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, 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
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." 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. The new citywide NYC Ferry also serves the Rockaways at Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive.
This popular summertime destination offers great beach, of course, but also several playgrounds, including an impressive splash pad, bicycling or strolling along the boardwalk, designated spots for saltwater fishing, and plenty of fun boardwalk eats, from tacos and hot dogs to sitdown casual spots. Not only that, but 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. Rockaway was devastated by Superstorm Sandy and the city has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the area. Good news, though: The construction timeline projects all work will be completed before the 2017 season opens.
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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
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 playground, small boardwalk, 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. It's harder to get to without a car, because there's no subway stop, but it's been gaining in popularity in recent years, especially with twentysomethings drawn to the foodie scene, including the adult beverages. Kids will likely appreciate the Ample Hills Creamery, Coney Shack, and maybe Ed & Bev's Diner, one of the indoor spots. If you do drive, there's a massive parking lot right across from the beach (fees apply). If you can swing a weekday visit, you'll find the crowds might lighter.
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. One feature missing in 2017? Kayak Staten Island has packed up its fleet and moved to Conference House Park.
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
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 as 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? In 2017, New York City's beaches open on Saturday, May 27. In general, the season ends around Labor Day; in 2016 the season was extended for an extra week.
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 toppled 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.