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Coney Island: 10 can't-miss attractions

It's the birthplace of the roller coaster and the modern amusement park. While its heyday is long past, Coney Island still has a spunky, gritty charm. New development over the past few years has stemmed the New York landmark's long, sad decline and replaced it with optimism and a renewed sense of vitality. There are some new rides and other recent additions to check out, but mostly it's the tried and true classics that keep visitors returning to the seaside playground. Plan your own pilgrimage to Brooklyn's living piece of Americana and consider sampling some of the best that Coney Island has to offer.

It is perhaps the most famous roller coaster in the world. Dating back to 1927, it is an official National Historic Landmark and fairly oozes with nostalgia. Recent re-tracking and other restorative work has made the ride a bit less aggressive, but the old-school trains, which do not have modern seat dividers, guarantee that seatmates slam into one another. Fun fact: It may look like a rickety wooden coaster, but the Cyclone's structure is actually made out of steel – the same material your nerves need to be made of to ride it.

Sure there are franchises all over the place, but the hot dogs somehow don't taste as good as they do at the original Coney Island location. Nathan's has been a fixture at the amusement area since 1916. Tip: The fries might be even better than the hot dogs. The event that kicked off the competitive eating craze, the Hot Dog Eating Contest, is held at Nathan's every Fourth of July.

Built in 1920, it's even older than the Cyclone and is as much of a Coney Island icon. The unique ride has cars that swing wildly as the 150-foot-tall wheel rotates. If you're less courageous, there are also stationary cars.

Speaking of courage, the especially squeamish may want to steer clear of the Spook-A-Rama. It is one of a handful of classic "dark rides" still operating. Measured against today's graphic horror films, the circa-1955 attraction is really more silly than spooky.

There used to be a bunch of painted ponies going round and round at Coney Island. The B&B, which first started spinning in 1906, is the last of the rides that remains from the early years. It has been restored and moved to a different location next to the Parachute Jump tower (which, by the way, is no longer operational). Alas, the brass ring dispenser was removed when the ride was restored. And no, that's not a typo. For some reason, it's always been identified as the B&BCarousell.

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