Have you ever tried to replicate a near-perfect experience? It’s as near to impossible as the original experience was near to perfect.
Last year, on the very first day of summer vacation, I took the kids to Coney Island and they have been gushing about it ever since. I had no intention of tainting our idyllic memories with a return visit except that I eventually caved to the kids’ incessant begging. At the very least, I reasoned, we would be supporting all of the Coney Island businesses that had been decimated by Hurricane Sandy and that had struggled to reopen by Memorial Day. I tried to manage my expectations and work through my trepidation and you know what? Somehow, some way, we achieved what I’d thought was the unachievable: Coney Island 2013 bested its predecessor.
Here’s our Coney Island itinerary and some insider tips so that you, too, can get your own slice of a little kitschy boardwalk and beach heaven this summer:
- Avoid the crowds by going early in the day, during the week. Unless, of course, you are willfully joining the throngs of other bemused spectators (or participants) in Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade, typically held on a weekend in mid- to late June, or the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every Fourth of July since Nathan’s first opened in 1916.
- Wear your bathing suit and bring a change of dry clothes so that you can go for a dip in the ocean.
- Buy some retro-looking T-shirts (our favorite find? A “Save the Hot Dogs, Coney Island” T-shirt for four-year-old Jack, to replace the identical one he had outgrown from last summer) and other questionably appropriate mementos from Lola Star Souvenir Boutique on the boardwalk.
- Grab an outdoor table and eat hot dogs and crinkle cut French fries for lunch at the original Nathan’s Famous.
- Hit the rides at Luna Park amusement park.
- Stave off late afternoon crankiness with some sugar shock in the form of ice cream, cotton candy, and anything else concocted of nothing but sugar and/or deep-fried.
- Play some tacky carnival games and if you’re really, really lucky, land your ball in the blue cup to win a monstrous stuffed ear of corn that will barely fit into your building’s elevator (hope you drove so you won’t have to lug that baby home on the subway) Christen your ear of corn with a ridiculous name like Mick Missile Butt and laugh hysterically every time you say “butt.”
- Play some more tacky carnival games so that your sister can win a blessedly-not-as-large stuffed duck, which she will give an equally ridiculous moniker like Tweety Nacho (which will make your mom laugh hysterically every time she says it).
- Don’t plan to be home for dinner and instead, cap off the day with a coal-fired brick oven pizza pie from Totonno’s instead. Apparently, the coal-oven pizza is as difficult to replicate as the near-perfect day as new coal ovens do not pass muster with current New York environmental laws and only the old ovens have been grandfathered in.
- Go home tired, salty, sandy, sticky, full, and happy.
- Wash, rinse, and repeat every June from now until you leave home for college.
Getting There: D, F, N. or Q train to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue; If you drive, there is street parking, as well as off-street parking available in the parking lot at MCU Park (enter at Surf Avenue and 19th Street); prices for parking range from $5.00 to $15.00 all day depending on the day you go.
Nathan’s Famous, 1310 Surf Avenue (between Stillwell Avenue and West 15th Street), Brooklyn, NY 11224, (718) 946-2202, nathansfamous.com.
Coney Island Beach & Boardwalk, Corbin Place to W. 37th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11224, www.nycgovparks.org/parks/coneyisland
Click here for a map: https://maps.google.com/maps?t=h&daddr=40.57268899720,+-73.97828385620+(Center+of+Coney+Island+Beach+%26+Boardwalk).
Lola Star Souvenir Boutique, 1205 Boardwalk West (12th Street and Stillwell Avenue), Brooklyn, NY 11224, (718) 975-0583, lolastar.com.
Luna Park, 1000 Surf Avenue (@ West 10th Street), Brooklyn, NY 11224, (718) 373-5862, lunaparknyc.com; Hours very depending on the day and month, but on the day we were there, it was open from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM; Prices also vary depending on whether you buy single rides, but there are also Luna Card and Wristband Deals available.
Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano, 1524 Neptune Avenue (between West 15th & West 16th Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11224, (718) 372-8606, Pies only, no slices, Cash only.
-Mermaids on Parade by Melanie Hope Greenberg
-Johnny Headstrong’s Trip to Coney Island (American Antiquarian Society) by The McLoughlin Brothers; Illustrated by W. Bruton
-Toxic Taffy Takeover (Otto Undercover Series #4) by Rhea Perlman; Dan Santat (Illustrator)