True to its heritage as the "playground for the people," Coney Island still offers plenty of free activities and opportunities for cheap fun. Plans are underfoot to changes and new developments in Coney Island, but meanwhile, the activities below cost only the price of the subway ride there and home again.
There are also many opportunities to do free (or almost free) activities in Coney Island. For those who are planning a Friday excursion to Coney Island on summer Fridays from 4-5pm, it's pay as you wish at the New York Aquarium, which is a nice way to end your day at the beach. The seaside aquarium has sea otter and penguin feedings, and you must visit the shark tank.
If you're traveling on a budget, check out our cheap guide to Brooklyn. Yes, you can find a one dollar slice of pizza. Here are eight free (or almost free) things to do in Coney Island.
- Stroll the Coney Island Boardwalk to Brighton Beach Enjoy ocean breezes and views of Coney Island’s stadium and amusement park: both the people-watching and scenery are great free entertainment. For pure Brooklyn history, there's nothing like a view of the historic Parachute Jump and Cyclone roller coaster. The boardwalk runs past the New York Aquarium and all the way to the Russian neighborhood of Brighton Beach, which feels like a different country.
- Watch the Annual July 4th Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Watch 20 ridiculously hungry contestants stuff themselves for a $20,000 total cash purse. Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating contest, sponsored by the original Nathan's stand in Coney Island, reputedly began in about 1916. Recent winners have consumed as many as 54 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes. It's free and you won't be the one to go home with a stomach ache.
- Go to Coney Island’s Atlantic Ocean Beach Enjoy three miles of public beach along the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby are free volleyball, handball, and basketball courts, as well as playgrounds. Beware the riptides, though; swim only when lifeguards are on duty.
- Take a Free Walking Tour of Historic Coney Island The nonprofit group Save Coney Island organizes informative, and free, walking tours.
- Learn about Coney Island at the Coney Island Museum True Coney Island fans have a taste for the bizarre and zany. The Coney Island Museum is the brainchild of Dick Zigun, a Yale-trained theater professional who has made Coney Island his passion for over twenty years. The memorabilia here, which commemorates Coney Island’s vaudeville and amusement park history, is worth the $5 admission.
- Go to a Seaside Concert Recently the Ford Amphitheater opened in Coney Island. They do have a slew of shows that aren't free, but they also host the pummeling seaside concert series at this amphitheater. Enjoy the ocean breeze as you hear music from some of the greatest musicians in the world. This summer some of the performers include The Beach Boys and Rick Springfield. Just to note- "A limited number of tickets will be available to the public for all shows beginning at 12 noon two days prior to each event at the Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk box office. Limit 2 tickets per person subject to availability. Tickets are distributed on a first come first served basis."
- Watch the Fireworks You can watch the fireworks at many stops in Brooklyn. There are many evening where the Brooklyn Cyclones host postgame fireworks. You can also watch them at Luna Park. At Luna Park, they host a fireworks display every Friday at 9:30 p.m. from the last weekend in June until the Friday before Labor Day.
- Go to the Mermaid Parade Words cannot describe the irreverent, artistic, wildly popular Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. It is downright silly, and that's the key to its success. The Mermaid Parade celebrates the symbolic opening of Coney Island's beach season every June 19th, rain or shine. Expect a crush of people: a mix of locals, European tourists, hipsters, families, the tattooed and untattooed, grannies, weirdo’s, and, of course, kids. One of New York City's best parades, it includes a breathtaking show of antique cars, occasionally driven by a middle-aged person wearing a fish costume. Once marginal, the Mermaid Parade has become such a hit that one can now buy tickets for better viewing.
Edited by Alison Lowenstein