So yes, there’s the Hamptons, with Montauk and Southampton and Quogue and all sorts of see-and-be-seen strips of sand. You COULD hop a jitney or find a friend with a car to try and reach a beach. But if you want to do like most New Yorkers do, there’s plenty of great beaches to plant an umbrella and unfurl a towel, without such a schlep. Here are a few of our favorites.
Home of the world famous Cyclone (at 100+ years old, the oldest existing wooden rollercoaster), Deno’s Wonder Wheel, and the original Nathan’s Hotdogs, Coney Island is an iconic part of New York City’s history and culture. It’s also an easy subway ride from anywhere in the city. Just hop on the Q train and ride it all the way to the end of the line, or take the N, F, or D trains and you’re there. Each year in June the absolutely fish-tacular Mermaid Parade swishes and splashes down the promenade with homemade floats worthy of Neptune himself, but all summer long you can stroll the boardwalks, dip your toes in the water, play skee-ball or any number of other old-school carnie games, plus ride the amusement park rides ‘til your head spins. Right next door is the New York Aquarium, a great place to visit with kids. (There’s also a pretty good freak show at Coney if you’re into that sort of thing, but maybe leave the kids behind for that one.)
Not far from Coney Island (in fact, just a single subway stop), is Brighton Beach, which some have dubbed “Little Odessa” due to the many Russians and Eastern Europeans who have settled the neighborhood over the years. The beach is a bit less hectic of a scene than Coney Island, with lots of families picnicking on the wide sandy stretches, and tons of neighborhood restaurants serving up Russian specialties (and nightclubs as well, if you’re not too toasted from the sun at the end of the day to party down). Stroll along Brighton Beach Avenue beneath the elevated subway tracks, and you’ll find markets full of fruit vendors and sandwich shops, or try out specialty vodkas and caviars imported from the old country. Or, just camp out on the sand with a big beach umbrella and take a dip in the Atlantic when the sun is high.
The Ramones may have introduced this beach to the wider world with their classic song, but New Yorkers have sung the virtues of this strip of sand along the Queens peninsula for generations. Lately, it’s become a bit of a hip scene, but once upon a time it was a mellow getaway for families just trying to beat the heat. It’s the only beach in New York where it’s legal to surf, as a matter of fact, and there are spots to barbeque, plus ball fields, changing facilities, and food and booze vendors galore. Nowadays you can take a lovely ferry ride from downtown Manhattan’s Wall Street Pier 11 or Sunset Park in Brooklyn (expect to spend an hour each way from Manhattan, and check the schedule online ahead of time), or take the A train, the Q53 Select Bus, or even the OvR Beach Bus, though that’ll cost you a bit more.
Jacob Riis Park Beach & Fort Tilden State Park
While you’re in the Rockaways, be sure to scope out Jacob Riis Park, named for the journalist who advocated for its creation back in the early 1900s. From its Art Deco bathhouses to the golf course to its party scene summer bazaar, there’s lots of fun to be had. The bazaar features live music and dance parties on the boardwalk, volleyball, and a bunch of hipster food vendors where you can eat amazing barbeque, gorge at a clam bake, drink craft beers in the beer garden, and much more. If you’re up for an adventure, you can try and find your way to nearby Fort Tilden State Park, the site of an old Army installation and a much quieter beach (in part because it’s hard to access) along the coastline toward Breezy Point. The decommissioned Army buildings are all covered with graffiti now, which gives the place a spooky, deserted vibe, but it’s also a wonderful place to spot wildlife in an unspoiled environment. Get to Jacob Riis via the Q53 Select Bus, or the Rockaway NYC ferry from Pier 11 in Manhattan or Sunset Park in Brooklyn, then avail yourself of the free shuttle. Or try the OvR Rockaway Beach bus or Alexis Van Lines during the summer months only. Or drive if you’ve got access to a car.
Jones Beach State Park
A bit farther out along the southern part of Long Island lies Jones Beach, which is known both for its incredibly wide swath of powdery white sand (trust us, don’t try to walk all the way to the ocean barefoot unless you want burnt feet), and for the concert venue that rocks out every summer with big-name bands. In addition to more than 6 miles of stunning beach to stroll, there’s a nature center featuring educational programs about maritime habitats, fishing facilities, ball fields, a pool, and food concessions, as well as changing rooms. Back in the 1920s, New York’s most famous city planner, Robert Moses conceived and designed the park in a colossal feat of engineering, dredging a channel in the bay to create the beach from what was then swampland, though some have said his master plan didn’t take enough account of the city’s less advantaged citizens, who had no way to access it at the time. These days, the trip is still easiest by car (though parking is first-come, first-serve, and it’s not free), but you can also take the NICE shuttle bus from the Freeport LIRR station.