There are beaches all over the New York area. But trust this Long Island girl when she tells you that the Atlantic Ocean beaches are so much better than the Long Island Sound beaches - the sand is smoother and softer and the waves are real. And there’s less of that smelly seaweed vibe.
I grew up in Wantagh, NY, home of the famous Jones Beach and less than a half hour from other great Atlantic Ocean beaches like Long Beach. The beaches on the South Shore of Long Island are dope - it’s why the Hamptons became what they are.
For years I’d been hearing about another well loved Atlantic Ocean beach in Queens - Rockaway Beach. We finally made it there Memorial Day weekend and I cannot wait to go back. Rockaway Beach is SO worth the trip. You’ll feel like you escaped on vacation.
About Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach sits on the Rockaway Peninsula not all that far from JFK Airport in Queens. It is actually the largest urban beach in the entire country and it’s always been a popular escape for city-dwellers and surfers in summer. In fact, it is NYC’s only legal surfing beach (surfing occurs between 67-69 Street and 87-92 Street).
In 2012, the area was decimated by Hurricane Sandy, but it has since been rebuilt and rejuvenated to the tune of over $140 million, and the restored boardwalk is absolutely gorgeous today. More on that later.
All summer a ton of people from the city come by ferry, bus and train to escape the heat and concrete with a trip to Rockaway Beach. On our visit, the crowd was a great mix of surfers, singles (young people) and families.
Why Rockaway Beach Rocks
Rockaway Beach rocks because it brings a strong hip (hipster?) vibe. When you visit, you get all the loveliness of an Atlantic Ocean beach, but you also get a “scene.” Roughly every 10 city blocks along the beach’s boardwalk are these adorable, brightly colored and very hip and happening concession stand areas that offer much more than just standard issue hot dogs and ice pops.
At the Beach 106th concessions area, you can find a summer outpost of Manhattan’s delicious Caracas Arepa Bar. At the Beach 86th concession area is Rippers, a legendary (though most people seem to say the food is just eh) burger and beer stand. And in between those two at Beach 97th is the largest of all the concession areas. Here, you’ll find many awesome food options (ceviche, lobster rolls, BBQs, burritos) as well as some cute “beachy” shops.
Each of these boardwalk concessions sit directly off the beach - hitting them for lunch, a snack and/or drink in between catching some rays or waves makes for the perfect summer day. Small Tip: the concession crowds do get big, so don’t wait until you’re starving to get over to a concession area.
As you walk along the boardwalk, besides the concession areas, you’ll also find a few playgrounds, a skate park, some water spray features and a whole lot of stellar people watching. Bring or rent a bike so you can really explore the boardwalk.
On our visit, I had one “must do” and, though it’s not on the boardwalk, it is a very popular place to visit when in Rockaway Beach. Just about a ten minute walk from Rippers is Rockaway Beach Surf Club, a “cultural event space...devoted to promoting the love of surfing, conserving the environment and supporting its local neighborhood”. The Surf Club played a large role in the resurgence of Rockaway Beach after Hurricane Sandy, and it has always been a hub for the surfing and art culture of the area.
Besides hosting local events, the Surf Club is the post-Sandy home to Tacoway Beach (formerly known as Rockaway Taco before Hurricane Sandy). For years I had been hearing that the best fish taco in New York could be found at Tacoway Beach - and boy, do I love a good fish taco. So visiting Tacoway was a must for me.
Besides the famous fish taco, the Tacoway menu also offers a few meat and veggie taco options, plus elote, chips and guac and a nice selection of agua frescas. No matter what, don’t skip the fish taco. While it admittedly has a bit too much slaw for my liking, it is perfectly crispy fish and the ideal beach food.
The outdoor space at Tacoway is so beachy, colorful and cool that you will seriously enter “vacation mode” on your visit. Note Tacoway is cash only but there is an ATM on site.
I Need to Go Back
There is so much more to the Rockaway Peninsula than what I saw on my one visit. Next time, I want to check out Jacob Riis Park. Unlike Rockaway Beach, which is owned by the City of New York, Jacob Riis (aka The People’s Beach), is today part of the National Park Service.
This family friendly beach features two playgrounds, golf, Riis Park Beach Bazaar - a BOSS of a concession area, operated by the same folks who run the Brooklyn Bazaar in Greenpoint, and offering tons of food summery options (for example, Rockaway Clam Bar) - and a boardwalk video arcade. I cannot wait to visit with my family.