Fourteen miles of sparkling sand and crashing waves can be found in four of the five boroughs (sorry river-locked Manhattan), which is good news for NYC families. Because as much as we enjoy hitting the Jersey Shore, Fire Island and other Long Island beaches, we're not big fans of renting cars and sitting in traffic.
New York City's beaches are just a subway, bus or ferry ride away. From the "Bronx Rivera" to iconic Coney Island and the Rockaways, these urban seasides often offer just about everything suburban beaches do except the out-of-town commute.
Coney Island & Brighton Beach
West 37th Street to Corbin Place
D, F, N, Q to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue
Coney Island is arguably NYC's most famous beach. It's the perfect destination for summertime fun with three miles of Atlantic Ocean beach for swimming, sunning and sand-castle building, and a slew of fantastic amusements. Stroll along the iconic boardwalk; take a spin on the lovingly restored B&B Carousell; get your adrenaline pumping on Luna Park's thrilling rides or enjoy incredible views from Deno's Wonder Wheel. Off the boardwalk, chow down on an original Nathan's hot dog; eat some of NYC's best pizza at Totonno's; satisfy your sweet tooth at Williams Candy Shop or catch a minor-league baseball game at the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. If you're looking for less action and more beach, try the adjacent Brighton Beach, which is located farther east and has more of a local feel.
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The less crowded Manhattan Beach makes up about five blocks worth of sand and sea on the eastern side of the Coney Island peninsula. Photo by Teri Tynes via Flickr.
Oriental Boulevard from Ocean Avenue to Jaffray Street
B, Q to Brighton Beach, then take the B1 bus to Manhattan Beach
This five-block beach located on the eastern side of the Coney Island peninsula has a short concrete promenade, designated barbecuing areas, two playgrounds and usually fewer people than Coney.
Low tide brings ideal swimming conditions at Orchard Beach. Photo by Jose Ayala Jr Photography via Flickr.
Long Island Sound in Pelham Bay Park
No. 6 to Pelham Bay Park, then take the Bx5 or Bx12 bus to Orchard Beach. Be sure to confirm the schedule before heading out. This bus service is typically offered just for beach season, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Pelham Bay Park is NYC's largest green space and features plenty of attractions, including this mile-long, crescent-shaped, man-made beach on the Long Island Sound, affectionately nicknamed the "Bronx Riviera" or "Riviera of New York City." While Sound beaches are often not as exciting as ocean ones, the calmness of the water is better for little swimmers. This popular beach has two playgrounds, a promenade and a central pavilion with a concession stand, changing rooms, showers and bathrooms. Once you tire of sun and sand, hop the Bx29 bus to City Island, which is just minutes away, for a seafood dinner and ice cream.
Rockaway Beach, where the surf is up in NYC. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.
Beach 9th to Beach 149th Streets
A line to Broad Channel, transfer to the S to Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street and the sand is just a short walk away. If you're in Brooklyn, take the weekends-only NYC Beach Bus, which leaves from Williamsburg and downtown Brooklyn.
Rockaway was devastated by superstorm Sandy and the city is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the area. Much of the boardwalk has been repaired, but expect intermittent closures of parts of the beach and boardwalk in 2016 for ongoing improvements. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't visit—we've visited each of the past two seasons and had loads of fun.The massive beaches in Rockaway are the only locations where you can catch a wave in the city. Surfing is allowed between Beach 67th and Beach 69th streets and between Beach 87th and Beach 92nd streets. This popular summertime destination also offers designated spots for saltwater fishing along with several playgrounds and a boardwalk near the Atlantic.
Note: Swimming is severely restricted at the 116th Street beach through July 2016 due to ongoing construction, according to city officials. However the popular beaches at 86th, 97th and 106th Streets are fully open. Call 311 for the latest or text BEACH to 877-877 for conditions.
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The Riis Park Beach Bazaar brings top NYC eats right to the sand. Photo by Dylan Johnson/courtesy of the venue.
Jacob Riis Park
Beach 149th Street to Beach 169th Street
No. 2 line to Flatbush Avenue, then take the Q35 bus to Jacob Riis Park. Or a lovely alternative is to take the weekends-only New York Beach Ferry from lower Manhattan directly to the park. The NYC Beach Bus goes here, too.
Just west of Rockaway Beach, this pretty sandy strip offers swimming, a bustling concession stand dubbed the Riis Park Beach Bazaar and a pitch-and-putt golf course. Managed by the National Park Service, Jacob Riis is famous for its restored Art Deco bathhouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rent a kayak and enjoy a beautiful view of the bridge at South Beach. Photo by Barry Masterson/courtesy of Kayak Staten Island.
Midland Beach & South Beach
Fort Wadsworth to Miller Field
From the St. George Ferry Terminal, take the S51 bus to Father Capodanno Boulevard and Sand Lane.
These adjacent beaches offer a combined 2½-mile boardwalk on New York Bay, a playground, a sea turtle sprinkler and a popular fishing pier. Kayak Staten Island hosts its FREE walk-up kayaking program at South Beach.
Cedar Grove Beach
From the St. George Ferry Terminal, take the S76 to Ebbitts Street and Cedar Grove Avenue and walk down to the beach.
NYC's newest beach is considered a secret gem by locals and has some interesting history and controversy. Though owned by the city and open to the public, the beach was maintained for decades by Cedar Grove Beach Club, a community of families who had been vacationing there for generations. But in 2010, the city took the land back to turn it into the destination beach and playground it is today. It's generally considered the cleanest and calmest of Staten Island's four beaches.
Wolfe's Pond Beach
Wolfe’s Pond Park
From the St. George Ferry Terminal, take the S78 to Seguine Ave, then walk along Hylan Boulevard to the beach.
This mellow beachfront is located on Raritan Bay, part of the Atlantic Gulf, and is good for younger children since it doesn’t sport a very rough surf. Once you're done with the sand, explore Wolfe's Pond Park, a nature-lover’s paradise with wetlands and trails.
NYC Beach Tips
When do NYC beaches open? New York City's beach season runs Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. You're prohibited from swimming at other times.
Keep your feet covered. Our shores sometimes aren't as pristine as we'd like, so wear flip-flops at all times.
Arrive in your bathing suit. With the exception of Orchard Beach, which has changing rooms, it's against the rules to change in the beaches' bathroom stalls. If the beach staff catches you (or even your kids) doing it, you'll be reprimanded.
Leave your pooch at home. NYC beaches don't allow dogs.
No smoking. Smoking is banned at all NYC beaches.
Travel lightly. Technically, flotation devices aren't allowed in the water and temporary shelters, such as tents, aren't permitted on the sand, although we've seen people with both. Umbrellas and chairs are allowed.
Stay safe. There have been issues with riptides over the past few years. Keep an eye on kids at all times and stay close to the little ones who can be pulled under or topple over by the force of even a small wave or typical current. Swimming is allowed only when lifeguards are on duty, typically 10am to 6pm.
This article was first published in May 2011, but is regularly updated.
Top image: Coney Island. Photo by Clementine Gallot via Flickr.