Exploring Coney Island in Brooklyn…Off the beaten track & authentic New York

After watching “The Warriors” years back we were both keep to make our way down to Coney Island when we were in New York. The old time amusement park was somewhere I had visited back in 2008 and found only an eerie ghost town…but fast forward a few years and the height of summer and it was awash with locals enjoying this classic urban beach amusement park!

 

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Firstly…What and where is Coney Island:

Well it’s not actually an Island for one! It lies down the south end of Brooklyn on a piece of land that was originally an Island known to the Dutch settlers as “Konjn Eiland” which over the years became Anglicised to Coney Island as the Coney Island creek which separated it from Long Island filled with silt and they became joined!

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The beach here is a wonderful spot and a many are surprised such a beach can be located with New York City. The beachfront is a sun trap too being in the sun all day due to its direction and lack of obstructions. It was known as “Narrioch” by the Native Americas which translates as “Land without shadows”.

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The area was then developed into the famous amusement park it is most well known for at the turn of the 20th century. At this time the park was one of the most well known in the United States and to this day the site retains an authentic old time feel that really gives it amazing character!

 

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How to get there!

luckily there is a Subway station right in the middle of Coney Island and as such is named exactly that!! From the middle of Manhattan it will take you roughly a hour/ 45mins but the journey itself is a fascinating look into the borough of Brooklyn as the trains run overground.

 

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The D & F (Orange)
and the N & Q (Yellow)
all begin at Coney island and so any can be taken to get down there,
all 4 lines run right through the centre of Manhattan with convenient places to begin your journey as well as being well connected to the other major lines or having stations close by.

 

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You can also take the B (Express to Manhattan) train to/ from Brighton Beach which is only a short walk away and somewhere you will probably want to stop by during your visit.

 

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First visit – During the Winter!

Back in December 2008 I took my first trip over to NYC and was desperate to get a look at the fabled and legendary Coney Island – But it was the middle of winter, freezing cold and definitely not the amusement park season. But nevertheless we boarded the subway down to Brooklyn because how was I to know I would return to the city that stole my heart and other few times!

 

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Now what I found down there both lived up to my imaginations of Coney Island and at the same time disappointed me. I had dreams of riding the Wonder Wheel, seeing the Cyclone go whizzing by and hearing the roar of the thrilled guests. But what we found was a ghost town, an abandoned shadow of its summer time self…abandoned but in that awesome kind of way!

 

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But strangely this eerily quiet amusement park was all to reminiscent of the rough and dangerous world of the 1970’s New York ‘The Warrior’s’ portrayed. From the gentrified streets of Manhattan and the cramped streets of Times Square now over run with tourists and lacking that cutting edge it once had. This was the authentic New York I was looking for.

 

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Graffiti on all the boarded up shutters, a mixture of locals who had lived here their entire lives crossed with the tones of the Russian immigrants. Independent bars, deli’s and diners – this was the real New York and I loved exploring it and getting a sense of real life in this crazy city away from the distractions of the tourist trail.

 

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Second visit – In the Summer!

Now roll on 5 years later and I find myself back in the city that never sleeps – for the third time. Looking back on that first trip I remember trying to pack to much in fearing I might never get to make such a life defining trip again! Well finally making it to NYC at 20 years of age really opened up the world to me…but here I was, back in this place that felt ever more like home, and this time in the summer at last! Oh…and to get married too!

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Taking the subway back down to Coney Island…this time with Shorty (Paul) felt like something I had waited a long time to do. I returned home in 2008 with tales of exploring this mysterious amusement park suspended in time, but I both longed to see it in all its glory and also take shorty to experience it too.

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Even on the train the atmosphere was totally different, last time we were just about the only ones getting off at this dusty and derelict platform, the trash tumbleweed our only companions as we made our way to the beach. This time the windows were open and the sun was beating through the glass at almost 30c, the cars were packed full of thrill seekers on this beautiful day!

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Making our way down to the beach front was less a case of following the desolate streets in the hope we were going the right way and more like following the crowds of high spirited locals!

 

 

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The atmosphere was truly electric down here but what we loved was the fact that this crowd was different to that of Times Square or Liberty Island…this was where the real people of New York and specifically Brooklyn go to enjoy themselves, to escape the hectic city and either relax or seek thrills!

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There is just a totally unique feel to Coney Island and at times you can hardly believe you are still in New York City! The ageing amusement park that overlooks the boardwalk plays a huge role in that nostalgic and vintage atmosphere. You almost expect there to be a strong man, lion tamer and painted lady to be strolling around in Victorian bathing suits!

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We also stumbled across the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones down here, a minor league baseball team with affiliations to the New York Mets (Nic’s team). It was pretty awesome to see not only a team linked to the one I follow but also that baseball was once again thriving in Brooklyn.

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But Luna Park was what we came down here for, of course the beach was wonderful on such a warm and sunny day, but now it was time to make that bucket list dream a reality…take a ride on The Wonder Wheel! As soon as you walk into the park the famous Wheel dominates the skyline and looked in impressive but somewhat sketchy shape!

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This archaic ride was built way back in 1920…almost 100 years ago! At times it feels like not much has changed inside this park as you wander around the historic amusements, traditional ticket booths, ghost trains and the odd coconut shy! The tickets stubs for the Wonder Wheel looked as though they had never been updated. It was touches like this that really made the place feel extra special.

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As we boarded the Wonder Wheel we foolhardily decided to get on the swinging carts…turns out by swinging they mean it runs along a track that propels you at speeds as if it was launching itself from the wheel! We will admit right now that we were a little bit terrified…swinging on the edge of a creaking and screeching 100 year old Ferris wheel 150ft above the boardwalk: wow! Maybe all that candy floss wasn’t such a good idea!

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After that is was time to relax and take in the surrounding areas a little more, watching the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean, catching a few games of American Handball and grabbing a bite to eat at Nathan’s Famous hot dogs whilst walking all the way down to Brighton Beach along the Riegelmann Boardwalk – the longest oceanside promenade in the United States!

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Have you ever been to Coney Island…or Watch The Warriors!!

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.