When the Big Apple starts to swelter, New Yorkers and visitors seeking a respite from the heat flock to the city’s beaches. Those looking for a quick, bucket-and-spade day trip can head to the atmospheric boardwalks of Coney Island or Brighton Beach, while slightly further afield in Long Island and New Jersey are some fine beaches for nature lovers, demanding kids and those who just want to kick back…
Brighton Beach & Coney Island
Coney Island is a bit of a relic, but it’s still a kind-of-essential Brooklyn experience. Overdose on nostalgia and candy floss at the seaside amusement park and boardwalk, where a ride on the rickety old wooden rollercoaster Cyclone will quickly send you over a near-vertical 85 foot drop. Then stuff your face with Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs to decide if you’d be a suitable entrant for the annual Hot Dog Eating Contest, which takes place on July 4th. Just along to the east, Brighton Beach is Coney Island’s less hectic, slightly less freaky younger cousin, with a wide sandy beach and boardwalk. Also known as Little Odessa, it would be criminal to come here and not round off your day with a trip to one of the many Russian restaurants and cafes which line the shore.
For Coney Island, take the subway: D, F, N, Q to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue, or the B or Q to Brighton Beach.
Well-known as the subject of a famous Ramones song, Rockaway Beach in Queens is one of the largest urban beaches in America and the city beach of choice for sporty types. Volleyball, handball and of course, swimming, are all popular here. It’s also the only place within New York’s city limits where you can surf, so if you fancy doing something really different on your trip to the Big Apple, sign up for a 75-minute private lesson with Skudin Surf.
From 9th to 149th Steets, Rockaway Beach, Queens. Take the A train to Broad Channel, then transfer to the S to Rockaway Park-Beach at 116th Street. Note that the currents can be unpredictable here. Only swim when lifeguards are on duty.
Jones Beach State Park
A great choice for families, Jones Beach is one of the most popular day-trip destinations on Long Island. In fact, it’s the most visited beach on the whole of the east coast so head there mid-week if you can, to avoid the weekend crowds. Alongside the six and a half miles of ocean beach are two swimming pools, playgrounds, basketball courts, minigolf, an amphitheatre hosting big name shows and a two mile boardwalk lined with food and drink concessions. There’s also an interpretive nature centre for kids, with a butterfly garden and boardwalk leading out into the sand dunes.
Take the LIRR train (Long Island Rail Road) from Penn Station in Manhattan, to Freeport, Long Island, from where a shuttle bus will take you to the beach. It takes about an hour.
Over in New Jersey lies one of the New York area’s best beach bets: Sandy Hook. In just 30 minutes, you can be transported by ferry from the South Street Seaport to this seven mile stretch of sand on the Jersey Shore, which is a a prime location for birdwatching. Various rarities like the Gray Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher can sometimes be spotted along the Spermaceti Boardwalk and Horseshoe Cover salt marsh. Other than lying horizontal on the pale cream sands, one of the best ways to experience Sandy Hook is to rent a bike and cycle along the seven mile Multi-Use Pathway, which starts at the park gates and loops its way around Fort Hancock, a national historic landmark. There are various food outlets, beach supply vendors and picnic tables along the shore.
To get to Sandy Hook, take a regular ferry from the South Street Seaport.
Fire Island beaches
A long, thin 32-mile strip of land adjacent to the south shore of Long Island, Fire Island is one of New York’s outer barrier islands and a popular spot for day-trippers and overnighters. There are a number of different villages and hamlets on the island, all served by their own ferry stop. Fire Island is car-free, with visitors and residents getting around by bike or on foot, giving the place a laid-back vibe. This is somewhere to relax and wind down – a peaceful getaway in a protected environment free of traffic and noise. Most of the commercial activity is centred around Ocean Beach, the unofficial capital of Fire Island, where you’ll find the highest concentration of shops, restaurants and bars. Other popular villages include party-central Kismet and the popular gay-friendly communities of Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. On the islands’ western tip, Robert Moses State Park offers a five mile stretch of Atlantic beachfront, with playgrounds, picnic tables, showers, golf and a marina.
Dependent on where on Fire Island you want to go, take a Montauk Line or Babylon Line LIRR train from Penn Station to either Bay Shore, Sayville or Babylon and then take a ferry. From Babylon, you can board frequent buses to Robert Moses State Park.
Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to New York (JFK and Newark) from London Heathrow.