Memorial Day Weekend is somehow already upon us, and the Parks Department is poised to reopen New York City's beaches for the season this Saturday. To prepare, here is our guide to our favorite local beaches, which once again includes Fort Tilden, the relatively remote beach which has been off-limits since Hurricane Sandy.
(John Del Signore / Gothamist)
Fort Tilden: After being closed last summer due to Hurricane Sandy damage, Fort Tilden has finally reopened. The sparsely populated beaches at this decommissioned military base in Queens can be tricky to get to without a car (RIP Rockabus), but two wheels will suffice. Either plan for an epic two hour 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 bike 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. (Map it.) Lock your bike at a bike rack behind the bathroom by the baseball diamonds, or pedal a little further to the beach and lock to a chain link fence by the dunes. Or fuck it, just roll your bike right onto the sand like you own the place.
There are no lifeguards, so it's imperative you watch out for riptide. There are also no amenities other than that bathroom all the way back by the freaking bike rack. (Thankfully we're humans; the ocean is our toilet!) So BYO food and drink. What's great about the Fort Tilden beach is its raw, relaxed fit 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!
(Katie Sokoler / Gothamist)
Rockaway Beach: The Rockaway Peninsula (which includes Fort Tilden) was clobbered by Hurricane Sandy, and parts of the boardwalk are still being rebuilt, but last summer the beaches were bumping, and you can bet the scene this season will be just as bustling. The most popular boardwalk concessions are spread out between Beach 86th Street, where you'll find BBQ party spot Rippers, and Beach 106th Street, where Caracas serves its delicious arepas. Off the boardwalk, on 96th Street, there's popular-for-a-reason Rockaway Taco, which on the weekend has long lines that move quickly. Worth the wait, which tends to be 20-30 minutes.
Obviously, 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 is highly active 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. If you want to party, Playland's courtyard fiestas are the place to be.
There are many ways to get to Rockaway Beach: The A train to Far Rockaway (you'll need to transfer at Broad Channel for the train to Rockaway Park / Beach 116th Street), NYC Beach Bus ($12 round trip) or the New York Beach Ferry, which costs a fortune on weekends ($30 round-trip). But thanks to city subsidies Seastreak runs weekday service that costs just $7 round trip. The ferry docks at a pier at Beach 108th Street (on the bay side); from there it's a 10-15 minute walk to the beach. Biking is also an option if you're feeling motivated.
Sandy Hook (Gothamist)
Sandy Hook: This is still our favorite local beach destination, but it's also the most expensive to get to. Call it the cost of convenience: Instead of lugging all your beach paraphernalia up and down stairs through multiple subway and LIRR transfers, you just need to get to Pier 11 or East 35th Street and let the Seastreak Ferry be your sherpa. $45 gets you a round trip ferry ride to New Jersey's pristine Sandy Hook, where both family-oriented and nude beaches await. (Gunnison Beach is the clothing optional one, and you'll find families there too, nothing weird about that because we're all naked under these clothes... except me, I'm writing this buck naked.) The voyage, which is beautiful, gets you there in about a half hour.
Once you dock at Sandy Hook, a free school bus awaits to drive you to the beaches, which are less than five minutes away, or you can bring your bike (for an extra $5) and pedal over to the beach on the 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 (Flickr User Maomee)
Jones Beach: It can get crowded and it's a bit of a schlep, but Jones Beach State Park is worth it if you want to enjoy a beach that's left the city far behind. It boasts 6.5 miles of ocean beach, a beautiful boardwalk, a half mile of bay beach, two swimming pools, miniature golf, and a Friendly's. Of course, let's not forget the visually stunning yet maddeningly fascist amphitheater, where we once saw a Phish fan jump from the balcony during set break.
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 N88 bus packed with rowdy teenagers who will spark 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. While it's true the Friendly's is located at the West Bath House, it's advisable to patronize that at the end of the day, after a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk.
Long Beach (Miss Mareck's Flickr)
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 $12.
The LIRR sells a combined round trip rail and beach permit for $22. 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.
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.
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)
Honorable mentions: the expansive beaches at Jacob Riis park (dubbed "The People's Beach," it's also part of the Rockaways), and Coney Island (you can swim there too, and we recommend going for Reggae on the Boardwalk, followed by beer 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.
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.