Admit it – when you think about the New York metropolitan area, the last thing you probably think about are beaches. Still, having grown up near the Big Apple (just a stone’s throw from some of the best beaches on Long Island), I can tell you that the region has some good ones, and just about all of them are worth incorporating into a summer trip.
Without question, the most historic of the bunch is Coney Island, in Brooklyn. This is the beach with the roller coaster that sits atop the famous Riegelmann Boardwalk. It’s also the beach that hosts the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, an absurd spectacle in which women (and, in some cases, men) dress like mermaids and parade around the neighborhood to welcome summer. In recent years, the beach has added other attractions, including the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest every July, and a minor league baseball team (the Brooklyn Cyclones) with a stadium that looks out on the Atlantic Ocean and Raritan Bay.
For surfing, another great New York spot is Rockaway Beach. This swath of sand in the southeast corner of Queens is where I learned to surf as a kid. It’s also where I’ve brought my own children as a grown-up; on a recent trip, my older daughter was obsessed with the playgrounds in stone-skipping distance of the Atlantic. (As an aside, the boardwalk here was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but the city is in the process of rebuilding, and has erected temporary concessions for this year.)
If you’re a hipster – or if you just like beer – you’ll love the new-ish Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club on Water Taxi Beach on Governors Island. The attraction sits on a manmade beach overlooking the United Nations and the 59th Street Bridge. When you’re not playing foosball or ping-pong, you can kick back with snacks such as hamburgers and lobster rolls or one of six draft beers (including Sixpoint Crisp Lager; yum!). Another bonus: Free concerts on Sundays.
Viewfinder tip: Check Subway schedules before heading to the beach; the MTA offers package deals many weekends.
Finally, no piece about New York-area beaches would be complete without a nod to my favorite of them all: Orient Beach State Park, located on the eastern tip of the North Fork of Long Island. Unlike the more popular ocean beaches along the South Fork (the ones in the Hamptons, a destination popular among celebrities), North Fork beaches are calmer, quieter and, in my opinion, a much more unadulterated experience. Instead of boom boxes, you hear lapping waves. Instead of planes flying overhead with banner ads, you see gulls and herons and osprey.
This special spot also has something you won’t find anywhere else in the area: A maritime forest with red cedar, blackjack oak trees, and believe it or not, prickly pear cactus. For a nature-lover like me, this botanical oasis is a real treat. It’s also just a nice place to relax for an hour. The bottom line: Miami isn’t the only area on the Eastern Seaboard with some killer beaches. Next time you head to the Big Apple, be sure to bring your (bathing) suit.
Which urban beaches are your favorites?