Coney Island—New York City's legendary amusement district—is not a theme park. Six Flags Great Adventure and Disneyland are nice places to spend some time, but they are gated, hermetically sealed worlds that cut visitors off from reality. This is something different: a seaside playground that's also a real-life NYC neighborhood. Its appeal comes not from a single source but from the combined force of its many individual attractions. On a bright summer day, no place feels more electric.
It starts with the awesome wooden Cyclone roller coaster (complete with what may be the most terrifying first drop in the universe), which remains the area's centerpiece after more than 85 years. In recent years, the folks behind the revived Luna Park have taken over management of the Cyclone and added such thrill rides as a human slingshot (we're not first in line for that one…but it's there!) and, as a rival to the Cyclone, the reinvented Thunderbolt, a 2014 addition that pays homage to another coaster built in the 1920s. The carnival atmosphere wouldn't be complete without Sideshows by the Seashore, an outrageous cavalcade of curiosities headlined by stars with colorful names like the Black Scorpion. For those with simpler tastes in summer fun, a dip in the ocean might suffice; the beach is right off the boardwalk. Other essential Coney Island attractions include Cyclones baseball at MCU Park, theNew York Aquarium and the original Nathan's Famous, home of the world's most renowned eating competition: the Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. Russian enclave Brighton Beach is just a few wooden planks away, and you can fuel your foot-powered journey there with some clams, funnel cake or other seaside specialties from vendors along the boardwalk.
It's an understatement to say that Coney Island has faced its share of challenges over the years. But the longtime business owners there, many of whom have had a stake in the area for decades, plan on sticking around for a long while. "Coney Island's been around since the late 1800s," says Michael Sarrel, an owner of Ruby's Bar & Grill, "and we want to make sure it stays around until the late 2100s."