Most visitors don’t come to New York for the beaches, but if you end up staying long-term, you’ll want to explore them when the summer heat and humidity set in. And boy will they set in.
What’s incredible is that many beaches are accessible by subway, so here are several mainstays to start with:
Coney Island is one of New York’s most famous waterfront locales. Luna Park is its biggest draw, which includes the wooden Cyclone roller coaster (built in 1927) and the Wonder Wheel (built in 1920), not to mention tons of other rides, arcade games, and Zoltar’s fortune telling machine. The peculiar Coney Island Museum will take you back in time and the boardwalk is the place to people-watch. Coney enjoys a lot of history, nostalgia, and name recognition, so expect some high prices here and there. To be honest, the beach itself is probably the least compelling attraction—it’s not the cleanest—but sometimes it’s just nice to be near the ocean. There are public restrooms in Luna Park and on the boardwalk. Take the N, Q, D, or F train to the end of the line at Coney Island–Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn.
Brighton Beach is known for its Russian heritage and sits next to Coney Island; you can walk between the two via the boardwalk. It’s less hectic than Coney Island because it doesn’t have an amusement park, but the boardwalk is lovely and honestly the food choices are far better, and cheaper. There are public restrooms on the boardwalk here as well. Try the borsch (or everything, really) at Skovorodka or the dumplings at Kashkar. Take the B or Q trains to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn.
The Rockaways have less of an urban feel than Coney and Brighton. The surrounding residential area seems quieter and the beach is generally cleaner. You might not want to bring a picnic because there’s excellent food waiting at Rockaway Taco (the line is long for a good reason) and Caracas (Venezuelan arepas). On the boardwalk you’ll find more food, drinks, and public restrooms. Take the Far Rockaway-bound A train to Broad Channel, then transfer to the Shuttle train and get off wherever you’d like, or get off at Beach 98 to hit up Rockaway Taco. Build in extra time; the train moves slowly through Jamaica Bay and waiting for the shuttle train always seems to take forever.
Fort Tilden is back open after sustaining major damage from Hurricane Sandy. It’s the most peaceful of these beaches with its grassy sand dunes and relative isolation. It’s a protected Gateway National Recreation Area, on the other side of Jacob Riis Park from the Rockaways. Fort Tilden has a restroom, but no concessions, so bring everything with you. Take the Far Rockaway-bound A train to Broad Channel, then transfer to the Shuttle train and take it to the end (Beach 116), then grab the Q22 bus (or walk about 45 minutes) to Fort Tilden. You can also take the 2 or 5 train to the end at Flatbush Av–Brooklyn College, then catch the Q35 bus to Fort Tilden. Or just bike all the way.
What’s your favorite NYC beach?