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Don't Fughedabout Brooklyn's Best

Coney Island
coney island cycloneThink faded nostalgia. Even with recent efforts to buff it up a bit, Coney Island is still a bit tawdry, but its nostalgic pull puts it in the must-do category, if only to say you've been there.

Go To: Ride the Wonder Wheel at Deno's or the famous Cyclone (well over 80 years old, it still holds its own against today's high-tech G-force machines) -- and if those don't leave you slightly queasy, the fried Boardwalk fare might (although these days there are a number of interesting new cafes and restaurants offering much more than the pedestrian hot dogs and fries).

Don't Miss: The daily shark feeding at the New York Aquarium, as well as "Alien Stingers," where spotting a lone tentacled blob undulate in a blue-glowing tank is both bizarre and beautiful. Who knew jellyfish could be so lovely?

Fast Pitch: Dem bums the Dodgers are long gone, but the Brooklyn Cyclones hold new promise for the borough's baseball lovers. The minor league team, part of the New York Mets' organization, plays at MCU Park just off the Boardwalk in Coney Island.

Getting There: The D-F and N-Q subway lines all end at Coney Island.

Williamsburg
Hipsters and Hasidic Jews mingle in Williamsburg, which has become Brooklyn's hottest neighborhood over the last few years. Rents are skyrocketing, and boutiques, cafes and art galleries have moved into former warehouses and industrial buildings (pushing some bohemian artists on a budget to other cheaper parts of the borough).

Go To: Check out the work of emerging artists at the Pierogi gallery on North 9th Street or at Art 101 on Grand Street. Take a tasting tour of the Brooklyn Brewery, located in a building that dates back to the Civil War (in former incarnations, it was a steel warehouse and a matzo factory).

Eat At: Zagat recently voted Peter Luger Steak House, located on Broadway, the best steakhouse in New York City for the 28th year in a row. It's been open for more than a century. If you'd rather nosh on veggies than meat (and pay a little less), try Wild Ginger on Bedford Avenue, an Asian/vegetarian place offering organic salads and steamed vegetable dumplings.

Shop Op: You could spend hours browsing the vintage and second-hand clothes, shoes and accessories at Beacon's Closet on North 11st Street. Book Thug Nation offers used books -- with a particularly strong collection of literary fiction, film and philosophy -- on North 3rd Street.

Getting There: Williamsburg's Bedford Avenue station is just one stop on the L train from the East Village in Manhattan.

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Red Hook
The rough-hewn, isolated port neighborhood of Red Hook, cut off by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and far from a subway line, is in many ways an unlikely candidate for any hot list. But lately that's changing, perhaps all the more so with the vibrant and curious crowds the recently added cruise ship port has added to the mix. As the crow flies, Red Hook is pretty darn close to Manhattan, but it couldn't be further in sense or sensibility.

Like so many neighborhoods in Brooklyn right now, Red Hook is on its way up. Trendy bars and galleries are popping up like daffodils on vacant lots -- though there's still plenty of dilapidation in between the blooms. There's also a great deal of political and social tension around Red Hook's future right now, as salty longtimers and artists who came for the cheap rent and relative isolation respond to the inevitable arrivals of Ikea, a giant Fairway supermarket and luxury condos. Van Brunt Street is about as close as Red Hook gets to a commercial strip.

Sugar and Spice: Along Van Brunt Street is Baked, Brooklyn's answer to Manhattan's famous Magnolia Bakery.

Eat At: For a casual lunch try Hope & Anchor on Van Brunt Street. Another good option in the neighborhood is Ferdinando's Focacceria on Union Street, which has been serving Sicilian fare for more than a century. For a quick takeaway try the Panelle Special, an addictive sandwich of fried chickpeas and ricotta.

Getting There: Red Hook is about a half-hour taxi ride (or longer) from Midtown Manhattan. Nearest subway stop is the F stop at Smith and 9th Street -- a bit dicey, and there are some pretty steep stairs, and it's a very long walk from there to Red Hook, so do yourself a favor and just take a taxi. (Tip: Announce your destination after you're in the cab. If the driver balks about coming to Brooklyn -- and some do -- insist. They have to take you.)

Park Slope
brooklyn brownstone park slopePark Slope, the "slope" leading to Prospect Park, has a great feel of the historic brownstones, progressive social scene and families. Begin your Park Slope visit on Seventh Avenue -- and then head two blocks up along any of the residential streets (3rd Street is the most grand) to Prospect Park, or stroll two blocks down to trendy Fifth Avenue. In the Slope, stroller-pushers wend their way in and out of the local shops and restaurants, and almost everything here, including bars, is kid-friendly without being childish. Case in point: Tea Lounge on Union Street, where the mix-and-match sofas and chairs are occupied by freelancers and their laptops and couples of all persuasions drinking strong coffee or stronger cocktails. There's peanut butter and jelly on the menu and a regular sing-along for tots.

Eat At: The Slope has a great mix of restaurants, and while they're generally priced to reflect the fact that they're on premium commercial real estate, there are moderate choices too that run the gamut -- falafel, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Tex-Mex, Thai. Everything's family-friendly, but especially the cacophonous Two Boots. This twin to the Manhattan restaurant of the same name serves up Cajun/Italian melange (Louisiana, Italy -- both boot-shaped, get it?). Here the pizza guy will toss the little ones a wad of pizza dough to keep them occupied while parents sip Bloody Marys in mason jars with pickled okra garnish. Tip: Got toddlers? Bring quarters. A ride on the mechanical alligator outside is a must.

More Eats: For a real neighborhood experience grab a bagel at La Bagel Delight, featured in scenes from Paul Auster's "Brooklyn Follies." The enormous warm bagels will make you understand the difference between the real thing and a bulk pack of Lender's from Costco -- and you may never turn back. Just be prepared to assertively claim your spot in the busy line and bellow out a rapidfire order to the counter staff. A word to the wise: Never order your bagel toasted in a real New York bagel shop (the idea being that fresh bagels simply don't need it).

Shop Op: Scaredy Kat has an excellent selection of cards and gifts. Bierkraft features international beers, fine chocolates, cheeses and other gourmet food items. The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company is an amusingly earnest store that's really a front for a community writing center (see if you can find the secret door). The Superhero Supply Company really does sell realistic and rather nicely designed superhero capes, ray guns, decoding devices, X-ray specs, and all manner of goops and sprays with various powers. But take note: If you want to make a purchase you have to recite (preferably with a straight face) an oath to use your superpowers only for virtuous causes.

Getting There: Park Slope is about a half-hour (or longer) to/from Midtown Manhattan. Subway stops: F to Seventh Avenue, 2-3 to Grand Army Plaza, B-Q to Seventh Avenue (at Flatbush).

Prospect Park
Grass! Space! And not only does a tree grow in Brooklyn, but in Prospect Park there's a whole forest -- the last one left in the borough. This 585-acre park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after Central Park, and many people (okay, they're all Brooklynites) claim it's the better of the two efforts. There's no real agenda here; just meander and enjoy the people enjoying soccer, baseball, kite flying, and that favorite New York City sport, extreme Sunday Times reading.

Don't Miss: The Prospect Park Carousel, ca. 1912. It rivals the one in Central Park (which, ahem, was built in Brooklyn).

Also in the Hood: The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is Serenity in the City -- cherry trees, rose gardens, lily pool, Japanese pond -- and they've got a shiny new visitor center. The Brooklyn Museum next door is one of the world's biggest art museums, boasting extensive collections ranging from Egyptian sarcophagi to traditional African art to contemporary painting and sculpture. Don't miss the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, home to Judy Chicago's ground-breaking "Dinner Party" installation.

Eat At: Bring a picnic, grab a hot dog from a vendor cart, or eat at the Botanic Garden's outdoor cafe (sandwiches, chili, burgers and one of the best veggie burgers we've had).

Getting There: Prospect Park is large and there are plenty of entry points from the surrounding neighborhoods. But the best plan is to go to Park Slope and go in from there -- at 3rd Street or 9th Street. Park Slope/Prospect Park is about a half-hour (or longer) to/from Midtown Manhattan. Subway stops: F to Seventh Avenue, 2-3 to Grand Army Plaza. For the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the 2-3 has a stop directly in front.

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    --written by Deborah Bogosian
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