Fun in the sun (and surf) may be closer than you think
They say that if you’re lucky enough to live at the beach, you’re lucky enough, but you’re in pretty good shape if you live anywhere in the New York City area, as well. Located on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, NY, Rockaway Beach enjoys a reputation as one of the premier beaches in the state. You might have to travel a little bit to get there, but it’s worth the ride.
How to get to Rockaway Beach
You have several options if you’re starting out in the city – you can take the ferry, the bus or the subway. New York City offers a “Beach Bus” from downtown Brooklyn to 95th Street in Rockaway, and the New York subway’s A Train drops you right at 67th Street. You can also hop off at 90th Street or 98th Street.
The upgraded ferry from the city can be a vacation in its own right, taking you through New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty and Coney Island. It departs from Pier 11 at Wall Street and the East River and delivers you to Jacob Riis Park Beach in Rockaway.
If you’re driving
There’s free parking in specified lots from 11th to 15th Streets and on 95th Street if you drive to the Beach, and street parking is free throughout Rockaway.
It will take you just under 50 minutes or so to get there from NYC, depending on where you start out and whether the traffic gods are with you. Take the Brooklyn Bridge and, once across, merge onto Cadman Plaza West. Turn left onto Old Fulton Street, then left again at Vine Street. These streets come up in pretty short order, so stay alert.
Vine Street takes you to the Interstate 287 W/Brooklyn-Queens Expressway access ramp. Follow the signs for Queens for about 12 miles and take Exit 11S for Flatbush Avenue toward Rockaway Beach. Now you’re within about 8 miles. Signs will direct you from here, but you might want to consult your phone’s GPS for the best route based on current traffic conditions.
Better yet, leave your car at home and reach out to Uber. If you’re going with a group, Uber X can be as cheap as – or even cheaper than – the ferry when you divvy up the cost.
When it’s sunny and warm and there’s a beach, there will be people. Rockaway Beach is the city’s only legal surfing beach, so expect a crowd at the cited surfing locations: between 68th and 71st Streets, from 87th Street to 92nd Street, and on 110th and 111th Streets. The 87th through 92nd Street stretch is known as “Surf Beach” and draws the most crowds, whereas the beach between 67th and 69th Streets is a bit lonelier if only because the surrounding city isn’t quite so inviting.
Dealing with the weather
Summer on the northern Atlantic means heat and humidity, but you do have those ocean waves to cool you. June, July, August and September are the peak months to visit Rockaway Beach to chill. You’re most likely to encounter a few rainy days in July.
Get the most out of your visit
There’s no admittance fee to Rockaway Beach, and there are plenty of free playgrounds if you’re taking kids along. But don’t leave your wallet at home. There are lots of concession stands sprinkled about, not to mention some fine eateries and bars, including Rockaway Taco, the Sandbar and the Low Tide Bar. And, of course, no visit to Rockaway is complete without a stop at Rippers. You’ll find this snack shack and bar at 86th Street and the beach.
If kayaking or paddleboarding is your thing, head to 32nd Street or 57th Street where both are permitted. Mobile changing stations are available at 84th Street, 97th Street and 108th Street.
The beaches are “open” when the lifeguards are on duty, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily in the summer months. You can stroll the sands to your heart’s content at other times, but the boardwalk closes at 10 p.m. and reopens at 6 a.m., and there’s no swimming at any location unless the lifeguards are on the job. If weather or water conditions present a danger on any given day, a sign or a red flag warns you to avoid the water at that location.