Coney Island – Seaside Nostalgia

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I’ve been wanting to visit Coney Island for as long as I can remember.  I always had this romantic notion of 1930s seaside promenading, rickety wooden roller coasters and visits to the circus sideshow… in my head it was always akin to a black & white postcard from that era. So when we visited New York, we just had to make a detour.




Lucky for me, it lived up to this notion!  Ok, so I had to wilfully ignore the tourist tat shops and the fact that the main street in from the prom could do with some serious investment and clean-up… but aside from that, Coney Island was everything I could’ve wanted!


coney boardwalk


The Riegelmann Boardwalk stretches 2.5 miles from Coney Island to Brighton Beach and was built in 1923.  The wooden slats must take a lot of maintenance (and I wouldn’t wear heels on them)!  Along the street-side there are a myriad of seaside fast food shops, and just beyond that, the carnival rides!  I quite fancied a go on the famous Cyclone roller coaster, but my husband isn’t too great with heights… not to mention it was 32 degrees celsius, and we’d just had lunch, so a rollercoaster may not have been the best idea!


old tornedo coaster seat


We did get to see an example of the old Tornado roller coaster car, sitting in exhibit in the Coney Island Circus Sideshow gift shop.  I’m glad there are more safety features on roller coasters now than in the 1930s!  Harking back to the golden days of Victorian seaside holidays in the 1880s, when circus ‘freak’ shows were all the rage, the more politically correct Coney Island Circus Sideshow was part of the Coney Island renaissance in the 1980s.  It now works to maintain popular culture through performance and exhibitions, and events such as the Mermaid Parade.  The sideshow was everything I’d hoped for – illusion tricks, sword swallowing and yo-yos, plus old fashioned side show shock tactics!  I had a wonderful afternoon pretending I was in an episode of Carnivale!


coney island circus sideshow


On the day we visited, the boardwalk was heaving with families, free spirits, and jaunty beach police in little electric cars.  There were people fishing from the pier, groups dancing to cuban music, some kind of documentary was being filmed, and there was of course the screams from the punters on the fairground rides – it was frenetic and fantastic.  Don’t go expecting a quiet seaside sojourn, go with a hunger for a dose of crazy and an appetite for a famous Nathan’s hotdog! To find more things to do in Brooklyn visit TripAdvisor.


coney island sign


All photos © Hannah Henderson and may not be used without permission (sharing this blog post is fine, though!). Images shot with a Canon DSLR T3i Rebel + Canon EF Lens 50mm 1:1.8 STM; and an iPhone6s.

Coney Island - Seaside Nostalgia - HH Lifestyle Travel

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  • Haha, I find it pretty easy to ignore the tourist tat shops, and I don’t think there’s EVER a good time to hit up a rollercoaster – but apart from that, Coney Island sounds just how I imagined it. It’s in almost every book I’ve ever read set in NY, so to see – and experience – the real thing would be AMAZING!

    • HHLifestyleTravel says:

      It’s crazy, frenetic, weird, run-down, and magnificent! Unlike anything I’ve experienced before – you should definitely visit if you can!

  • Carol says:

    Coney Island is one of those iconic destinations that I’d love to visit, too. Like your husband, I’d say no on the roller coaster. I didn’t realize that the Riegelmann Boardwalk was so long, 2.5 miles! But I did imagine the crowds of families and people out having fun. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • vishvarsha says:

    When I was in New York I kept contemplating on which NY beaches to visit and had narrowed my options to Coney Island and Fire Island, but ended up going to Connecticut. Guess Coney Island wouldn’t have been such a bad option.

    • HHLifestyleTravel says:

      It’s certainly an experience! Definitely more for the craziness and oddity of it all, rather than the beach itself!

  • Indrani says:

    Looks like a good offbeat destination from NY. I am not aware of old Tornado roller coaster car but it does look scary.
    Would a few hours of stroll suffice here?

    • HHLifestyleTravel says:

      Yes definitely, it only takes about an hour to get there from Manhattan, and a couple of hours for a stroll, a visit to the circus sideshow and a Nathan’s hotdog is all you need!

  • Is it bad that I kinda dig the touristy shops, or maybe it is people watching from the comfort of a cafe is what I like most. Your romantic notion of Coney Island sounds just how I always imagined it, although you are alone with the Cyclone roller coaster. Haha! I would love to visit.

  • Carola says:

    Looks like a great excursion into the past! I would have thought Coney Island was much more modern and had done aways with most of it’s history. But this could interest me…

    Thank you & happy continued travels!

    • HHLifestyleTravel says:

      It’s definitely a weird mix of modern rides and tower blocks in the background… but it’s most vital and important era was in victorian times, so it holds on to that hey day!

  • Guy says:

    Its funny because conny island is like the real image we have of 60’s and 70’s USA. So cool with the old theme parks and seaside views. I would just make your pictures a little bit bigger so it is easier to see all the beauty. 🙂

  • quirky says:

    Whoa. This looks like time traveling to a lost era! 🙂 I’d Love to be on the Tornado rollercoaster! My kind of thing:) Illusion tricks, sword swallowing! All these look akin to carnival activities! 🙂

  • Elisa says:

    I had never heard of Coney Island before but it looks a very cool place to explore. And I love your “vintage” pictures, they fit very well with the image of Coney Island you had in your mind before visiting it . .

  • Elisa says:

    okay, this is definitely making the list! how fun is this place?!

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