Astroland may be a thing of the past (though the Wonderwheel and the Cyclone is still going strong), but a trip to Coney Island is still worth the Metro-Card swipe.  Head to the New York Aquarium, head out to the Boardwalk, have a Nathan’s Hot Dog, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to see 150 Coney Island Polar Bears go swimming.It was the first not completely frigid day in I don’t know how long, so my husband and I decided to take the kids (and their friend, George) to Coney Island.  The last time we were there, the New York Aquarium had just welcomed the first baby Walrus ever to be born in NY – and only the sixth ever to survive after being born in captivity anywhere! We wanted to see how the baby was doing, maybe check out the sea lion show, have a little time bonding with the cuttle fish, petting the star fish in the touch tank,…all in New York City. (gotta love this town).The New York Aquarium is one of those places you find yourself thinking again and again:  This is New York City?  It’s clean, and friendly, and nature packed.  There are African (who knew?) penguins, giant sharks, sea otters cleaning their whiskers while floating on their backs.  There are playful fur seals, and amazing anemones.  Electric eels, and ethereal jellyfish.  The place is compact — but jam full of things for you and your kids to see.  And since it’s in Brooklyn, it’s also filled with lots to hear.  People of every nationality imaginable are here.  From Urdu to Hindi, from Polish, to Japanese, from Spanish to Yiddish – every language represented in the outer boroughs is spoken at the New York Aquarium.Now what I’m about to write may just brand me – lifelong New Yorker – as a complete idiot, but I didn’t realize there was a real, wide , swim-able beach at Coney Island until about five years ago, when I took my kids there for the first time.  This is the Atlantic Ocean.  The same wide beaches of the Hamptons, only a lot closer to home. (And OK,  a WHOLE lot more littered with glass, and garbage, and I’m sorry to say, even the occasional hypodermic needle.)Even so, that wide swath of beach and that massive ocean, all bordered by a boardwalk populated by everyone from weightlifters to Orthodox Jews out for a stroll — well, it’s just amazing.  Even in the dead of winter it’s powerfully beautiful/  Maybe especially in the dead of winter – before the crowds and their blaring music arrive.  On a February morning, you can imagine what Coney Island was like when your grandparents came here (mine went here on their second date) – quiet and exciting at the same time.TravelingMom.comAs if that weren’t enough, we got there in time to see the Polar Bears.  No, not the ones who are at the Central Park Zoo. I’m talking about the famed Coney Island Polar Bear Club – a group of people who go swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off of Coney Island every Sunday from November through March — REGARDLESSOF THE WEATHER.  Blizzards?  No problem?  Sub-zero temperatures?  Just another day at the beach.I had heard about them for years, but never seen them.  But as we left the Aquarium through the exit that takes you directly onto the boardwalk, there they were.  Not running, all bundled up, towards the water for a quick dip.  But strolling happily in their bikinis and swim trunks and myriad tattoos as if it were the Hamptons, and as if they weren’t headed into water so cold it could induce hypothermia after just ten minutes.Hundreds of people were there.  My kids were amazed.  Old people, young people.  Groups of friends trying it for the first time, and old-timers who’ve been doing it for years.  There was even a girl who looked to be about eight years old with her father and grandfather — all three generations frolicking in the waves together.These people must be crazy, right?  Who in their right mind would jump into a frigid ocean for no reason?But you know what?  They didn’t seem crazy.  They seemed beautiful, and happy, and joyful and fullfilled.  They ran into the water as a group, and once there, held hands and danced around in a giant, wet, circle. They weren’t nutty, they were a community – a strange and wonderful one.My kids got to see everything that day on Coney Island from a baby Walrus, to a 150 smiling Polar Bears taking a dip in the Atlantic.Gotta love this town.