While many tourists often overlook it in favor of the more crowded Coney Island, Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York attracts over one million visitors each year—and it takes just about the same amount of time to get to from Manhattan.
With clean, soft stretches of sand, pleasant waves, uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean, and some of the best beach food you can find, Rockaway Beach and the Far Rockaways have become a local New Yorker favorite.
It takes about an hour and 14 minutes to get to Rockaway Beach by subway or bus from Manhattan and just over half an hour by car, making it a perfect day trip if you're looking for a way to beat the summer heat in the city. The most popular stretch of the beach runs along streets numbered from the mid-80s to 100, so you'll want to head further east or west if you want a quieter stretch of beach.
While you could pack a picnic lunch (leave glass containers at home!), there are a number of great places to grab a bite right along Rockaway Beach.
Concession stands at the Rockaway boardwalk feature some top-notch beach fare. Located at Beach 86, Beach 96, and Beach 106, you can find great choices from local New York City food vendors such as the Caracas Arepa Bar, ice cream and popsicles from CitySticks, and central Asian cuisine from Uma's.
The Rockaways is also home to a number of fast food chain restaurants like Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, Popeye's Chicken, and Papa John's Pizza, but you can also stop by Palenque for homemade Colombian food or Pico RBNY to try some Mexican street-style food.
The Rockaway Beach and boardwalk offers beach-goers 170 acres of ocean-front sun and sand. The beachfront runs from Beach 9 to Beach 149 with a wide variety of facilities for visitors, including spray showers, restrooms, playgrounds, and water fountains.
Swimming is only permitted when lifeguards are on duty, which is from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend, daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Restrooms and spray showers are available on the boardwalk at 116 Beach, 97 Beach, and the playground at Beach 59. Additional showers are available at 102 Beach and the playground at Beach 17.
Although no one rents chairs and umbrellas along the beach, many stores at 116 Beach (near the subway) sell them for a reasonable price. Rockaway is also New York City's only surfing beach, with two stretches for surfing between 67 and 69 streets and between 87 and 92 streets, so many of the stores carry surf gear as well.
Getting to Rockaway Beach is just as easy as taking the N train to Coney Island and takes just over an hour by bus or train and about half the time by car. There's also free parking lots near the beach in Rockaway Beach, which isn't a reality in Coney Island.
By train, you can access Rockaway Beach by taking either the A, J, or Z trains. For the A train, you can transfer to a Rockaway-bound A or S train at Broad Channel and continue to stops from 90 Beach to 116 Beach Streets. Alternatively, you can take the J or Z to Woodhaven Boulevard and transfer to a Q53 or Q21 bus to 108 Beach Street.
If you plan to drive, you can access Rockaway Beach at the end of Flatbush Avenue or by taking the Belt Parkway. In addition to street parking near the beach, there is a free parking area located between Beach 94 and Beach 95 streets from Rockaway Beach Boulevard to Shore Front Parkway. There is another free parking lot from Beach 11th to 15th streets.
You can also take a special shuttle to the beach from several New York City locations on the NYC Beach Bus. For just $10 one way ($15 round-trip) you can enjoy convenient bus service with chair and umbrella rentals available. This option is a great way for out-of-towners to enjoy the unique New York City beach culture without a lot of the hassle of navigating public transit or the cost of paying for a cab.