For a late summer strolling fling, consider a walk through the neighboring beach communities of Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach, both on the eastern shores of Coney Island. It's always pleasant to walk alongside the deep blue vistas of an ocean, but here, unlike in remote seaside locations away from the city, the seascape mixes with the sounds and sights of civilizations from distant shores.
Beyond the amusing mechanical thrills of Coney Island's Luna Park and the splashy aquarium, a walk east on the boardwalk gradually reveals a change of atmosphere. With every step, one overhears the spoken languages of the former Soviet Union, especially the sounds of Russia. The feeling of an Old World émigré community graces the boardwalk.
The beachside neighborhood of Brighton Beach has attracted immigrants for over a hundred years. In the 1920s, Eastern European Jews began settling in Brighton Beach, and by the 1930s, the neighborhood developed its own cultural flavor. Neil Simon's coming-of-age play, Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), takes its inspiration from the playwright's adolescence in the neighborhood's Polish-Jewish community. After World War II, Jewish refugees arrived here, including many Holocaust survivors.
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During the mid-1970s immigrants from the Soviet Union settled into Brighton Beach, developing the vibrant Russian-speaking community that continues today. Following the breakup of union, many came here from Ukraine, and others joined from Mexico, Pakistan and the Middle East. The multicultural nature of the contemporary community is revealed in the restaurants of the boardwalk and in the many diverse food establishments that line Brighton Beach Avenue under the elevated train tracks. The food alone is worth a separate trip.
Looking east toward the end of the Brighton Beach boardwalk, a line of sizable single family houses stretching down to the water's edge signals the residential community of Manhattan Beach. To explore, you'll need to make your way inland to Brighton Beach Avenue and then head east on Oriental Boulevard. An old esplanade that once linked the two communities has been left to the elements. The neighborhood boasts many fine sturdy million-dollar houses, making the 11235 zip code a nice spot for the real estate business. Manhattan Beach Park, with its elegantly curved beach, is worth seeing. After beaching it, you can always take the B1 bus back to the subway stop, or continue wandering. (We'll save the equally fascinating Sheepshead Bay, just to the north, for another time.)
The pictures above date from a walk in early August when the sun was still high. On a recent return to Brighton Beach, the light took on the muted, poignant softness of late August in New York. Yes, the summer days are waning.
Photos by Walking Off the Big Apple from August 2, 2012 (more on Flickr WOTBA) and August 19, 2012 (bottom photo; more here).
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