What to Do in Coney Island and Brighton Beach
Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, we give you a guide to what to do in Coney Island and in Brighton Beach. Although you're probably not looking for a rental apartment in the Coney Island or Brighton Beach areas--it's a fun place to visit, but the daily commute to Manhattan is a killer--you should know that one the city's classic goof-around adventures is to jump on the Q, F, N, D, or B trains and head on out to the Brooklyn seashore.
That's right, for those of you who are new in town, Brooklyn has beaches as wide as any you'll find in, say, Southern California (though admittedly not as pretty); plus one of the the most famous boardwalks in the world, complete with amusement parks galore; AND a Slavic/Russian ethnic enclave that has some of the most over-the-top food shops you'll ever see. If you live in lower Manhattan, all of this is only about 30- to 45-minutes away.
First on our list of what to do, the historic Coney Island boardwalk. If you haven't been here in a few years, then you really haven't been here. Sure, the legendary (and legendarily rickety) Cyclone roller coaster is still delivering shrieks of terror and/or delight, thank goodness, and Nathan's Famous is slinging its (in my opinion) terrible food to anyone willing to wait in line for a half an hour or more.
Plus there are still the hustlers and characters and grit that give the boardwalk its fun-house feel. To see even more of the "old time" Coney Island, check out the Coney Island Museum--admission is only 99 cents!.
But there are also lots of new additions worth noting, including a completely redone Luna Park, with more than 25 state-of-the-art rides and attractions; and a Luna Park spin-off, the Scream Zone, featuring the completely insane Sling Shot, which shoots you straight up into the sky, 90 miles an hour, 150 feet above the park (that's more than 15 stories high!), and then lets you drop, free-falling back to earth, spinning and flipping. Crazy.
Baseball fans will enjoy MCU Park, with it's outfield views of the Atlantic Ocean (take THAT, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium!). The Brooklyn Cyclones are a minor league team, and with ticket prices starting below $10, an affordable alternative to the big leagues. Go to a night game, and enjoy the postgame fireworks. What a bargain!
For a different sort of craziness, I love walking down the boardwalk, past the New York Aquarium (another attraction worth a visit, and reasonably priced at $15), to Brighton Beach. The beach itself is the same over here, but for about a three-block stretch the boardwalk becomes wall-to-wall high(ish)-end outdoor cafes, all serving up traditional Russian fare. The prices here are a bit steep for me; instead I walk inland one block to Brighton Beach Avenue where you can get all manner of Slavic delights, both sweet and savory.
There are three "gourmet markets" within a couple of blocks under the elevated train (which, by the way, only adds to "old New York" atmosphere): M&I International Foods, Gold Label, and Vintage Gourmet. M&I is a must-see, for its piles of fried knishes and such stuffed with whatever you can imagine, plus insanely large and festive-looking cakes which they'll slice up for you and you can buy by the pound, plus mountains of sausages and vats of picked everything and on and on.
If it's too much, just go to the window at Gold Label, where the gruff-but-lovable baker will hook you up with all manner of delicious snacks. And definitely stop into Vintage, if only for the sensory-overload of seeing so many different kinds of bright and shiny candy in one place.
So what are you waiting for? If this doesn't give you an idea of what to do in Coney Island and Brighton Beach, well, then... what can I say? It's worth the trip, and you should plan to make a day of it. The three Brighton Beach food shops mentioned--M&I International, Gold Label, and Vintage Gourmet--are all located on Brighton Beach Avenue between Brighton 1st Place and Brighton 3rd Street, two blocks inland from the boardwalk.