When I moved to New York City 9 years ago, one of the first solo exploration outings I did was to hop on the F train and ride it to the very last stop (mind you, I lived in Jamaica, Queens at the time, so I was essentially riding the train its entire length…enough time to finish a short novel.
Needless to say, I’ll never forget disembarking the train in the July heat…the smell of hotdogs wafting along the salty sea air, the Cyclone rumbling along its rickety track, and the beach dotted with so many towels, you had to squint real hard just to see the sand! It is really something special.
However, if cozying up to a complete stranger on the shore isn’t your jam, I have a beautiful alternative for you: Coney Island in the off-season. Not only is it barren of locals and tourists trying to soak up some sun, but the isolated theme park paired with the crashing gray waves gives a sort of urban beauty you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Here’s 5 things you can enjoy in this hood during the off-season:
1. Take a Tour
Coney Island Tours have a special touch because the tour guides are born and bred Brooklynites, who are crazy passionate about their neighborhood, and can give you the inside scoop on anything and everything. I had a guided tour led by owner Michael Quinn, and seriously left armed with so much fun knowledge about Coney Island’s history (but the fun stuff, like gangsters and the evolution of Nathan’s Hot Dog!) Tours are year round, by appointment.
2. Eat a Famous Hot Dog
Okay, okay, I understand that you can get a Nathan’s elsewhere in the world, but this, my friends, is the original, founded in 1916! And originals always taste best, right? Open year round (and inside seating!), you’ll get to enjoy the experience, sans a long wait and fight for seating you’d encounter during the summer months.
3. Stroll the Boardwalk
Urban hikes have long been a NYC fave, but the boardwalk is certainly a way to mix up your walking regime from other city faves such as the Highline or Central Park. The historic 90-year-old Riegelmann Boardwalk, stretching 2.7 miles, is open year round, and despite being the off-season you’ll surely run into a plethora of walkers, runners, bicyclists, parents with strollers, neighborhood folks out and about, and of course tourists from around the world. Insider’s Tip: as you head towards Brighton Beach you’ll get to take in some of the Russian vibe the hood is so known for.
4. Visit the NY Aquarium
There’s something so relaxing about watching fish swim round and round in brightly lit tanks, making the aquarium the perfect way to while away an afternoon. The daily penguin feeding has been a long time favorite of mine. Insider’s Tip: If you visit on a Friday afternoon after 3pm, it’s pay-what-you-wish admission.
5. Watch (or join!) the Polar Bear Club
One of the crazier things you’ll stumble upon in Coney Island during the off-season is the swimmers of the local Polar Bear Club. These guys and gals take a dip in the icy Atlantic ocean every Sunday at 1pm, November through April, and outsiders can join for “guest swims”. They also organize the legendary New Year’s Day plunge (which anyone can join, no membership required!), and the proceeds go to charity.
Have you been to Coney Island? What stood out most in your mind? Share below!
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