Summertime means beach time, but while there are lots of shores near and even in NYC, some are more family-friendly than others. After packing up your gear and schlepping the kids by car, train, bus or ferry, the last thing you want to find out is that your chosen beach has no bathroom or that bathing suits are optional. Skip the guesswork with our roundup of these seven beaches for NYC families, including detailed info on attractions, food, bathrooms and hidden costs. Most are within two hours of Manhattan by car but are easily accessible via public transportation as well.
New York City's beaches open Memorial Day weekend, and lifeguards remain on duty through Labor Day. The city prohibits swimming outside those times, because lifeguards are not on duty. Long Island and other area beaches included here operate on a similar timeline.
New York City Beaches
Step off the train, take a dip and then hit the rides with the kids at Coney Island. Photo courtesy of Luna Park.
Coney Island, Brooklyn
The Scene: We doubt we need to sell you on the so-called "People's Playground." With boardwalk amusement parks, the New York Aquarium and lots of glorious junk food just a stone's throw away, Coney Island may be the most kid-centric shore around, which is why it's always super-crowded, loud and for some, overwhelming. If you're looking for a quiet, relaxing day at the beach, try somewhere else, but if you want to get to a shore quickly and hang for a bit before hitting other attractions, this is the spot for you.
Attractions and Bathrooms: Where do we begin? There are two full-fledged amusement parks, Luna Park and Deno's Wonder Wheel, featuring both mild and thrilling rides; the historic B&B Carousell; the New York Aquarium; and MCU Park, home of minor league baseball's Cyclones, who are named after the area's landmark roller coaster. There are nine bathrooms, but take note, they're not the cleanest (bring baby wipes and hand sanitizer), and changing in them is not allowed. Avoid the wrath of the staff and simply change the kids on the beach.
Food: The options on the boardwalk are generally of the fast-food variety, with Nathan's Famous hot dogs the standout. If you want to sit down, grab delicious burgers and shakes at Tom's Brooklyn or head inland for fabulous pizza at Grimaldi's or Totonno’s.
Cost: The beach is FREE, but bring money for all of its special attractions.
Getting There: Street parking near the beach is metered and scarce, and commercial lots are pricey. Unless you have an aquarium membership that comes with free parking, you're better off taking the D, F, N or Q subways to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue. The beach and amusement parks are across the street, so you can wheel the stroller right onto the boardwalk from the train.
Read more about the area in our Coney Island, Brooklyn Kids Neighborhood Guide.
The great food and chill vibe have made Jacob Riis more popular in recent years. Photo by Dylan Johnson/courtesy of Riis Park Beach Bazaar.
Jacob Riis Beach, Queens
The Scene: Nicknamed the "People's Beach," this shore just west of Rockaway is enjoying a resurgence thanks to its vibe (the recently opened Riis Park Beach Bazaar seriously raised its cool cred) and out-of-the-city feel. Expect lots of twentysomethings along with families, many of whom pitch tents and stay the whole day.
Attractions and Bathrooms: Managed by the National Park Service, Jacob Riis is home to an Art Deco bathhouse that now houses the aforementioned bazaar. There's also golf, ball courts and great kite flying thanks to the ocean breeze. As for bathrooms, there are two on the East Beach and one on the West—all fairly spacious and clean.
Food: The eats at the Bazaar are artisanal and expensive, but delicious. Think Ample Hills ice cream, homemade barbecue and fresh seafood, plus alcohol. New in 2016 is the addition of Samesa, an innovative Middle Eastern vendor featuring beet hummus and lentil-pistachio spread. You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas here, but there's a limited supply.
Cost: The beach is FREE but there's a $10 fee for parking for those who drive.
Getting There: If you're a masochist, you can take the 2 subway train to the Q35 bus. For the rest of us, the ferry from downtown Manhattan's Pier 11 is the best option, or maybe a Zipcar rental. The weekends-only NYC Beach Bus also runs from Brooklyn to the beach.
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Rockaway Beach, accessible via the subway, is always popular with NYC families. Photo by Dan DeLuca via Flickr.
Rockaway Beach, Queens
The Scene: Surfers rejoice! Rockaway is the only place where you can surf in NYC, which means the waves are high and rough, and the undertow is powerful. If your kids are novice swimmers or more typically frequent the pool, you'll need to keep a sharp eye on them. Like Long Beach, Rockaway was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy. However, the concessions are open and the 5-plus miles of sandy ocean beach makes it feel as if you've truly left the city behind. Although you'll see plenty of adults, Rockaway is definitely a family crowd; it doesn't get too loud or crazy. Radios are scattered throughout, but the beachfront is so long, you can always find a quiet spot.
Attractions and Bathrooms: There are eight playgrounds along Rockaway Beach though the most impressive is at Beach 30th Street with amazing equipment and water features. The area near the bustling Beach 97th Street is also a family favorite, especially because that's where one of the seven bathrooms is located. If you want to try surfing, there are a handful of places to take lessons or rent boards.
Food: The food scene on the boardwalk is always exciting. There are four concession stands on the boardwalk, with the largest at Beach 97th Street. Grab standard beach fare like burgers and hot dogs, or try more adventurous eats such as jerk chicken, Venezuelan arepas, lobster rolls and barbecue.
Cost: All of the beaches in Rockaway are FREE to enjoy.
Getting There: All you need is a MetroCard and a lot of time (bring activity books for the subway ride!) Grab the A to Broad Channel, where you transfer to the S (shuttle), which stops at Beach 90th, 96th, 106th and 116th Streets. Each stop is about a 10-minute walk to the shore. If you're in Brooklyn and willing to spend a bit more, take the weekends-only NYC Beach Bus, which leaves from Williamsburg and downtown Brooklyn. Got a car? There are free parking lots at Beach 11th, 15th and 95th Streets.
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.
Read more about the area in our Rockaway, Queens Kids Neighborhood Guide.
Sandy Hook's North Beach is gorgeous, though weekends attract crowds. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.
Sandy Hook, New Jersey
The Scene: Part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook offers lots of activities beyond swimming for families, including biking, hiking, boating, fishing, birding and even overnight camping. The beach gets very crowded on weekends and parking lots often fill to capacity. So arrive early or risk being turned away.
Attractions and Bathrooms: With seven miles of beaches, Sandy Hook is a great place to wander, with numerous walking trails and a historic lighthouse to explore. There are also six bathrooms.
Food: In 2015, Sandy Hook hosted food trucks in a few of its parking lots, but offerings were limited and plans for this year are still up in the air. You are better off packing your lunch and snacks.
Cost: The beach is FREE, but there's a $15 fee for parking.
Getting There: Eschew the car to take the ferry, because getting there is half the (laborious) fun of reaching the beach as a NYC resident. The Seastreak from Wall Street or Midtown East will get you there with a 40-minute ferry ride, but watch out for sunny weekend crowds. Take the complimentary shuttle service between the landing and the beach and sink into that beach chair. You've earned it.
Stroll along the pretty Long Beach boardwalk when the kids tire of the sand. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.
Long Beach, Long Island
The Scene: Beloved for its famous boardwalk and soft, clean sand, Long Beach has been completely restored since it was decimated by Superstorm Sandy. You'll find locals and visitors alike strolling or riding their bikes along this 2¼-mile stretch of serenity. It's one of the prettiest beaches near NYC. Because of that, it can get crowded. However, it's less noisy than other local shores, and definitely the quietest on the West End. Warning: Long Beach can attract a party scene on summer weekends.
Attractions and Bathrooms: In addition to the boardwalk, you'll find lots of nearby playgrounds, 10 public restrooms (though they can be tricky to locate) and spots to rent umbrellas and chairs between National and Long Beach boulevards.
Food: While there are lots of great restaurants in town, the beach concessions and food trucks are lackluster. You're better off packing your own lunch, drinks and snacks.
Cost: Unlike NYC beaches, access isn't free. Day passes cost $15 per person for everyone ages 13 and older. Purchase your pass at designated beach entrances.
Getting There: It's about one hour by car from Manhattan, but skip the traffic and parking stress by taking the Long Island Rail Road. On weekends and holidays, there's even a special LIRR package that includes transportation, beach admission and discount vouchers for local vendors.
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Remains of the day at Jones Beach. Photo by rik-shaw via Flickr.
Jones Beach State Park, Long Island
The scene: New York’s most visited state park by far, Jones Beach occupies about seven miles of oceanfront in western Nassau County. It is easily accessible by car or public transportation, making it a preferred destination for weary city dwellers eager for sun and sand. Swimming is available in the ocean and bay and in its pools, and its outdoor concert theater draws top acts all summer long.
Attractions and bathrooms: There is something for just about everyone at Jones Beach, from miniature golf to swimming, boating, pick-up basketball, beach volleyball. softball, tennis and more. Kids interested in the natural world will adore the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center on the west end. Check out an evening concert at the Nikon theater. Bathhouses and restrooms are plentiful in each of its seven parking fields.
Food: The state park boats large concession stands at each parking field. If you prefer something more formal, check out the communities of Point Lookout or Island Park, near the entrances to the park.
Cost: Admission is $10 per car Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.
Getting there: By car from New York City, take the Meadowbrook or Wantagh State parkways south to the park entrance. The LIRR offers service to Freeport with a connecting bus to the park for $20.50 per person round trip; plan on 90 minutes each way from Penn Station.
Locals know Ocean Beach as one of Fire Island's more family-friendly scenes. Photo by Taís Melillo via Flickr.
Ocean Beach, Fire Island, Long Island
The Scene: Fire Island for families. Amid the summer hustle of the barrier island lies Ocean Beach, on the west end and flanked by Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Fewer than 300 people live in the community full-time but the population swells tenfold in the summer. Fire Island is known for its diversity of lifestyles and entertainment, but Ocean Beach is perhaps the most family friendly of the dozen or so popular communities. Lke most of Fire Island, it is car-free. Locals get around on foot or bike to small shops, galleries, restaurants, ice cream parlors, the movie house and the beaches. Hotels and inns are available for weekends or vacations. Fair warning, however: The beach is radio-, alcohol- and food-free.
Attractions and Bathrooms: Warm ocean currents make the water inviting early in the summer and long into the fall. On the bay side, the village marina provides anchorage for boaters. Water sports opportunities, including swimming, fishing, surfing, boating and wind surfing are seemingly everywhere. Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day and the community hosts a summer camp for kids 5-12 that includes a half-day nursery for younger ones. There are public restrooms in the village and a few conspicuously placed stations along the beach; newcomers should ask a lifeguard for locations.
Food: Options abound in the village, especially for those with a fondness for seafood. No surprise there. Locals enjoy breakfast at Rachel's bakery, but allow time; it's quite popular. MIchael's Ristorante offers Italian and Town Pizza is a popular choice for a quick slice.
Cost: Beach access is FREE, but bring cash. There are very few ATMs in Ocean Beach.
Getting there: This is the tricky part. Fire Island is accessible by ferry or water taxi only. The Long Island Rail Road's Montauk branch offers service from Penn Station, Jamaica or Woodside to Bay Shore, where a taxi takes you to the ferry pier. The crossing takes about 40 minutes, making the total journey from Penn Station about 2½ hours. Last year, the combined fare was $32 per person round trip.
Despite a longer trip, the Hamptons offer world-class beaches, restaurants and, of course, people-watching. On summer weekends, the LIRR offers expedited service to the East End. Penn Station to Westhampton or Hampton Bays is a little over two hours and cabs to the beaches are plentiful from the stations. There is no charge to walk on to the beach and concession-stand food is available, but don’t forget a cell phone to call a cab for pickup at the beach.
A version of this article first appeared in July 2007, but has since been updated.
Top image: Coney Island beach. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.