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Photograph: Courtesy A Cooper/Coney Island Art Walls

The best things to do at Coney Island

Some of the best things to do at Coney Island include riding the Cyclone, attending the wild Mermaid Parade and more

By Jayme Klock and Jennifer Picht
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The next time you use our day trips from NYC list, consider checking out the best things to do at Coney Island. If you haven’t trekked to one of the top Brooklyn attractions, you need to. Visiting the beach is one of the best things to do in summer, but there’s so much more to do that doesn’t require a swimsuit. From screaming your guts out on the Cyclone to stuffing your face with hot dogs from Nathan’s Famous, here are the best things to do at Coney Island.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Coney Island, NY

Best things to do at Coney Island

The Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk

1. Hit the beach and walk the boardwalk

For those whose like to embrace the city heat, this nearly three-mile stretch of sea and sand is free. But it does get crowded, so arrive early—most beachesopen at 10am. The adjacent boardwalk boasts some of the best people-watching in all of New York, not to mention rides, corny carnival games, concessions (though not much beyond funnel cakes and hot dogs) and shops chockablock with graphic T-shirts, souvenirs and beach gear. You could spend the whole day meandering along the boardwalk, but wear sunscreen—there aren't many shady escapes.

Brooklyn Cyclones

2. Watch the Brooklyn Cyclones play the field

There's one thing that neither Yankee Stadium nor Citi Field have: a view of the ocean that spans the distance of the outfield. MCU Park, home to the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones, is mere steps from the beach and boardwalk, and is a fun and affordable way to enjoy a summer afternoon. Purchase any seat and you'll get change from a Jackson, plus parking is only $5 and beers are $6–$7. The season starts June 15 through September 3, and many of the night games conclude with oceanfront fireworks.

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3. See the fish at the New York Aquarium

Attractions Zoo and aquariums Coney Island

Coney Island is home to the only major aquarium in NYC. The 14-acre water world is open year-round and is home to more than 300 marine species. Current exhibits include outdoor touch pools where you can handle sea stars, turtles and more. And forget the Shamu show—acrobatic sea lions take center stage here, as they dance, dive and vie for your attention.

Coney Island Cyclone
Photograph: Marielle Solan

4. Scream your guts out while riding the Cyclone

Attractions Arcades and amusements Coney Island

Nothing offers a thrilling jolt of Brooklyn nostalgia quite like a ride on the Cyclone. The roller coaster dates to 1927, when Coney Island was a booming seaside resort, but shuttered for six years starting in 1969, marking one of many troubled economic periods for the ’hood. Thankfully, in 1975, the Astroland theme park took control over the wooden roller coaster and saved it from demolition. It was declared a city landmark in 1988 and a National Historic Landmark in 1991, and is now part of Coney's new Luna Park theme park.

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Photograph: Courtesy Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs

5. Watch Frankfurter-eating legends race the clock

Things to do

Hold on to your guts! More than 40,000 folks tune-in during Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, NY. But you can go and watch it live! During the competition, Frankfurter-eating legends race the clock and chow down on as many Nathan’s Famous dogs and buns they can swallow in ten minutes. Trust us, you won’t want to miss a single bite.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade 2015
Photograph: Filip Wolak

6. Sport a nautical costume at the Mermaid Parade

Things to do

After spending nearly a year getting sequins and glitter out of their bedsheets, NYC’s mermaids and seamen are ready to undo all their hard work. Join a packed crowd on Coney Island’s streets for an epic procession of wild floats, barely clad revelers and beachside celebrating. The world’s largest arts parade welcomes partyers of all ages to rejoice in kitsch, camp and craft, but those who are serious about their scales can register to win iconic titles, including best sea creature, best motorized float, King Neptune and Queen Mermaid.

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Photograph: Courtesy Martha Cooper

7. Pose for photos in front of the Coney Art Walls

Things to do Coney Island

Art lovers and those who enjoy taking pictures in front of masterpieces must head to Greenwood Beach—a 500-square-foot, open-air space at Coney Island—where you can view incredible street art. After posing in front of the vibrant walls presented by local creatives, hit up the food vendors on-site for a quick bite before hitting the surf.

8. Ogle the oddities at the Coney Island Museum

Museums Childhood Coney Island

Take a trip to a bygone age at this small, quirky institution. In typical Coney fashion, the museum takes a stroll down down memory lane with antiques and memorabilia from games and rides, like vintage bumper cars and eerie fun-house mirrors. The current exhibition, “Five Cents to Dreamland: A Trip to Coney Island” is a collaboration with the New York Transit Museum, which highlights the history of Coney Island through a unique lens. Best of all, admission to the admission is cheap—only $5!

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9. Chow down on a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog

Restaurants Hot dogs Coney Island

Ironically, the Coney Island hot dog (a traditional frank topped with chili) is not the most popular item at Nathan's Famous, though the chain was founded here in 1916. The menu was built upon the classic all-American dog, used in the annual Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest, which celebrates 101 years this summer. Though they've come a long way from the five-cent dogs that started it all, a classic hot dog costs $3 and some change—but it’s worth every penny.

Totonno's Pizza
Photograph: Dominic Perri

10. Eat a whole pie by yourself at Totonno’s Pizza

Restaurants Pizza Coney Island

Hailed by many as the best pizza in New York, Totonno's is still slinging classic thin-and-crunchy crusts despite a large fire in 2009 that forced it to close. But the pizzeria reopened about a year later to bake ingredients imported from Italy in its old-fashioned brick ovens, much to the delight of the patrons and pizzaiolos, who can be heard matter-of-factly reciting the mantra, coined by New York Senator Chuck Schumer "Only God makes better pizza." Come hungry—Totonno's doesn't sell slices, only pies.

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11. Be amazed during the Coney Island Circus Sideshow

Attractions Arcades and amusements Coney Island

What was once known as a freak show has, in modern times, become a wondrous and curious attraction. But the jaw-dropping feats remain the same, with fire-eating, sword-swallowing, snake-charming performers still putting on an impressive, if somewhat nostalgic, show. Ticket prices are modest at $10. Check out the 2018 schedulehere

Corn dog and waffle fries at Ruby's
Photograph: Alex Strada

12. Get lit at Ruby’s Bar & Grill

Restaurants American Coney Island

The oldest bar and grill on the boardwalk is still kicking! Known to many as the best dive bar with the best jukebox in Coney Island, Ruby's houses the fun and rowdy spirits of the area's past and the beer-seeking beach bums of today.

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