Before you make the trip to one of the best New York beaches, check out our best things to do at Coney Island list. Why? Because, if you’re going to make a trek to one of the top New York attractions, you’ll want to make the most of your experience. Luckily, we have you covered with our excellent suggestions for activities, must-see shows and the best restaurants for dining in the area.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Coney Island, NY
Best things to do at Coney Island
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 beaches open 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.
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 20 through September 7, and most of the night games conclude with oceanfront fireworks.
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.
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.
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. Now in its 35th year, 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.
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 curated by Joseph Sitt and Jeffrey Deitch. After posing in front of the vibrant walls presented by creatives such as Lady Pink, Tristan Eaton, Aiko and more, hit up the food vendors on-site—think Chick-N-Cone and Coney Shack—for a quick bite before hitting the surf.
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!
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 $3.15—but it’s worth every penny.
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.
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, and Saturdays in summer feature a burlesque-tinged show after dark (10pm).
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. Fun fact: A patron fell—and arose unscathed—through the floorboards in the restroom a few years back, but fret not, the joint underwent major face-lift in 2012.
Over-the-top decor and authentic Russian cuisine are commonplace in Brighton Beach, but Tatiana Restaurant also offers elegant dining and elaborate cabaret performances to boot. Those looking for a more casual experience can dine just steps from the waterfront at Tatiana Grill, which is no less elaborately decorated than its sister restaurant. Ship wheels, anchors, fish and blue hues dominate the nautical scene here. But don't let the contrast worry you: The food is consistently top notch across the board and both spots have held deep roots in the community for years.