It is either the most wonderful or absolute worst time of year, depending on where you fall on the Summer Enthusiasm Scale. Maybe you love it or maybe you hate it, and while both perspectives are valid, we must all contend with a single offensive fact: We will find ourselves slow-cooking inside a city-sized cauldron within a matter of weeks, maybe sooner. As such, you will surely want an escape hatch, maybe even the opportunity to hurl your sun-starved body into the mighty Atlantic. The city's 14-plus miles of public beaches will throw open their arms to you starting on Saturday, May 25th, and will hold you in their warm embrace until September 8th, if you let them. Personally, I think you should.
Jacob Riis, the People's Beach, the best beach. (John Del Signore/Gothamist)
Perspective will differ depending on which local beach snob you ask, but in my opinion—which may, in this case, happen to align with established fact—that Jacob Riis, the People's Beach, the best beach, is the pick of the Rockaway litter. Sandwiched between Fort Tilden and Rockaway proper, Jacob Riis functions as the mama bear in a Goldie Locks scenario, in that it is just right: Not too active (although admittedly pretty active), not too sleepy, with a plethora of food options, passable bathrooms, and adequate public transit access. Beach police do make the rounds, so please be sure to conceal whatever adult beverages you might tote along in a cup or a paper-bag or similar.
While your phone will almost certainly lose service the moment you arrive, you might be able to more easily spot your beach buds in the crowds at Riis than you can at, say, Rockaway, due to the relative abundance of landmarks that dot this section of beach. There's the bathhouse, a Robert Moses relic still full of operational toilets and as of last summer, a suite of dining and boozing options; a sports field; an extremely haunted-looking brick building; a clock tower; and a whole beach bazaar to help orient and entertain you.
Here's a map, if you'll insist on getting your bearings rather than just wandering the dunes interminably, squinting through the hordes to find that one (potentially) deadly beach umbrella in a sea of (potentially) deadly beach umbrellas.
Getting to Riis is also only medium difficult for non-cyclists and non-drivers, due to its reasonable proximity to both the Q35 and the handful of subway lines that connect you to the Q35. Or, if planning and direct service are more your thing, the Rockaway Beach Bus costs $29.95 round-trip, and departs from Bushwick, Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, and starting in July, the Upper East Side. Alexis Van Lines also operates shuttles from Williamsburg, Grand Army Plaza, and the Lower East Side for the more reasonable price of $14 to $16 roundtrip. Or for the seafaring among you, the American Princess Ferry from Wall Street is a fine $30 (roundtrip) option. And for $2.75 you can take the NYC ferry to Rockaway from Wall Street or Sunset Park—it docks about four miles east at Beach 108th Street and you can get a free shuttle to Riis from there.
If you have car access, and $10, you can park at Jacob Riis for a whole day, although personally I think you should conserve that cash for the purchase of ice-cold Nutcrackers (homemade alcohol punch), if you drink.
Fort Tilden. (*bitch cakes*/Flickr)
For those of you who would prefer a little peace and quiet during your semi-nude sunbathing session, Fort Tilden deserves consideration. Difficult to get to and famously devoid of both amenities AND lifeguards, Fort Tilden is the preferred sand strip of beach connoisseurs who would rather not be disturbed: Rangers patrol at a leisurely pace, meaning you will see them next to never. In the absence of buying food and drink from vendors, you can enjoy the picnic spread you will have brought yourself because again, Fort Tilden has no special attractions to speak of. There are a few bathrooms, far-flung from the actual beach, and you can always take a stroll over to the concessions at Riis if you're feeling motivated. Keep in mind that glass containers are prohibited, and also keep in mind that you could find yourself lugging along a full cooler on whatever admittedly inconvenient route you choose to access this trendy and remote spot.
Which brings us to your slog: Unless you have a car (which you'll probably need to park at Riis and walk from there) or a bike, getting to Fort Tilden promises to be a production. That $30 roundtrip ferry is an option, or the $2.75 NYC Ferry, which will take you to Beach 108th Street and a free shuttle to Riis, from which point you'll have to walk about 15 minutes. If you live in Williamsburg, you can buy a roundtrip Alexis Van Lines ticket for $14. Or, you can roll the dice on the Q35, which does stop at Tilden but also becomes frustration incarnate at the end of the day, when jam-packed bus after jam-packed bus trundles by on its way from Riis, too full to take on any new passengers. It's the price you pay for relative privacy!
Rockaway Beach. (Scott Lynch/Flickr)
Beach season started off with a bummer last year, after the Parks Department announced they were shuttering a prime half mile stretch of Rockaway shoreline due to creeping erosion. Local business owners and beach-lovers nearly revolted, and by the grace of Beach God, the federal government and the city came up with a solution: dredging 348,000 cubic yards of sand from the East Rockaway Inlet and injecting it straight into the narrowing strip of beach.
It’s unclear how much of a long-term fix this is for the coastal region (or if there is such a thing in a world rapidly hurtling toward watery death) but for the purposes of this guide, know that you can enjoy the full run of Rockaway Beach this year.
You can also expect, as always: four miles of easily-accessible sand and waves and bliss, as well as a lively boardwalk, attractive surfing crowd, and generally social environment. The most popular concessions spread from Beach 106th to Beach 86th, offering a diversity of waterfront eats that range from the delectable arepas at Caracas to the mouth-watering burgers at Rippers to a light ramp pesto sandwich at Brothers. (Here's our thorough guide on everything there is to eat at Rockaway Beach this summer). Those who plan to imbibe on the beach should bring a cup, while keeping an eye out for cops—the long arm of the law has been known to reach into coolers.
For post-beach options, the Wharf on Beach 116th Street serves up dinner and sunset views on a bayside deck, while the venerable Connolly’s is your spot for piña coladas in paper cups and the occasional rowdy sing-along.
As for getting there, you’re going to want to take the A train, before (sometimes!) transferring at Broad Channel for the Shuttle to Rockaway Park/Beach 116th Street. In past years, the MTA has extended the A train straight to the beach during certain times; we’ve reached out to see if that’s the plan this year, and will update if we hear back. For the price of a subway swipe, you can also take the NYC Ferry to Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive, though keep in mind that lengthy lines and significant on-board crowding may await on particularly good beach days. (Jake Offenhartz)
Fire Island. (Gripjagraphy/Flickr)
I once got in trouble with the Fire Island law for enjoying a picnic spread mere feet away from the lightly marked border between a Food Beach and a Non-food Beach, which I think has colored my view (red, for rage, but also for fire, this island's namesake) of these beaches as a unit. A shame, because Fire Island actually is nice, especially if you love boats, and between barfs I do.
And yes: Getting to Fire Island requires you to take one of three ferries, which depart from Bay Shore, Sayville, and Patchogue, meaning you'll probably need to take the LIRR to whatever port suits your beaching needs. (You can also drive to Robert Moses at the western end of Fire Island, but you won't get that remote, isolate feel.)
Due to the time it takes to get there, Fire Island is best as a multi-day trip, but there is a beach there for pretty much any agenda. Additional pros: The island has barred cars, requiring everyone to use quaint wagons to cart their things from place to place. Also! It's very romantic for horseshoe crabs. Notable cons: Last year, sharks bit two children as they [the children, but possibly also the sharks] frolicked in the waters off Fire Island. Am I saying that sharks will attempt to drive you, a Fire Island visitor, from their habitat by gnashing you with their rows of pointy chompers? No, but neither am I not saying that.
Long Beach. (Nora Gomez-Strauss/Flickr)
Have you exhausted your Rockaway options (never) but nonetheless find yourself hostile to the idea of making a Fire Island-esque trek to another area sand oasis? If so, Long Beach may be the beach for you: Travel-wise, it is the most proximate Long Island beach in the city's radius, and you will still get that Rockaway vibe from large apartment buildings that line the shore. How comforting.
Long Beach natives would warn you to never, under any circumstances, attempt to access this spot with your car, for you will never ever find a parking space and no one wants to spend their beach day doing rage loops while looking for one. Instead, you'll want to take the LIRR, which gives you the option of buying a beach pass in combination with your train ticket: $26.75 from Manhattan and Brooklyn, and $23.25 from Jamaica, Queens. On its own, a day pass to the beach costs $15 for non-residents.
Sandy Hook. (Tony Chen/Flickr)
Sandy Hook Beach
Maybe the single most valuable thing I can tell you about Sandy Hook, other than the fact that a visit will require you to haul yourself to New Jersey, is that, like Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis, it's part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, i.e., a national park. Each of the main beaches (one of which is nude: Gunnison beach) this seven-mile sand stretch has amenities—snack vendors, bathrooms, showers, changing areas, umbrellas, lifeguard stands—but please note, there are no trash cans, due to the park's carry in-carry out policy. And unfortunately, some visitors aren't so good at carrying out the second part of that policy.
To access Sandy Hook, you're probably going to want to take the Seastreak ferry, which leaves from Wall Street and East 35th Street, and costs $47 roundtrip. From there, you will either hop on the free shuttle to the beaches, or the bike you had the foresight to lug along with you. Just remember: Bring a trash bag big enough to carry out everything you carry in.
Jones Beach. (Ludovic Bertron/Flickr)
Do you love chicken fingers so much that you will happily travel upwards of an hour to enjoy them on the beach? Same, honestly! And Jones Beach has those, plus an impressive variety of other food and bev offerings at its recently updated Boardwalk Cafe. It also has a frankly intimidating number of amenities, including two swimming pools for those of you who travel great distances to a natural body of water only to hop in a chemical bath. (To be clear, swimming pools are also an eminently acceptable aquatic situation and I would like to be in one right now.) Jones Beach also boasts mini golf and an amphitheater, where you can catch Korn live this summer.
If you fail to con someone into driving your car-less ass out to Long Island, your best bet for entry onto Jones Beach will be the LIRR, taken to the Freeport stop, where you'll catch a horrible bus (the N88) and ride it to the East Bath House, which should afford you a less-crowded beach experience.
Coney Island. (Robin/Flickr)
Typically, Coney Island gets relegated to the beach guide's honorable mention, but I'm the captain of this ship now and I'm placing it on the main attractions list, deal with it. Granted, Coney Island may not be the beach for you if your beach goals including swimming and lounging somewhat comfortably. However! I've been made to understand that not everybody likes to beach at the beach, and for those of you who get antsy without activity, I present Coney Island: A beach that isn't about the beach, but is instead about an old-timey amusement park, and boardwalk attractions, and an aquarium. Visit Luna Park! Let the rickety Cyclone rip away your sense of bodily security! Judge the tourists from your perch at Ruby's!
Another appealing feature of Coney Island: Its accessibility via the subway. The D, N, F, and Q all go straight there. You could also bike, or drive, if maddening traffic is your jam.
Crabs at Orchard Beach!! (Kristine Paulus/Flickr)
Staten Island's South Beach wins points for proximity—just a quick jaunt across the Verrazzano—and reportedly being lovely, if also subject to trash overflow in the wake of a rainstorm. (Although that really holds true for all our area beaches, so avail yourself of this handy Parks Department cleanliness advisory page.) Orchard Beach in the Bronx is famously a party beach, if that's your game (and if so, I would argue that every beach can be a party beach if you plan accordingly). And yeah, there's also Brooklyn's Manhattan Beach, a reportedly more restrained alternative to Coney Island that people seem to love. (I wouldn't know, I've never been.)
NYC Beaches are open for swimming between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (lifeguard hours) from May 25th to September 8th, 2019. And if you are having trouble figuring out which beach to hit first, take this helpful Parks Department quiz to determine which beach you are. (Whatever it says, I'm Riis.)