As far as beach destinations go, New York City may not be the first to spring to mind… or second or third. The Beach Boys never sang ‘I wish they all could be Upper West Side girls’, and the Manhattan mentioned in ‘Surfin’ USA’ is definitely Manhattan Beach, California, not the home of the Chrysler Building. And yet, the Big Apple does have its own stretches of sand and, yes, even some surf breaks. In fact, NYC is the only place in the world where you can take your bagel and schmear to go, hop on the subway and an hour later drink from a coconut on the coast. You can also follow up your sun-soaking session with a ride on a 1920s roller coaster and then catch a Broadway show after dinner.
To celebrate New York’s unsung sandy shores, we spoke with two locals about their favourite city beaches: Coney Island and Rockaway. Let this be proof that you can have it all: city and sea; skyscrapers and sandcastles; bagels and beach.
NYC borough Brooklyn
How to get there Take the D, Q, N or F train to Stillwell Avenue
Local expert Chris Adams, Brewery Operations Manager at Coney Island Brewing Company
Dress code Chris says: ‘Coney Island’s dress code is literally anything, everything or nothing (see the Mermaid Parade)’.
An ideal Coney Island day (according to Chris) ‘A good day starts with no traffic on the BQE or an express train allll the way to the last stop. First, I go see my girl Magda at Mermaid Meats (2825 Mermaid Ave) and grab a delicious sandwich (Magda and her husband make my lunch everyday). Or, you can hit up the Coney Shack guys on W 8th Street for killer fish tacos and rice bowls. I take my goods and stroll past the crowds on the boardwalk and pop down on the beach just past the parachute jump to eat.
Once my Irish skin is just red enough, I head to Coney Island USA and hit the one-of-a-kind environment that is the Freak Bar. I might drink one or two Coney Island Brewery beers, as I watch the nation’s longest-running freak show. On the way out, I’ll high-five Patrick Wall, the general manager there, then head to Tappy Hour in the Coney Island Brewery beer garden. I’d chat up any of the locals working behind the bar, take a tour with Devin or Adam, and pepper Theresa with questions about the neighbourhood’s history.
As the sun sets and my belly is in need of more local eats, I’d walk across the road to the best Italian restaurant in Brooklyn (and therefore the world), Gargiulo’s. The restaurant is run by the four Russo brothers, who offer an incredible dining experience with all hand-cut meats and pasta dishes. Ask for either their signature pork chop or the best chicken parm you’ll ever have.
Now that my belly’s stuffed, I’d head to MCU Park and hit a Brooklyn Cyclones game. Sit behind home plate (tickets are around $10), grab an ice-cold Coney Island Brewery pint, and take in the views of the neighbourhood – you can see all of Luna Park‘s roller coasters, the beach and the parachute jump from your seat. As the game winds down, I’d make my way to the new Amphitheater and catch any of the incredible acts lined up for this summer. After I’m done hanging inside the 5,000-person theatre or on the rooftop, I’d hit the boardwalk one last time and end the night riding the world-famous Cyclone, the Thunderbolt or the romantic Wonder Wheel with that special someone (kidding… I’m single!), as the weekly Friday fireworks go off’.
The freakiest beer to drink while there ‘We’ve made so many incredible beers in the past year, but I would say our freakiest would be Freaktoberfest (a pumpkin-espresso ale), our Cotton Candy Kolsch, or our Hot Toddy. These beers push the limit on the craft category and were so fun to make’.
Why Coney Island is the best beach in the city: ‘The best in NYC… or the world? With all due respect to other beaches, where else can you arrive by public transportation, hit up a historic boardwalk, visit a brewery, see a freak show, eat world-class Italian food, watch a professional baseball game, go to a Live Nation concert venue, and ride coasters while watching fireworks – all within a half-mile radius?! Like the famous quote says, “If Paris is France, then between June and September Coney Island is the world!”‘
NYC borough Queens
How to get there Take the A train to Broad Channel, then transfer to the S to Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street
Local expert Mike Reinhardt, surfer and founder of Locals Surf School
Dress code Mike says: ‘The Rockaway Beach dress code is simple: tank top, board shorts and flip-flops. Rockaway is part of NYC, so we do get a lot of different people and styles on the beach, but those who keep it sleek, simple and surf-inspired are most likely to blend in with the locals’.
An ideal Rockaway day (according to Mike) ‘For me, an ideal day would start super early with warm, sunny weather and perfect waves. I’d go surfing for about three hours with some close friends – basically, until my arms are ready to fall off. After that, I’d grab a coffee at Rockaway Roasters and teach a few surf lessons at my business, Locals Surf School. After sharing the stoke with a bunch of people, my friend and I would likely meet our students at Rockaway Beach Surf Club for some drinks and tasty tacos, cooked up in-house by Tacoway Beach. At some point later in the day, when the sun starts to set, a skate session would be in order at the 90th Street skatepark. To close up a perfect day, our crew would then head to favourite local dive bar Connolly’s for some “frozens” and good times’.
What makes Rockaway surfers unique ‘Compared to surfers from other parts of the world, Rockaway surfers tend to be way more stoked and appreciative to get waves. We don’t have the same consistency as places like Hawaii or California, so when the waves are here, we drop everything and go’.
Why Rockaway is the best beach in the city ‘First and foremost, it’s the only beach in NYC with waves. Plus, there’s an eclectic mix of awesome people who bring great vibes to this beach community. And unlike other beach destinations, Rockaway is a great place to be all year long. Out in the Hamptons, Montauk turns into a ghost town in the winter. The Rockaways, however, are still lively and worth visiting. So come get acquainted with the neighbourhood this summer and don’t be shy to come back later this year!’
Featured image is Rockaway Beach; photo via Getty/Jamie Grill