A visit to Brooklyn's Coney Island off-season —especially in winter — makes for a bracing experience. It's eerie and dramatic: the open sky, the ocean, and the skeleton of Coney Island's famous Cyclones rollercoaster and Parachute Jump.
Coney Island in the wintertime is beautiful in an isolated, industrial-urban-landscape kind of way. It's the perfect pensive escape from the urban hustle and bustle.
Coney Island's amusement park and beach are closed September through May. But there's plenty to do, and eat, and dream about as you wander the area off-season.
Tips: Bring a camera. Come prepared for brisk ocean breezes.
New York City’s world-class aquarium has wonderful exhibits and scheduled fish-feeding shows. Open year-round, with both indoor and outdoor exhibits, the Aquarium makes for a nice date and good family fun. And, for those so inclined, it's nothing less than mesmerizing to watch the fish go about their daily rounds...and rounds...and rounds.
Here's a suggested itinerary for tourists and first-time visitors. Start at Coney Island, and walk all the way to Brighton Beach. There you can find a good, hot bowl of authentic Russian borscht. Then, head back home on the subway. You'll feel like you've been away for a month.
Nathan's is hardly a mom-and-pop anymore. With about eight thousand Nathan’s Famous hot dog stands in the world, it's a global franchise. But this one in Coney Island was the original. Some people swear the dogs here taste better. (And yes, it's an indoor hot dog stand.)
It's hard to beat a Totonno's pizza, even in as serious a pizza-eating place as Brooklyn. It stands out head and shoulders among the hundreds of local pizzerias you'll find dotting every neighborhood in the borough. Why? The thin crust and fresh sauce, and everything else you're wolfing down with pleasure, are all made on the premises. The pizza is baked in a brick oven. And, it tastes great just because Totonno's is a Coney Island institution.
Thankfully, Totonno's hasn't let all the Zagat raves and attention go to their heads. They know what they're doing is just ... making pizza.
As for decor, it's as minimal as the pizza crust is thin.
This idiosyncratic little museum is dedicated to preserving Coney Island’s unique history. Entrance costs a whopping ninety-nine cents. This is not a case where you get what you paid for, however. What you'll get is a whiff of the unsanitized, zany, freak show side of Coney Island of yesteryear. That's important, because plans are afoot to morph Coney Island into another predictable corporate amusement park.
In a Brooklyn nutshell: Coney Island is a place for all seasons.
Starting a new year with an icy dip is a great Brooklyn tradition. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club claims to be the nation’s oldest winter bathing organization. Hundreds of New York Polar Bears gather in Coney Island every New Year's Day for a dip in the Atlantic Ocean, whatever the weather. It may be lunatic, but it's a party. And, its free. There’s no fee for swimmers or observers.
Go ahead and join in the freezing fun! It's a brag that will last a lifetime.
Alternatively, you can just say you did it. And to convince the folks back home, here's where you can buy a Coney Island Polar Bear t-shirt.