomach jumping into your throat, opt for a stationary car over one of the swinging cars, which aren't as high on the wheel but are positively terrifying for riders of all ages.
This summer, Deno's unveils the Phoenix, a brand new, 68-foot-high roller coaster running along more than 1,200 feet of track and carrying up to 20 passengers in its 10-car train, which rotates to a near upside down 115 degrees. Check our recent post about reopening details for Luna Park and Deno's.
MCU Park is an amazing place to watch the Brooklyn Cyclones. Photo by Jen Davis for NYCgo.
4. Catch a Ballgame
At the western end of the boardwalk, you'll find MCU Park, home of minor-league team the Brooklyn Cyclones, who celebrate their 20th anniversary this year. Games are inexpensive ($18–$22) and extremely family-friendly. The stadium is small, so every seat has a great view of the game (and of the ocean beyond), and there are lots of promotions, giveaways, and special activities, like fireworks nights or the chance to run the bases at select games. Plan ahead, as tickets sell out quickly. The park plans to start with a reduced capacity of 20%, and the first home game is Tuesday, May 18.
Fireworks delight beachgoers most summer Friday nights. Photo courtesy of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park
5. See the Fireworks
In season's past, Friday nights meant fireworks nights on the boardwalk from June through Labor Day weekend. While we're awaiting confirmation on the weekly display, we do know the Cyclones are setting off blazing displays after select games.
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Visit the sharks, sea lions, penguins, jellies, and more at The New York Aquarium. Photo by Louise Trapasso
6. Visit the New York Aquarium
The New York Aquarium was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and has slowly been rebuilding. Last year its Spineless exhibit reopened, featuring a giant Pacific octopus, moon jellies, zombie jellies, Pacific sea nettles, and the world's largest living arthropods—the Japanese spider crabs. For the first time, the exhibit showcases lion's mane jellyfish, whose tentacles can grow up to 120 feet long. The magnificent Ocean Wonders: Sharks, which debuted in 2018, is a huge draw. To maximize the Sharks experience, get tickets for the Shark—A 4D Experience, an immersive experience that combines the visual drama of a 3D film with various built-in sensory effects.
Beyond that, the sea lion show is always a big draw, plus there are more aquatic friends to meet in Conservation Hall, at Glover's Reef, and the Sea Cliffs. The Aquarium is currently operating at reduced capacity, and tickets must be reserved online in advance.
You’re never too young (or old) to watch Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. Photo by Julienne Schaer NYCgo
7. Attend an Iconic Annual Event
While official dates have yet to be announced, we can't wait to attend one of the many, only-in-New-York annual events on Coney Island, including the Mermaid Parade (unfortunately canceled for 2021), Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Sand Sculpting Contest, and Unity Day. Stay tuned for more updates on these events.
Coney Island is a great place to indulge in over-the-top sweets and treats. Photo by Jody Mercier
8. Eat Unhealthy Food
Totonno’s, highly regarded in the high-stakes world of NYC pizza, started on Neptune Avenue back in 1924. The restaurant's Brooklyn-style brick-oven pies are delicious and heavy on the tomato sauce. Be sure to go when you're hungry or with friends: no slices, and it's cash-only.
Nathan's Famous serves delicious hot dogs, of course, but you can also get burgers, beer, clams on the half shell, chicken, and Nathan's famous crinkle-cut french fries. Check out other local eateries in the area like Gargiulo’s Restaurant, Pete’s Clam Stop, and Surf City.
Classic boardwalk-strolling snacks include cotton candy, popcorn, candied apples, saltwater taffy, and other treats. Local landmark Williams Candy, right next to Nathan’s on Surf Avenue, is an old-school candy store that makes its own sweets, including fudge, marshmallow sticks, and ice cream. Kids and parents alike will literally eat it up!
Find more of our favorite eats in our roundup of Family-Friendly Restaurants on Coney Island and Brighton Beach.
This article was originally published in May 2010 but is updated annually.