An Honest Word about the Public Beach at Coney Island in Brooklyn

New York's Popular Beach Near Scream Zone Amusement Park, Cyclone, Baseball

Coney Island, NY, elevated view
••• Andy Ryan/Getty Images

Let the truth be told about Coney Island’s beach: The sand’s not always the cleanest, and on a sweltering summer day you certainly won’t have it to yourself.

But like a budget motel, the beach at Coney Island gets the job done. It is a veritable workhorse of a public beach; it always has been. Coney Island's beach isn't one of those nasty little ribbons of sand sandwiched between land and sea like a wilted cucumber stuck between two slices of crustless white bread.

No. It's the full loaf: a gloriously broad swath of sand and a shore where the Atlantic Ocean waves relentlessly roll in. It’s easily accessible by public transportation or car, with attentive lifeguards, a colorful boardwalk, public bathrooms (but no changing rooms or showers), a fishing pier that's fun to walk on, extraordinary views of historic amusement rides, and tons and tons of beach-goers.

And, it’s absolutely free to use.

Plus, it’s unique. Nowhere else in the world can you go to a beach, and within ten minutes walk be at the world famous, landmarked Cyclone roller-coaster or Parachute jump, throwbacks to a century-old history of America’s most populist beach resort. And it's not just history, you can ride new rides at the "Scream Zone," eat cotton candy and Nathan’s hot dogs till you’re spilling out of your swimsuit, and then just hop the subway home.

In the past few decades, Coney Island has undergone a renaissance, with a new concert venue opening on the waterfront, Ford Amphitheater, and it's also home to The Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league team that plays at MCU Park.

There is something magical about seeing a concert or a ball game while you feel an ocean breeze. If you do head to a ballgame at MCU Park, check the schedule for postgame fireworks. The fireworks display is stunning and is set against the backdrop of the iconic Coney Island boardwalk. Just to note, there are many free concerts and fireworks celebrations all summer long on Coney Island and they also screen free movies at the beach, so this is an economic beach getaway.


Runners are also drawn to Coney Island. Every May, the NYRR hosts the Brooklyn Half which is the largest half marathon in the country that sells out with an hour. The 13.1-mile race ends on the Coney Island boardwalk. There are other races in Coney Island throughout the year including the Take Your Base run in July, which allows runners to run the bases in MCU Park. If you're not a runner, you can just stroll the boardwalk and people watch and take in the views of the ocean. 

The beach at Coney Island is proudly inclusive, not exclusive. It’s a people’s beach for average workaday New Yorkers, with bells and whistles galore: amusement park entertainment nearby, satisfyingly fried food that makes no pretense to being healthful, not to mention New York City's only, and wonderful, aquarium and a ballpark so intimate you can see the players' faces.

As for demographics, revel in the fact that you'll find every kind of beach-goer here: families and old folks, children and singles, lovers and lonely souls, New Yorkers speaking not just English but a proper New York City babel of languages. And, of course, tourists.

If you like your beaches pristine, get here early especially on a hot day. You won’t be alone, or surely not for long, but you can enjoy a few moments of reverie.

(Just don't brave the water, however innocent it looks; rip tides along this coastline steal a life at least once a year.)

But if you love the crush of a really busy urban beach, and love to watch the antics of fellow beach-goers playing in the ocean, or if you just want a fast, cheap, convenient way to get to the ocean from anywhere in Brooklyn, well then, the beach Coney Island is just the place for you.

Edited by Alison Lowenstein