A visit to Brighton Beach and Coney Island, adjacent neighborhoods on the Atlantic Ocean with sandy beaches and colorful boardwalks, is a step back into a different world. Brighton Beach was developed as a seaside resort in the late 1800s, modeled after Brighton, England, and gradually became more residential. Perhaps the most significant factor in Brighton Beach's history, though, was the waves of Soviet citizens immigrating to the United States–-leading up to, and after, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991–-many of whom ended up here, joining the already large population of Jewish-Americans and Holocaust survivors. The neighborhood became known as "Little Odessa," a nickname still used today. Russian, Ukrainian, and Eastern European restaurants and businesses pack the neighborhood, whose main commercial artery is Brighton Beach Avenue, and you're more likely to overhear Russian conversations than ones in English. The avenue extends west to Ocean Parkway and the border with Coney Island, whose main drag is Surf Avenue. More than a century ago Coney ranked among the country’s preeminent seaside resorts, but despite a recent economic resurgence, with new restaurants, bars, and a revamped amusement park opening up, an aura of faded carny glory endures. Decades-old concessions line the boardwalk, and plenty of outsize characters keep Coney Island weird, especially at the circus sideshow and the annual Mermaid Parade. Hurricane Sandy hit Brighton Beach and Coney Island hard in 2012, though both have largely recovered.
Not everyone has the courage to explore these macabre destinations. Do you?More