Rabbit Island is no longer an island.
While the name originates from Dutch, meaning Rabbit Island, the place is known for the beach and amusement parks. The wide beach is impressive. Unbelievably, the amusement parks were almost always hated by “respectable people.” Said people’s efforts have finally, after more than 130 years, have paid off. During the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, Coney Island was the largest “amusement area” in the United States. There were three separate amusement parks. Now, there is only one, Luna Park, a recent amalgam of survivors, and it’s tiny. So, too is the commercial area of the boardwalk.
So many sights.
There is so much going on in New York, so many things to do and see and consider, that sometimes you can’t see the big things. The Coney Island Loop seems to highlight this aspect of the city for us.
We’ll start by paraphrasing an old Yogi Berra line; the beach is so crowded hardly anyone goes there. The beach is pretty big, like 100 yards deep and running the length of the (former) island. Thousands of people can go to the beach and there’s still room for thousands more. And the amusement parks were so big that they scared city officials with all that vulgar entertainment for the masses.
But lost in the mix is the train station where the ride starts. It’s the largest elevated subway station in North America, and it was rebuilt several years ago.
Onto the ride. You start by heading on Neptune, which was probably the northern edge of the island before city officials decided to fill in part of the gap between this island and the rest of Brooklyn. Not the most scenic; it winds around several large housing complexes. But once the houses have gotten smaller, you’re at the start of Sheepshead Bay and the riding is about to get much quieter.
Quieter, yes, but maybe not easier. The closer you get to the water, the windier it gets, and you’ll be hugging the coast in three directions. You loop around Manhattan Beach, then take a dip into Brighton Beach, before hitting the beach itself.
Boardwalk and park places.
Once on the boardwalk, you’re taking it to the end. It will usher you past Russian restaurants, the New York Aquarium, Luna Park, empty lots where amusements once stood, the disappearing commercial boardwalk strip, and MCU Park before turning left and riding to the end of Steeplechase Pier. If you’re short on time, just turn around and ride out to Surf Avenue, you’re just a few blocks away from where you started.
But the western segment of beach is less crowded, so check it out. At the end, you’ll be at Sea Gate, one of the few gated communities in the city. Skirt it and start coming north on Neptune, back to the start.
Not only Hot Dogs and Soda.
Yes, the original Nathans is a destination (corner of Surf and Stillwell), and boardwalk eats deserve sampling. But there’s lots of food beyond the traditional amusement park fare, from typical city diet of pizza, Chinese, Russian and the humble sandwich.
Coney Island! Luna Park. As a kid, I probably would have hated the sideshow, but now it’s fun. The New York Aquarium. In the summer, catch a game at MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Minor league baseball has a rough-hewn charm that the majors can’t offer.
Minutiae (Coney Island bike ride)
How to get there: The D, F, N, and Q trains all stop at Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue, which is where the ride begins.
Distance: 9.6 miles
Elevation: next to none. (the Garmin reads about 1508′, but that’s obviously wrong)
Terrain: Rolling. One uphill, one down, some false flats.
Ride Rating: @@
Notes: Sun, sand, boardwalk, and bicycles.