The new Woody Allen movie, Wonder Wheel, is set in the 1950s, in Coney Island. For generations of New Yorkers, the resort and its huge amusement park on a manmade Brooklyn peninsula was the epicentre of mid-century American hedonism: cheesy, cheap, colourful and sexy. It inspired beat poets and novelists, musicians from Lou Reed to Beyoncé, and dozens of feature films (including Allen’s earlier masterpiece, Annie Hall, onboard this month).
I first visited Coney Island in the ’70s. It was my first day on American soil, and a blindingly hot and sticky day it was, too. I was a moody kid made moodier with jetlag. But even then – it was, like the rest of the city, entering a period of seedy decline – Coney was kind of irresistible.
Places like that are. All the grown-up and sophisticated places we go to in later life seem monochrome next to the fluorescent images of sand dunes and ice creams, rollercoasters and seaside cafes.
So we thought we’d ask some very grown-up travellers to leaf through the faded snapshots of their holiday memories and choose their own Coney Islands, the special holiday places of their childhood.
We’d best start in the United States.
Mark Jones, editor, Discovery
The arcade in York Beach, Maine, is a photographer’s dream – all primary colours and retro games (including a 1950s robot fortune teller). It’s called Fun-o-Rama. Isn’t that great? Its red sign against white clapboard wall against blue sky is magic. My 70-something mum has been going this same beach town since she was a child.
Kari Howard, enterprise editor, Reuters
It’s Monterey, California, where I spent two summers (aged 11 and 12) at camp. Days were spent walking on the rocks by the sea to find sea anemones. In the evenings we played capture the flag. Each weekend we went on long hikes in the Sierra Nevada mountains and camped with no tents, just sleeping bags, instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. The leaning Monterey cypresses, the big swing in temperature from day to night, the otters in the ocean – it was a wonderfully different world for a girl from Hong Kong.
Vanessa Ko, deputy editor
Hong Kong & Macau, China
Standing on the back of Mini Mokes and throwing firecrackers (when they were still legal) in colonial Macau, before the casinos arrived. All pretty unsafe in retrospect.
Madeleine Fitzpatrick, writer
My dad was at the opening of Ocean Park in 1977 – lots of the animal trainers and high-divers used to come into my parents’ bar. In the ’80s the amusement park also had a water park called Water World attached, which I remember being tremendous fun – although I also remember loads of kids breaking bones. Health and safety regulations were less of a concern back then.
The Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park was really old: a tin-pot rollercoaster, a weird haunted house and a creaky Chinese mansion. There was an acrobat show with guys in silk pyjamas sword-fighting, smashing wood and jumping on trays of fresh eggs without breaking them. My brother and I loved it there.
Lee Cobaj, travel writer
Puducherry – the former French colony three hours’ drive from my hometown Chennai. Just a strip of beach and balloon sellers, temples alongside churches, and Indian policemen wearing the uniform of French gendarmes: pure nostalgia.
Kalpana Sunder, freelance travel and food writer and photographer
The children of New Zealand and Australia would descend on Fiji for the summer holidays. The constant smiles of our hosts, the newfound friends, impromptu rugby matches on white sand beaches, the dramatic change of pace and the timelessness of the islands was something I looked forward to every year.
Nick Walton, travel editor
My family and I stayed at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang every year until I was around 12 or 13. The pool was surrounded by pre-war British cannons, with a gorgeous view out to sea. Batu Ferringhi beach was a favourite haunt for jet-skiing before a massive seafood dinner at Gurney Drive. We’d also take trishaw rides around George Town when it was still a common form of transport, instead of the tourist attraction it’s become. It was a simple time before everything was commercialised.
Choy Teh, Bannikin Travel and Tourism
Fraser’s Hill near Kuala Lumpur. You had to wait to go through ‘the gate’ when going up or down the mountain, as the road was so narrow the traffic had to be one way. Once you got there it was like Scotland. You could wear a jumper and there was a club and a golf course. There still is.
Sophie Campbell, travel writer and London tour guide
An annual pilgrimage to the industrial north for the Blackpool Illuminations. The slow bumper-to-bumper drive down the Golden Mile, the stretch of promenade between the piers that fizzed with multicoloured neon. Lights ricocheted. Not even the much bigger, brassier Las Vegas, which I visited many years later, topped Blackpool’s happy, cheeky charm. I always suffered pangs of jealousy when seeing kids in fancy cars, standing up through a sun roof, taking in the whole luminous vista without having to neck-crane or dive from one side of the car to the other as I did in my parents’ car in the ’70s, to catch the view.
Steven Day, co-founder, Pure Planet
Padstow, Cornwall. While the well-heeled went to the town of Rock, we would pack the car and head to the other side of the estuary, to beaches named Booby’s Bay and coves called Wine, Pepper and Warren. There were windy picnics that blew sand instead of salt onto hardboiled eggs. We caught crabs using limpets. When we weren’t feasting on our own freshly caught fruits of the sea, it was pasties in Padstow or battered cod with chips doused in vinegar and wrapped in paper. Days always ended with boardgames, charades and cards. It’s a special place.
Rachel Duffell, writer and editor
No summer was complete without taking the Dymchurch to Hythe miniature railway in Kent, stopping off at the spooky funfair where the main attractions used to be a topsy-turvy house straight out of a horror film and a helter skelter slide that was worth the carpet burn and wooden splinters; then off for fish and chips, while being dive-bombed by seagulls.
Hannah Liddle, PR manager, David Collins Studio
France and Italy
The gîte we stayed at in Périgord in the south of France. It was a big old stone house set in rolling countryside. We went with family friends and I remember that their daughter and I wandered around the fields all day. We found a little wooden shed and set up a shop selling pumpkins, vegetables and all sorts of things that I supposed we pilfered from the fields. I also tried to flog a dried lizard in a cereal box. The parents drank wine, we ran around in the sun, and at night bats came in and my dad had to trap them under a sieve.
Nicola Chilton, Four Season Hotels and Resorts
Celle is a small resort with a seafront spoilt by the cabins and umbrellas of private beaches, as is all too common in Italy. For us as children, however, it was a kind of paradise. The sun was always shining, or so it seemed; the rustic home cooking was always delicious, and the people always warm and welcoming. Days were spent at the beach mucking around noisily, writing postcards home and waiting for the three-day old English newspapers to be delivered. It felt completely without threat: kids who roamed the streets were civilised, not feral. Gelato would be mandatory and for some reason I settled on the combination of chocolate and lemon. Celle was freedom; a place where enjoying life was natural and relaxation was the default setting.
Julian Baggini, philosopher and author of A Short History of Truth: Consolations for a Post-Truth World
I treasure the memories of spending long, hot summer days on the shores of the Swan river at Matilda Bay in Perth. On Australia Day we would settle in with a picnic – I’d swim with my sisters and we would throw jellyfish at each other, jump off the jetty and watch the fireworks in the evening with salt-crusted legs. As teenagers we’d go there with our school friends and try to get as far away from our parents as possible, and now we go back as adults to watch the annual fireworks from the same part of the shore, overlooking the city skyline. It never gets old.