Plan a Summer Day at Jones Beach with Kids: Top Things To See and Do

Enjoy the sand and surf at Jones Beach in Nassau County. Photo courtesy of New York State Parks
Enjoy the sand and surf at Jones Beach in Nassau County. Photo courtesy of New York State Parks

A trip to Jones Beach with kids means experiencing the jewel of Long Island state parks. And with a whopping 6 million visitors each year, it’s the second most-visited state park in New York State after Niagara Falls.

Many New Yorkers have fond memories of spending time at Jones Beach with family and friends, walking the boardwalk, taking in a concert, or simply enjoying the surf and sand. A visit to this beach feels like being on vacation. It’s so much more than a beach, and we’ve got the rundown on what to do, see, play, and eat at Jones Beach so that you get the most out of your visit.

For other open-air cultural offerings, check out our rundown of the best beaches, pools, and lakes in the area, and bookmark our comprensive Guide to Summer Activities.

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Of all the beaches on Long Island, Jones Beach has the longest stretch of sand for building castles, collecting seashells, and getting your daily dose of vitamin D. The park was created as a public works project in the 1920s by legendary planner Robert Moses. Moses named the park after Maj. Thomas Jones, a local whaler and militia officer whose life captured Moses' imagination. The park was designed on the theme of an ocean liner, which is still evident in some of the decor found throughout, including a ship's mast, marine flags, and large funnels that hide the trash bins. Moses spared no expense when he designed the water tower, which can be seen from afar and continues to provide all of the water to the park. While the project was met with opposition by local residents then, the park has stood the test of time to become one of the most popular summer destinations in the state. After nearly 90 years the park is getting some much-needed updates, some of which are available to enjoy now.

Blue Angels
Watch the Bethpage Airshow take to the sky at Jones Beach. Photo courtesy of the Bethpage Federal Credit Union

Why Jones Beach State Park Is an Awesome Family-Friendly Destination

Besides the main attraction—6½ miles of soft sand beach and ocean waves, the park offers many activities to engage the whole family. Of course, you probably want to see the main attraction first, and it’s a good idea to arrive early in order to avoid traffic on the parkways, find parking, and get some prime towel real estate. Check online for real-time parking availability as you get closer to the park. Big events like the Bethpage Air Show and 4th of July fireworks tend to fill up fast.

After staking out your spot on the sand with an umbrella and a few towels, start your adventure at the West Games Area. This is the hub of Jones Beach and is easily walkable from Parking Fields 3, 4 and 5. Up for some competitive fun? Try a round or two of minature golf. The course was redesigned in 2021 and has great views of the ocean. From June through Labor Day it’s open 10am-11pm, making it a fun option after the sun goes down. For a small fee, equipment for other games–including table tennis, pickleball, volleyball, corn hole, and bocce ball–can be rented from the concession area. Paddle ball and shuffleboard are also available for a nominal fee and equipment deposit. It's open April to June and September to October from 10am to 4pm. Check out the family pay-one-price option for possible savings.

The East Games Area has also been updated within the last few years with new basketball courts, lighting, fencing, benches, and water fountains.

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boy on ropes course at Wildplay
Kids will enjoy WildPlay, an adventure park. Photo by the author

WildPlay, an adventure park featuring ropes, bridges and tunnels, as well as a 700-foot zip line that runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, opened in July 2019 at Jones Beach. Whether you're conquering your fear of heights or challenging your physical abilities, there's an activity for every level of intensity. In fact, the whole experience makes for a terrific parenting lesson. The kids' season pass pays for itself in just two visits. Park in Field 4 for the closest access point. You can make reserverations online or just pop over the day-of.

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Among the newest additions is the splash pad across from the Boardwalk Cafe. Kids will delight in controlling the sprinklers, while little ones can enjoy the water bubbling up from the ground. There's also two playgrounds nearby where kids can continue the fun.

There’s nothing like running into the ocean surf on a hot summer day. Swimmers can frolic in the endless waves, body board, and play catch in the shallows. For families with little ones, try the beach at Zach’s Bay, where the water is calmer. And for those who prefer pool swimming, Jones Beach has an Olympic-size pool located at the West Bathhouse. 

greenway family on bikes
Explore the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway on bike. Photo by the author

Ride bikes or scooters year-round on the smoothly planked boardwalk. Hop on this 4-mile seaside trail at any point from Field 1 to Field 6. Or glide to the beach along the paved path that begins at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford. From there it's a 5.4 mile ride to Jones Beach's East Bathhouse on the boardwalk. Are your gams feeling ambitious? Stay on the Ocean Parkway Greenway Extention to pedal another 3.6 miles to Tobay Beach, where there are more restaurants and a playground. The trail continues all the way to Captree State Park and the pavement has clear markers to track your distance.

Nature to Explore at Jones Beach State Park

Since Jones Beach is a state park, the land surrounding the beach is protected from development. This provides many opportunities for learning about the area. The Jones Beach Nature Center is a wonderful spot for families to experience nature close-up and hands-on. Kids can touch marine animals in the touch pool, view a shipwreck, and even dig up buried whale bones. Take a walk along the center’s boardwalk to view species living among the sand dunes. The center offers nature programs for all ages, including weekly Tiny Tots programs for ages 3-6.

Spring and fall are the best times for bird watching at Jones Beach. More than 30 species of shorebirds can be seen along the tidal flats as well as visiting osprey, hawks, and falcons during migration season. In the summer, walk farther east or west of the crowds to find the best spots for bird watching. It helps to have a pair of binoculars but many birds can be spotted with the naked eye.

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If you’re feeling lucky, grab your fishing rod and cast a line off the pier at Field 10. There’s also a bait and tackle shop located nearby. Crabbing is another way to have fun and catch your dinner, and does not require a permit. Prehistoric horseshoe crabs can be spotted by the thousands during the month of May as they crawl from the ocean to breed.

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Bandshell at Jones Beach
Catch a show at the bandshell at Jones Beach. Photo courtesy of the Jones Beach

Entertainment Options at Jones Beach State Park

The iconic Bandshell at Jones Beach has hosted thousands of concerts through the years. The summer concert series is FREE and music and entertainment are presented almost every night from late June through August. Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater hosts crowd favorites in an atmosphere that can only be described as music heaven, such as Kidz Bop annually.

On Memorial Day, visitors to Jones Beach look to the sky for spectacular winged performances. The Bethpage Air Show is the first big event of the summer and it’s FREE—just pay for parking. From stunt flyers to air force squadrons ready to show off their skills, this is the show for adults and kids alike. You’ll want to arrive early and bring earplugs as it does get loud. Pro tip: They usually host a way less crowded practice run the Friday before the show!

RELATED: Great outdoor dining spots for kids on Long Island 


The Jones Beach fireworks draw thousands. Photo courtesy of the NY State Historical Society
 

What is July 4th without fireworks? Thousands flock to Jones Beach for this annual extravaganza of colorful lights and music. Celebrate Independence Day with a day of surf and sun capped off by an impressive fireworks show.

Family-Friendly Restaurants at Jones Beach State Park

If you weren't lucky enough to catch your lunch at the fishing pier, there’s no need to worry, as Jones Beach has several dining options. Not to be missed is the new Boardwalk Café at the Central Mall. Built as part of the park's revitalization project, the café offers casual dining to either eat in or take back to your spot on the beach. Enjoy the usual beach concession fare such as burgers, fries, and ice cream. Inside is also Taco BAE, which serves tacos, burritos, Mexican salads, burrito bowls and loaded nachos. The snack bar is open until 4pm, and then the Boardwalk Café transitions to its dinner menu. 

Lobster rolls, fried Oreos and salad will all be on the menu at Jones Beach’s Field 1 and 2.

For a sit-down meal that’s a bit more sophisticated, visit Gatsby on the Ocean. Seafood, steaks, salads, and pasta are all on the menu, but the biggest draw could be the stunning view from the patio and even from inside the restaurant. This makes for a spectacular backdrop for weddings and special events.

We can't forget dessert. While the various snack shops offer handheld cold treats, Trahanas in the Central Mall scoops up Italian gelato flavors such as biscotti cookies and cream. 

How to Get to Jones Beach State Park

Less than 20 miles from New York City, Jones Beach is accessible by car and public transit. Driving from the west, take the Grand Central Parkway/Northern State Parkway east to the Meadowbrook State Parkway south (Exit 38), then follow the signs for Jones Beach. From the east, take Sunrise Highway west to Robert Moses Causeway, then follow Ocean Parkway west to Jones Beach. Visitors can also take the Long Island Railroad to the Freeport stop and catch the N88 bus directly to the beach.

Summertime traffic to Jones Beach, especially on weekends, is notorious. Give yourself plenty of time. Parking is $10 per car, or purchase an Empire Pass for $80 to park at most state parks during the season. However you get there, a trip to Jones Beach is the quintessential summertime experience. NOTE: some local libraries even rent out the Empire Pass daily. So check yours for availability and skip the fee! 

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