Hell yes baby, it's beach season (and also basketball jersey and jorts season—the two seasons overlap). It's time to take your beach body, which is any body that is hyped up to enjoy the blessings of the sun and the waves and the sand, to any of the following beaches in and around New York City.
This strip of sand is the closest you'll get to an anarchist commune, with the only authority in sight coming in the form of the very occasional park ranger coming by either car or horseback. It's entirely on you to bring food, water, other drinks (be aware that glass is prohibited), umbrellas and other beach supplies, and you might want to construct an eye-catching flag or beach fort if you want your friends to be able to find you, because cell service on Tilden is essentially non-existent. Just as well—why are you playing on your phone when it's such a nice day?
You can reach Fort Tilden
by the NYC Beach Bus. UPDATE, JUNE 4th: Sorry, not this year—but the Rockaway Beach Bus is still in operation, for $24.95 round trip on weekends, dropping off at adjacent Jacob Riis beach. There's also the Q35 bus, or you could ride your bike there. The ride down Bedford Avenue is highly recommended, and the bike path next to the Belt Parkway is pleasant, and comes with the added bonus of breezing past drivers stuck in traffic on the weekends. If you're there late, the bike racks near the beach entrance will probably have filled up, but you can also just lock up on the fence near the baseball diamonds.
Even with a feature film named after it, and everyone blabbing about how peaceful and deserted Fort Tilden is, the general vibe remains uncrowded and chill. That could be in part because Fort Tilden is a little out of the way, it could be because people really love lifeguards and stands with beach food, who knows. The lack of lifeguards on the beach does mean you should take some caution when you're swimming, because there's no one to save you from a rip tide.
Jacob Riis Park (John Del Signore)
Jacob Riis Park
Easily identifiable because of its Art Deco bathhouse built by famous effective jerk Robert Moses, this people's beach has been a beach destination for New York City residents since 1932. The much more populated neighbor of Fort Tilden, you can reach Jacob Riis by the same methods you get to Tilden: a car, Rockaway Beach Bus, the Q35, and by bike. The New York Beach Ferry also runs from Manhattan to Jacob Riis as well. Unlike Fort Tilden, Jacob Riis has plenty of amenities, including bathrooms, as well as food, drink and concerts at the lively Riis Park Beach Bazaar on the east end of the park.
Rockaway Beach (via Flickr user Nora Gomez)
Rockaway can get crowded, like Coney Island crowded, but don't worry about that. The crowds are a great cross-section of New York's diversity, and the resulting masses of people mean that you can find yourself playing a game of catch with a child's Elmo sandal in the ocean with a multi-ethnic, multi-language group that seems to get larger by the minute. Also like Coney, there's plenty of city right there, so you don't need to ride there fully stocked. If you forget sunscreen or a towel or beach snacks, you can pick some up nearby pretty easily. Just remember to keep any adult beverages in Solo cups, red or otherwise, so you don't get a ticket.
As for getting there, the ride on the A train is easy and provides some nice views of the city and the surrounding neighborhoods once you get aboveground. The MTA extended the Rockaway shuttle to the Rockaway Boulevard A stop on weekends between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. last year, and the agency confirmed they'll do it again this year, so you can take a Lefferts or Rockaway-bound train to get there. You can also take the new NYC Ferry to Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive for $2.75 each way. Otherwise, you can bike there a couple of different ways, including going over the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge, which will spit you out a short ride away from Beach 86th Street, Rippers and Connolly's.
If you want to shred some waves, be advised that the only places you're allowed to surf are between Beach 68 and Beach 71 Streets, Beach 87 and Beach 92 Streets, and Beach 110 and Beach 111 Streets.
Manhattan Beach (via Flickr user Mary Bakija)
It's named "Manhattan" but it's in...Brooklyn? What's up with that? Anyway, this less-crowded neighbor of Coney Island and Brighton Beach is a good day-long beach trip, especially if you show up ready to take advantage of the park's large grilling area. Good luck lugging a grill on the subway though.
To get to Manhattan Beach, hop on a B or Q train, get off at the Sheepshead Bay stop, then take a walk down the quaint footbridge on Emmons Avenue that will take you over the Sheepshead Bay into Manhattan Beach the neighborhood. Do not be distracted by the fancy homes, instead just keep walking south to the beach park. Alternately, you could take the B49 bus from the Sheepshead Bay stop, but it's summer and you should be maximizing your time outdoors, right? Right.
Sandy Hook (Gothamist)
So you want to pretend you escaped from the city for a day, but you're committed to not going too far. Hop on the ferry to Sandy Hook to satisfy both requirements. The Seastreak Ferry leaves seven days a week from East 35th Street and Pier 11, and will run you $46 for a round trip ($18 for kids on weekends), with an additional $5 charge for to bring your bike. If you want to get a deal, you can also get a $30 round trip ticket if you're willing to get on the 8 a.m. ferry. Which you should do. Always get to the beach as early as possible.
Once you land in Sandy Hook, you can take a free shuttle bus to your beach of choice, or bike to one along the island's bike paths. Either way, after you disembark you'll be at the nearest beach in seven minutes at most, though it'll take you a little longer to bike to Gunnison, the hook's nude beach.
Jones Beach (via Flickr user Lindsey N)
Another legacy of famous effective jerk Robert Moses (although way more racist than Jacob Riis park), the best way to get to Jones Beach is to convince somebody with a car to bring you and your friends. Maybe offer to pay the $10 car entrance/parking fee as an enticement. Short of that, you can get there by taking LIRR to Freeport and then the N88 with the other beachgoers who couldn't seduce a motorist.
Once there, word is you should hang out at the East Bath House, which is a little farther out and consequently less crowded. Jones Beach has two swimming pools, a boardwalk, 6.5 miles of ocean beach, a half mile of bay beach, a bandshell along the boardwalk and mini-golf. Sadly, the Friendly's is gone, which is a shame because when is the last time you went to a Friendly's?
My ancestral home of Long Beach (via Flickr user Shinya Suzuki)
Ah, my ancestral home of Long Beach. I'm very torn here, between my townie ways which demand I tell you to stay the hell away and leave everyone in peace, and my great attachment to the beach that I just want to share with everyone. Coming from a local though, believe me when I tell you not to drive here. Don't do it. Take the LIRR, which is pleasant enough, and offers a round trip plus beach entrance ticket for $26.25 from Penn Station and Brooklyn (otherwise it costs $15 for a daily beach permit, per person). Avoid the hassle of looking for parking. There is no parking, you won't find any. Leave your car at home and don't park in front of my friends' driveways.
You can get on the beach on any block from Pacific Street to Nevada Street, so whatever you do, don't just walk to the beach straight up Edwards Boulevard when you get off the train, because that's what everyone else will be doing. If you walk a east bit and enter at Lincoln Boulevard, you can have a post-beach drink at Nolan's Pub, where my dad used to drink. If you cab it west and enter at one of the state streets, you have many more options for a post-beach drink. I would say Trainor's maybe? I was always more of a "drink on the beach run from the cops" teen than a fake ID kid.
I could write your eyes off about the place, so let me just stop myself with one last thing. At some point, either when you get off the train or when you're headed back home, be sure to stop at Gino's Pizzeria across the street from the train station, for some truly excellent pizza. Some hater who will not be linked to (the website rhymes with "Sleater") once deemed Gino's slices "decidedly average" and mediocre. Do not listen to them, listen to me, who is telling you that the pizza is enjoyable and that I will give that person a smack for this grievous insult.
Honorable mentions: Coney Island and Brighton Beach aren't the best for swimming, but they still have their charms. Brighton Beach for its Eastern European food, and Coney Island for mini-golf, a couple of good arcades and bumper cars. Plus, if you haven't taken a ride on the Cyclone yet, what are you waiting for?
The NYC Parks Department maintains 14 miles of beaches, all of which 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. If you're curious about the beach conditions, you can sign up for updates from the Health Department. And this year, you have the option of spending the night in a little pop-up cabin somewhere out near Fort Tilden.