by Douglas Singleton
When it's summer in the city, New York City Beaches are the place to go to cool off, take a swim and get a tan.
The Rockaway beaches are on a tiny island at the southernmost tip of New York City, off the Rockaway Peninsula. Two very distinct beaches on opposite ends of this stretch of island are easily confused.
Rockaway Park is my favorite beach in all the city. To get there you jump on the A train all the way to the edge of Brooklyn to what is technically Queens.
I was amazed the first time I rode the train across Broad Channel and found myself on a small sliver of land with endless water on both sides of my subway car. It's fascinating to jump on a subway in lower Manhattan and find yourself a half-hour later in what looks like a small East Coast seaport.
There is a killer Italian ice stand at Rockaway Park and never too many people out on the beachonly local Brooklynites and Queens residents frequent it. The sand is as nice as the Long Island beaches. For a number of years I've had dreams of getting a summer place in Rockaway, kind of my poor man's Hamptons.
On the other end of the island Far Rockaway is great for walks along the ocean. On clear days you can see clear across the water over to Long Island. This is where surfers go to catch big wavesthere is little to impede them because there are few swimmers willing to lay on the rocky sand. The swimming is dangerous (two girls drowned here a few summers back).
Far Rockaway is desolate; walking along the boardwalk feels like you're in some place far from New York City. An area in the nearby Queens neighborhood looks like the poorest part of the Deep South, a friend and I were amazed. The lifeguards look like Zen masters alone out on their chairs with no one around for a quarter-mile. You can walk on the boardwalk here for 40 minutes and come across nary a soul.
Though Rockaway Park is my favorite beach I go out to Coney Island far more during the course of the summerit is easier to access by public transportation.
I don't care what anyone says: I love Coney and I love the beach there. To me summer at the beach means loud, noisy families running and splashing about. You can buy a beer, water, fruit, cotton candy, Mayan bracelets, CDseverything sold right there on the beach.
Life teems at Coney Island, take a swim in the ocean and you feel alive, come back and lie on your blanket and life breathes all around you.
Joke: How do you know when you've crossed the invisible line that separates Coney Island Beach from Brighton Beach? On Coney there are a score of little kids running around in their underwear. When you've made it to Brighton Beach there are scores of old Russian men running around in their underwear.
If you walk northeast along Coney the beach becomes Brighton and on the boardwalk the restaurants fill with Russians and Slavic cuisine. Take the B or Q trains out to the Brighton Beach neighborhood and the Russian community there has some of the best bakeries, fruit stands, and fish markets in the city.
If the overwhelming crowds at Coney Island bother you or the occasional plastic bag floating in the water gets your goat you might want to try Brighton, a far more tranquil experience. At the far end is a small, hidden beach on the other side of the rocks where some lay to get away from people. The swimming here is nice because the surrounding rocks calm the waves. There are those who will only frequent this small, unnamed beach.
Manhattan Beach is difficult to reach using public transportation. It's technically a part of the Coney Island/Brighton Beach stretch of beach but farther out, near Sheepshead Bay. If you take the Q train to Sheepshead Bay you're a twenty-five minute walk from the beach.
It's local, only folks from the neighborhood frequent it. I made the mistake of going on a weekend once and it was so packed with neighborhood families it was like getting caught in the West Village during the Halloween parade.
The easiest of the Long Island beaches to get to, you can walk from the LIRR train to Long Beach. The beach has nice sand and isn't too crowded during the week. I have friends who spend most of their summers inland in rented apartments.
Long Beach can be busier than Jones Beach because it's closer to Manhattan and easier for inhabitants of the city to get to. There are a lot of individuals who refuse to frequent NYC beaches but claim Long Beach as the first acceptable beach they'll even consider going to.
ones Beach is huge and filled with lots of activity. It has the added benefit (if you call it that) of an open-air concert venue nearby where shows are performed all summer.
There are lots of families at Jones Beach, lots of kids, lots of beach posing. Volleyball nets are everywhere. It's like an amusement park: swimming pools, tennis, golf, basketball, softball, picnic areas. If MTV filmed a show at a NYC beach it would probably be at Jones.
I know snobs who refuse to go to Jones Beach but I think it's a fine beach indeed, especially when not too crowded. Unlike Robert Moses you can get here without a car, though it's easier to get a ride out.
Robert Moses Beach
When friends who have swam most of their lives in the Mediterranean ask me where they should go to swim the first place I mention is Robert Moses. It's the cleanest, nicest beach this side of Fire Island (its northernmost edge is actually near the southern edge of Kismet on Fire Island).
Robert Moses Beach is a part of the Robert Moses State Park where there is hiking and cooking. There are a number of different beaches between Robert Moses and Jones Beach, finding the various ones a little tricky.
Some friends and I grilled shrimp and squid one Fourth of July, though I'm not completely sure such activity is allowed. Robert Moses is one of the most beautiful public beaches I've been to in the New York metropolitan area.
Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2016 Lee W. Nelson