True to its heritage as the "playground for the people," Coney Island still offers plenty of free activities and opportunities for cheap fun. Although everything isn't free on our list, most of these activities below cost only the price of the subway ride there and home again.
Enjoy three miles of public beach along the Atlantic Ocean. The beach is free to the public and one of New York City's best amenities. Nearby are free volleyball, handball, and basketball courts, as well as playgrounds. Beware the riptides, though; swim only when lifeguards are on duty.
If you want to see sharks, penguins and other marine life, but you don't have the cash for a visit to an aquarium, The New York Aquarium offers a pay-what-you-wish donation on Wednesday afternoons, from 3:00 p.m. to last entry. Enjoy a visit to this noted spot, which has a fantastic aqua theater show. With tons of interactive exhibits, this is an educational way to end your visit to the beach. They also have a cafe on the premises.
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 and is held on a Saturday in mid-June, rain or shine. Expect a crush of people: a mix of locals, European tourists, hipsters, families, the tattooed and untattooed, grannies, and kids. One of New York City's best parades, it also includes a breathtaking show of antique cars.
You can watch the fireworks at many stops in Brooklyn. There are many evenings 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.
Head to the Ford Amphitheater. 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. Past performers include Barenaked Ladies, The Beach Boys, Rick Springfield, and many others. Check the website to get tickets.
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, began in about 1916. Recent winners have consumed as many as 54 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. It's free, and you won't be the one to go home with a stomach ache.
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 20 years. The memorabilia here, which commemorates Coney Island’s vaudeville and amusement park history, is worth the $5 admission and $3 for kids.
Enjoy ocean breezes and views of Coney Island’s stadium and amusement park. Both the people-watching and scenery here 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. If you want to explore Brighton Beach, check out this list.
For 28 years, Brooklyn Community Services has held a Sand Castle contest on the beach in Coney Island. It usually happens in August, and it's free to participate. The event takes place between the beach and the boardwalk on W 10th through W 12th Streets. There's on-site registration for individuals, groups, and families that opens at noon. Even if you don't want to participate, it's fun to look at the various sandy creations.
There is nothing like feeling the ocean breeze as you watch a Brooklyn Cyclones game at their seaside stadium. The stadium doesn't have a bad seat in the house. This is also an economical way to watch a sporting event. They have deeply discounted tickets throughout the season, including a family ticket, which comes with food and a free T-shirt for $20. But you can also score a bleacher seat for as little as $10. Check the website for various offers throughout the season and enjoy watching this hometown team.