There are parts of Brooklyn that have blown up in the few decades - parts that are all quite close to Manhattan. But deep into the borough of Brooklyn lies what some call the “real Brooklyn.” And perhaps no part of that “real Brooklyn” is more iconic and special than the Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk. Make the trek at least once or twice in your life and while you’re there, hit the nearby and also iconic L&B Spumoni Gardens.
Spumoni Gardens Is The Perfect Pizza and Ice Cream Combo
There are plenty of eats in and around the Coney Island boardwalk, but do yourself a big culinary favor and stop first to fuel up on the goodness that is a Sicilian pie from L&B Spumoni Gardens. Spumoni Gardens is located just about 10 minutes from Coney Island in Gravesend, Brooklyn. It is an institution that has been operating since 1939 - it makes its way onto a ton of “best of” lists and it runs like a well oiled machine.
The Sicilian pies at Spumoni Gardens are legendary. The money move is to order a 12 slice Sicilian pie for $24, because it is both a good deal and you’re gonna want to bring some back home with you. The Sicilian or “square” slices here are very doughy in the center with a charred crust. A light layer of cheese goes on before the tangy sweet tomato sauce is added on top. The Spumoni Gardens tomato sauce is delicious and most definitely my and many other’s favorite part of the slice.
After you attack your pie, head to the ice cream window. There is (boring!) soft serve and traditional Italian ices but the thing to get here is the Rainbow Spumoni. Spumoni is a wonderful Italian dessert that consists of different layers of gelato mixed with candied fruits and nuts and usually whipped cream. At Spumoni Gardens, the rainbow is a mix of vanilla, chocolate and pistachio gelato. It’s a wonderful treat eaten on their large outdoor patio.
About that patio - Spumoni Gardens has a whole sit down restaurant inside serving a full Italian menu, but most folks come here for that square pizza. Arrive close to the 11am opening time and snag a shaded spot on their huge outdoor patio. It’s a warm weather treat and a true New York iconic experience. Note the crowds get BIG as the day goes on.
A visit to Coney Island
Coney Island is as famous as it is difficult to get to for many of us (even the several subway lines that service the area still take about 45-60 minutes from most of Manhattan). Nevertheless, Coney Island is a VERY worthy of a visit. There is so much going on here, especially in the warm weather.
Off season, Coney Island is still a well lived in Brooklyn neighborhood and, among other things, you can visit the New York Aquarium there 365 days a year. But spring through fall is when the Coney Island beach, boardwalk and amusement parks come alive with hundreds of thousands of tourists.
It was hot when we visited and we were coming from a 2 hour outdoor bounce session at The Big Bounce America, but we still got to see and do a lot and drop some coin around Coney Island. First, we visited one of the many throw-back arcades, whose games accept the simple quarter to operate, just like the good-old-days.
From the arcade, we made our way into Deno’s Wonder Wheel, one of the two amusement parks currently in operation in Coney Island. Deno’s focuses more on kiddie rides, while the other amusement park, Luna Park (named after one of the original amusement parks on the boardwalk), is home to the iconic Cyclone roller coaster and many other “big kid” rides. The two parks sit right next to each other and it was a tad confusing knowing which ride is part of which park.
Our girls had a lot of fun going on a bunch of rides at Deno’s, and we played a few carnival games there, too, once we saw they were only $2-3 per person to play.
After our girls got their fill of carnival-like fun, we took a brief walk along the boardwalk. It was so exciting and happening on the boardwalk, and the breeze coming from the beach made it far more enjoyable than walking around the sweltering heat in the amusement parks. Much like Atlantic City in New Jersey, the Coney Island boardwalk is filled with lights and sounds and sights that will excite anyone who walks it.
After turning off the boardwalk, we took a quick spin (Read: my kids would not let me stay longer) through the Coney Art Walls, the beautiful outdoor museum of street art located at 3050 Stillwell Avenue. It was awesome to walk through, even briefly. The project was created back in 2015 by author Jeffrey Deitch and real estate developer, Joseph J. Sitt, and over time, certain walls get replaced by works of new artists. As far as I could tell, the most recent works were from 2017.
Before heading home or ending up in the hospital for heat exhaustion, we made a stop at the original Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. I thought my hot dog was nothing special, but it was still really cool to experience the original Nathan’s AND see where the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest takes place each July 4th.
Busy, Hot and Super Fun Day
Getting to Gravesend and Coney Island is no small feat for most readers of this blog. And if you live in Westchester or Fairfield Counties, I think your kids would enjoy a day at Rye Playland just as much as these amusement parks. But the square pizza at Spumoni Gardens is legendary and the excitement and history of the Coney Island boardwalk and amusement parks is truly special. These are NYC icons in a city filled with icons; and both are very worthy of a visit from time to time.