It's easy for New Yorkers clustered in and around Manhattan to forget that there are over 14 miles of public beaches in New York City. There's a unique joy that comes with plunging into the ocean in the city—it's the liberating feeling of getting away without going very far, drifting out toward the horizon in a great vastness with the urban madness still spinning somewhere behind you. As Danish author Isak Dinesen once said, "The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea." On Saturday, May 26th, the city officially opens the public beaches for the summer. Here's a guide to taking the cure.
(John Del Signore / Gothamist)
Fort Tilden: The relatively remote beaches at this decommissioned military base in Queens aren't easy to access without a car, but it can be done. Either plan for an epic hour and 45 minute bike ride from Manhattan or lug your bike on the B/Q train to the Sheepshead Bay / East 16 Street station (at Avenue Z). From there, it's about a 7 mile ride, first through relatively quiet residential streets, then on a bike path along the beaches, and finally over the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and into Fort Tilden. Lock your bike at a bike rack behind the bathroom by the baseball diamonds, or continue another half mile to the beach and lock to a chain link fence by the dunes.
By subway and bus, you can take the 2/5 train to the Flatbush Avenue - Brooklyn College station (the last stop) and then pick up the nearby Q35 bus at Avenue H and Flatbush Avenue. Get off at the Rockaway Point Blvd/Beach 169th Street stop, right after you cross the Gil Hodges bridge to the Rockaway Peninsula—that's Fort Tilden, and it's just a few minutes walk to the beach from the bus stop. (The Q22 also stops here.)
Alexis Van lines also runs shuttles there every half hour from Williamsburg; $7 each way. And the American Princess ferry runs express from Wall Street Pier 11 to a landing near Fort Tilden, on the bay side. It's hassle-free but $30 round trip. Alternatively, you can take $2.75 NYC ferry, which docks about four miles east at Beach 108th Street, then catch a free shuttle to nearby Jacob Riis Park.
There are no lifeguards at Fort Tilden, so it's imperative you watch out for riptide. (Here's a rip current survival guide.) There are also no amenities other than that bathroom all the way back by the freaking bike rack. (Thankfully the ocean is our toilet!) BYO food and drink, or plan on a pleasant jaunt over to the Riis Park Beach Bazaar for refreshments and facilities. What's great about the Fort Tilden beach is its raw, relaxed vibe. It's also part of Gateway National Recreation Area, and when you're done with the sand there's plenty to explore along the trails. Like this!
(Courtesy Dylan Johnson / Riis Park Beach Bazaar)
Jacob Riis Park: "The People's Beach" begins just east of where Fort Tilden ends. Riis is also managed by the National Park Service, and features a beach bod-busting variety of concessions curated by the Riis Park Beach Bazaar. Now in its fourth year, the Bazaar also produces live music on weekends, as well as a Friday Night "Lobstah Boil" presented by Rockaway Clam Bar and Red Hook Lobster Pound. And Thursday night beach karaoke. And so much more. Details here, and check out this map of this season's food and beverage vendors; new offerings this summer include Super Burrito, Two Dudes, Pizza Motto, and Warung Roadside. You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas.
Your options for getting out here are about the same as adjacent Fort Tilden, with the Q35 and Q22 buses stopping nearby, but if you've got a car or access to a car or you're getting into carjacking, there's a huge parking lot here, $10 per vehicle.
Rockaway Beach (Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
Rockaway Beach: An 11 block stretch of prime Rockaway beachfront will be off limits to swimmers this summer due to beach erosion, but you've still got over four miles of beach available, and the boardwalk will be bumping regardless. Rockaway is one of the more convenient beaches to get to via mass transit, and the concessions seem to get more elaborate every year. Here's our thorough guide to this year's Rockaway beach eats.
The most popular boardwalk concessions are spread out between Beach 86th Street, where you'll find Rippers, and Beach 106th Street, where Caracas serves its irreplaceable arepas. There are also great eats off the boardwalk, like the tacos at Tacoway Beach inside the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, or the sticky buns at Rockaway Beach Bakery.
You can and should also bring a cooler with your own refreshments to the beach, but if you're boozing you'll need a Solo cup and maintain vigilance, because the NYPD stays busy ticketing people for open container violations. Afterwards, if you want a perfect sunset bar food spot, hike over to The Wharf on Beach 116th Street to savor a stunning bayside view of the city from their back deck.
There are many ways to get to Rockaway Beach, but the easiest is probably the A train—keep in mind you'll need to transfer at Broad Channel for the Shuttle train to Rockaway Park / Beach 116th Street. (However, after July 2nd and continuing through September 3, the Rockaway Times reports that "all A train service will operate to and from Rockaway Park/ Beach 116th Street," so no transfer to the Shuttle train needed.) For the same price, you can also try for the NYC Ferry to Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive, though you may have to wait for your turn to squeeze aboard.
The NYCEDC has confirmed to Gothamist that they will once again operate FREE shuttle bus service for ferry riders from Beach 108th to points along the Rockaway peninsula; riders can request to get off at any MTA bus stop along the route. (At peak times, you may find the Q22 a more viable option.) Of course, you don't need the bus if you don't mind the five minute walk across the peninsula to the beach.
Sandy Hook (Gothamist)
Sandy Hook: The Gateway National Recreation Area beckons beyond the Rockaways into New Jersey, where the expansive and nature-oriented Sandy Hook beaches await. The best way to get there is by ferry, with departures from the East River docks at Wall Street Pier 11 or East 35th Street. $49 gets you a round trip Seastreak ferry ticket to Sandy Hook, which has seven spectacular miles of beaches, including a nude beach. (Gunnison Beach is the clothing optional one.) The voyage, which is lovely, gets you there in about a half hour.
Once you dock at Sandy Hook, a free shuttle bus whisks you off to the beaches, about a five minute drive away, or you can bring your bike (for an extra $5) and pedal over to the beach on the paved bike trails. It's about a seven minute bike ride along heavenly car-free trails to the nearest beach, and a little further to naked Gunnison. Each of the main beaches have lifeguards, bathrooms, showers, changing rooms, umbrella rentals, and snack food stands.
Jones Beach: It can get crowded and it's beyond the city limits, but Jones Beach State Park is worth it if you want to enjoy a beach that feels more remote. It boasts 6.5 miles of ocean beach, a beautiful boardwalk, a half mile of bay beach, two swimming pools, miniature golf, and Jones Beach amphitheater, where Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band will grace the stage come August.
Depending on where you're coming from in the city, it can take between 90 minutes to two hours by mass transit. You take the LIRR to the Freeport stop, where you'll squeeze onto the sometimes rowdy N88 bus, which may trigger a wave of dread and doubt about your decision to ever leave the air conditioning. Hang in there. When everyone pours out at the West Bath House, remain seated. Go further, to the East Bath House, where the beach tends to be less crowded.
There are concessions at both bathhouses, and last year the food options improved. In addition to regular beach fare like burgers and fries, you'll find local beer and the popular chicken tenders. And aside from the usual beach activities like trying not to think too hard about whatever just brushed up against your leg, Jones Beach offers mini-golf, shuffleboard, bird watching and kid-friendly activities.
Long Beach: The closest Long Island beach to NYC's border is Long Beach, a popular destination for urban day-trippers and locals. While it's not quite as scenic as Jones Beach, due to tall residential buildings encroaching on the sand, it is easier to get to from the city, as there's no bus transfer required after getting off LIRR. On the other hand, there is a fee— a day pass for the beach costs $15 for non-residents.
The LIRR sells a combined round trip rail and beach permit from New York and Brooklyn $26.25. Take the train from Penn Station or Atlantic Terminal to Long Beach Station; the beach is a short walk from the train. For more details on where to enter the beach, here's the Long Beach website. For more detailed suggestions on what to eat and do in and around Long Beach, check out our guide from last summer (scroll down).
Manhattan Beach (Carryboo's Flickr)
Manhattan Beach Park: This Brooklyn beach is beloved by locals from the Manhattan Beach neighborhood, and the park is a cleaner, less-crowded alternative to the Coney Island and Brighton Beaches. Of course, that may change following the success of Jennifer Egan's dazzling novel Manhattan Beach. The whole city is literally reading it this summer.
It’s about a 40 minute subway ride from Union Square, plus an additional 10 minute bus ride or 20 minute walk from the B/Q stop at Sheepshead Bay. That walk takes you over the quaint Sheepshead Bay on an equally quaint wooden footbridge, and then through the quiet and majestically ritzy Manhattan Beach residential area. Surrounding the beach is a large space for grilling and a variety of playgrounds, making Manhattan Beach the perfect spot for an all-day, blood-pressure-lowering adventure. (Briana Parker)
South Beach (Staten Island):[Our final beach rec comes from author and poet Colin Dodds] One hot summer, at loose ends and with time on my hands, I took the bus from Brooklyn to Staten Island’s South Beach. It’s a five minute ride across the Verrazano and a ten minute walk from there to a lifeguard patrolled patch, the Franklin D. Roosevelt a boardwalk, a shaded pier, and a food-and-ice-cream stand.
I went twice that summer. The first time was wonderful. The water was clean and cool. I bobbed in the surf and pondered Hoffman Island a few hundred yards out. The crowd was light and quiet, the sand soft. It was delightful. The second time was a kind of hell. The ocean breezes could not disperse an acrid, fecal smell. Trash swirled in clusters on the waves. Large black flies darted and attacked, often biting through my clothes.
The difference, I believe, was that my second visit was a day after a rainstorm. And I’ve heard that rain can cause the city’s water-treatment facilities to overflow. I’ve had similarly unpleasant experiences in the Rockaways after a storm. But it’s worth noting that this beach, and technically all of the beaches in Staten Island, are in the Lower Bay of New York Harbor, which at least slows the free flow of waste out to the sea. So while this beach is close and quiet, I wouldn’t recommend it within four days of rainfall.
[Editor's note: You can check on the cleanliness of beaches managed by the Parks Department here, but the general rule of thumb is to be wary of the water after heavy rains, when raw sewage overflows into the city waterways.]
Honorable Beach Mentions: Coney Island (you can swim there too, and we recommend it for the boardwalk amusements and people-watching at Ruby's). Fire Island is magical, but it's a long haul (typically 2.5 hours by train and ferry), so it's better to plan an overnight stay—try to rent a house with friends or check Dune Point in Cherry Grove. Brighton Beach is ideal if you like to pair your suntanning with blintzes and vodka. And Orchard Beach on Long Island Sound in the Bronx is typically a party.
The NYC Parks Department beaches are open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. During beach season, lifeguards are on duty daily, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Swimming is technically prohibited outside of those hours.