Well here we are again, somehow, poised on the sparkling cusp of Memorial Day weekend, with summer spread out at our feet like fat stacks Skyler spent all winter spraying down for silver fish. It's just about time to dive on in.
The NYC Parks Department is officially reopening our fair city's beaches for the 2015 season this Saturday Saturday Saturday. (I know this because the Health Department just sent me a text message.) To prepare, here's the Gothamist guide to our favorite local beaches, plus a couple bonus beaches outside the city limits. Hose out the cooler and buy some new suncreen. (Seriously, sunscreen you guys not a joke.)
(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 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 just roll right onto the sand like you own the place.
By subway, you can take the 2/5 train to the Flatbush Avenue - Brooklyn College station (the last stop) and then pick up the Q35 bus from there. Get off on the first stop at Beach 169th Street, 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. (Check out the MTA Trip Planner; you may also continue on to Jacob Riis Park beach.)
There are no lifeguards at Fort Tilden, 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 boardwalks of Rockaway Beach are still bouncing back from Hurricane Sandy's devastation, but last summer marked a significant step forward, with new sections of the boardwalk opening and extensive beach rehabilitation.
The most popular boardwalk concessions are spread out between Beach 86th Street, where you'll find the Meat Hook spinoff party spot Rippers, and Beach 106th Street, where Caracas serves its delicious arepas. Ongoing boardwalk construction between Beach 97th Street and Beach 107th Street isn't expected to be complete until July 4th, but you will be able to get to the Caracas concession at Beach 106th via temporary pedestrian paths.
Rockaway Taco chef Andrew Field has opened a new spinoff called Tacoway Beach at Beach 87th Street inside the Rockaway Beach Surf Club. Rockaway Taco, the wildly popular taco stand on Beach 96th Street, is closed this summer, but after a bitter split with Field, co-owner David Selig says he'll be operating a mobile Rockaway Taco around the country until he re-opens next season.
Here's our Rockaway Beach food guide from last season; we'll have a new one for you next week.
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.
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 ($14 round trip) or the New York Beach Ferry, which is very pleasant but not cheap ($30 round-trip). Biking is also an option if you're feeling motivated.
Jacob Riis beach (Shawn Miller / Flickr)
Jacob Riis Park: Where Fort Tilden ends, Jacob Riis begins. Dubbed "The People's Beach," Jacob Riis is managed by the National Park Service, and features a beautiful landmark Art Deco bathhouse that dates back to the '30s. This summer the Brooklyn Night Bazaar will be operating food & drink concessions at the beach and presenting weekend rock shows, as well as tattoo artists, hair stylists, tarot readers and purveyors of arts & crafts. Details here.
In a new twist, you'll be able to rent beach chairs and umbrellas through the "Riis Park Beach Bazaar" ($10 online, $15 on-site) and order food and drink directly to your chair using a smartphone. The Brooklyn Star, Fletcher's Brooklyn BBQ, and Ample Hills Creamery are among the new food vendors serving Riis this summer.
NYC Beach Bus will be operating to and from Riis once again this summer, or you can follow the route we laid out to get to Fort Tilden (above), taking the 2/5 to the last stop in Brooklyn and then transferring to the Q35 bus.
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 a Phish fan once jumped 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.
This year NYC Beach Bus has expanded its empire and is offering round trip bus service from the city for $30 round trip, starting June 21st.
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: 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.
The NYC Parks Department maintains 14 miles of beaches, all of which are open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. (Maybe longer?) 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.