Top 5 Beaches for NYC Families
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 all 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 the top five beaches for NYC families, including detailed info on attractions, food, bathrooms and hidden costs. All are within 90 minutes of Manhattan by car but they're easily accessible via public transportation, too.
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 Hurricane 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, and because of that, it can get crowded. However, in my experience 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 four 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 $12 per person for everyone ages 13 and up. 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.
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 Hurricane Sandy, and parts of the boardwalk are still under repair. However, the concessions are open and the 5-plus miles of sandy ocean beaches makes it feel like you've truly left the city behind.
Although you'll see plenty of adults, Rockaway is definitely a family crowd so 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 seven 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: 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.
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, totally 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 some 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 named after the area's landmarked roller coaster. There are nine bathrooms so you don't have too far to go. 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 subway to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue. The beach and amusement parks are literally across the street, so you can wheel the stroller right onto the boardwalk from the train.
Sandy Hook, New Jersey
The Scene: We've raved about this lovely, pristine beach in the past, but it's worth touting again. 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. Due to all it has to offer and its accessibility, 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: For the first time, Sandy Hook is hosting food trucks in a few of its parking lots but offerings are limited. You're best off packing your lunch and snacks.
Cost: The beach is FREE but there's a $15 fee for parking.
Getting There: Is half the fun (if you don't drive)! Just hop on the Seastreak for a 40-minute ferry ride from Wall Street or Midtown East, and jump on the complimentary shuttle service between the landing and the beach.
Jacob Riis Beach, Queens
The Scene: Nicknamed the "People's Beach," this shore just west of Rockaway is enjoying a resurgence in popularity 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 20-somethings 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. 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 your best option, or maybe a Zipcar rental. The weekends-only NYC Beach Bus also runs from Brooklyn to the beach.