From the pop appeal of Coney Island to the glamour of the Hamptons, New York City beaches offer a different kind of seaside experience.
Whether you’re looking for surf, sand, scene or all of the above, you’re sure to find a spot to while away those hot summer days. These are the best beaches in NYC.
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Entertain yourself at Coney Island
Once a seaside escape for the city’s moneyed elite, Coney Island was developed as a resort in the 1800s, and by the turn of the century its amusement park attractions were drawing crowds from all five boroughs.
Today, its South Brooklyn sand and surf aren’t necessarily the cleanest (watch out for broken glass and other detritus), but the boardwalk is hard to beat for people-watching, especially if you manage to snag a table outside at Ruby’s, where the beers are cheap and cold and the littleneck clams are too.
Steps away from the beach, Luna Park has rides, games and more. It’ll shake you up a bit, but don’t skip the Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster dating to 1927 that’s a New York City landmark. For a rainy-day option or a break from the sun, the nearby Coney Island Museum offers an overview of the neighborhood’s colorful history.
Fill up on Russian and Ukrainian fare at Brighton Beach
A quick stroll down the boardwalk to Coney Island’s east, Brighton Beach is a bit more low-key than its rowdier neighbor, with fewer day-trippers and more locals socializing, exercising, and simply enjoying the elements.
Known as Little Odessa, the area is famous for its Russian and Ukrainian restaurants, many of which are located off the beach and under the elevated train on Brighton Beach Avenue, making for a convenient – and satisfying – stop after the day in the sun.
Sunbathe topless at Jacob Riis Park Beach
On the Rockaway Peninsula between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Jacob Riis Park is home to a popular strip of sand nicknamed “the People’s Beach,” and it lives up to its reputation, welcoming tens of thousands of sunbathers – often topless – during the summer months.
Part of Gateway National Recreation Area, a sprawling 27,000-acre park covering parts of New Jersey as well as Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, this historic LGBTIQ+ site has a concessions, a pitch-and-putt golf course and a restored art-deco bathhouse dating to the 1930s. (Note that portions of Jacob Riis Park are closed this summer;, so check the NPS site for updates.)
Fort Tilden Beach in Queens is best reached by bike © CHOONGKY / Shutterstock
Bike to Fort Tilden Beach
Most of New York City’s beaches are easily accessible via public transit, but not Fort Tilden. Getting to the former military site from Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens requires a lengthy excursion by train, bus, and/or water taxi, depending on your point of departure, so you’re better off jumping in the car – or even better, on your bike – to make the trek. (Note that if you choose to drive, you’ll have to park nearby at Jacob Riis and walk over, so pack accordingly.)
But rest assured: once you reach the shore, transportation hassles will be the furthest thing from your mind. Also part of Gateway National Recreation Area, Fort Tilden benefits from the remote environs, with a relatively quiet beach unspoiled by massive crowds and complications.
Of course, such simplicity comes at a cost, and you won’t find amenities like snack bars, lifeguards or even restrooms here; for all that and more, opt for Jacob Riis. But the water feels cleaner and the sand is unsullied, making it well worth the trip.
The city’s only sanctioned surfing beaches are found at Rockaway Beach in Queens © Ryan Struck / NYC & Company
Ride the waves at Rockaway Beach
The Ramones put it on the map back in the ‘70s, and over the years, Rockaway Beach in Queens has maintained its reputation with great waves, good eats and a pleasantly sandy stretch of shore.
The city’s only sanctioned surfing beaches are here, one between Beach 67th and 69th streets and the other between 87th and 92nd; newbies can take lessons from Locals Surf School and experienced wave-riders can rent boards and gear from a handful of shops nearby. (Note that beach access is restricted for the 2022 summer season; the Parks Department has a running list of closures.)
For refreshments, hit the concession stands at 87th, 96th and 106th, or venture off the boardwalk and head for Tacoway Beach, a seasonal setup at Rockaway Beach Surf Club slinging fish tacos worthy of the subway ride.
Orchard Beach is the Bronx’s only beach © Byron Smith / Getty Images News
Take in the scene at Orchard Beach
Dubbed the “Riviera of New York” when it opened in the 1930s, Orchard Beach is the only beach in the Bronx, and it remains a hotspot. Don’t expect to find peace and quiet here: between the playgrounds and the snack bars, the promenade with restaurants and retail, and dozens of basketball, volleyball, and handball courts, the 1.1-mile-long beach is busy all summer long.
The waves are gentle, thanks to a perch on the Long Island Sound, and the sand is accessible, with beach mats and two sand-friendly wheelchairs available upon request.
Plan a family outing to Long Beach
Located off the South Shore of Long Island, right in the middle of the barrier island that gives it its name, Long Beach is less than an hour from Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad. But you’d hardly know it once you arrive: considering the pristine sands and surf-worthy swells, the town’s Ocean Beach Park could be half a world away, with only the crowds to hint otherwise.
The 3.5-mile beach is one of the island’s best, and it’s tailor-made for families, with multiple playgrounds for the little ones and loads of activities for the older ones too, including surf lessons, bike rentals and a 2.25-mile boardwalk to explore. Pack a picnic lunch, or grab options like burgers and ice cream from an array of food carts and concession stands nearby.
There are no cars allowed on Fire Island, making for a throwback vacation experience © Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images
Take the ferry to Fire Island
Accessible only by ferry, car-free Fire Island is a welcome change of pace from the gridlock common on the rest of Long Island. A boat takes you directly to this 32-mile barrier island east of Jones Beach; if it’s your first visit, get off at Ocean Beach – a quaint village with postcard-ready storefronts and restaurants – for easy entry into island life.
Whether you’re vacationing for Pride or seeking out LGBTIQ+ communities year-round, Cherry Grove and the Pines are where you want to be. For house shares, bars, and a thriving pickup scene, head to Kismet, and for a slower, family vibe, check out Saltaire.
Ogle the eye candy at Westhampton Beach
The towns of Long Island’s South Fork are better known as the Hamptons, and while they’re perhaps most familiar for their A-list factor, the various communities have plenty to offer aside from celebrity sightings.
Located across Moriches Inlet from the eastern tip of Fire Island, Westhampton Beach is an upscale resort community dating to the late 1920s. It was club central for a decade or two, but in recent years, it’s become less of a 24/7 party scene and more laid-back and family-friendly.
Dune Road is the main drag, with eye candy–style mansions as well as rental properties with private beach access, and picturesque Main Street – the target of a massive revitalization project just a few years ago – has restaurants, boutiques, and more.
The town’s most popular permit is for Rogers Beach, and Cupsogue Beach County Park is one of its most lauded: a 296-acre barrier beach a stone’s throw from Fire Island, boasting powdery white sand and stunning sunset views.
Visit in late summer to catch the outdoor juried art show on Main Street, get your culture fix year-round at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, or layer up and head to Cupsogue for a wintertime seal walk, a guided excursion led by a marine-mammal expert from the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island.
Hit one of the country’s best beaches in Southampton
About 20 miles east of Westhampton and 90-some miles from Manhattan, the beautiful beaches of Southampton attract a tony crowd. Coopers Beach is on par with its ritzy surroundings – a regular on Dr. Beach’s annual list of America’s best, it offers fine white-quartz sand and views of extravagant historic mansions in the distance.
Less than half a mile to the west, Halsey Neck Beach is dog-friendly and quiet, while three-quarters of a mile to the east, Cryder Beach is popular with the surf crowd. Neither has bathrooms, so plan your breaks accordingly.
To rough it even further, try saltwater fishing and camping at Shinnecock East County Park, where the wide sandy beach gets packed in peak season with both people and 4x4s (off-roading is allowed here with the proper permit).
Sagg Main Beach is where the ultra-rich go to play © Dan Hallman / Lonely Planet
See how the other half lives in Sagaponack
One of the country’s most expensive zip codes, and the most expensive on the East Coast, Sagaponack is a tiny community with just 300-some permanent residents, and a thousand or so part-time. But what residents they are: A-listers from Billy Joel to Drew Barrymore to Jimmy Fallon have purchased property in the vicinity at one point or another.
Sagg Main is the village’s public beach, a clean, wide shoreline with lifeguards, concessions, bathrooms and shower facilities. It’s good for families, but the parking lot fills up fast, so get there early if you’re visiting during the summer months.
Before a day out, stock up on provisions on Main Street – prepared food from Loaves & Fishes, perhaps, and produce from the local farmers market. And on your way back, pencil in a stop at Wölffer Estate’s wine stand. A drive-through outpost of the well-regarded winery, it offers outdoor seating with views of the vineyard, the perfect setting for sipping a sparkling rosé and watching the sun sink below the horizon.
Take in the scene in East Hampton
An epicenter of celebrity culture in the Hamptons, the village of East Hampton is one of the South Fork’s most prestigious communities, and it has the amenities to match its five-star reputation. From luxe accommodations to upscale restaurants and clubs to outlets for arts and culture, like the former home and studios of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner and exhibits, screenings, and performances at Guild Hall, there’s no lack of entertainment to be had away from the water.
But ultimately, beaches are the name of the game, and of the five public strands operated by the village, Main Beach is by far the most popular, drawing big crowds – particularly on weekends – for the quality concessions, gorgeous sand and lifeguards on duty. It’s a short walk from the center of town, but if you’re lugging too much gear to hoof it, try hitching a ride via Circuit, a free electric-shuttle service that’s bookable by app. (It also operates in Southampton and Montauk.)
Things are more relaxed at Two Mile Hollow, a longtime gay beach that also draws a crowd. To hit the surf, try Georgica or Wiborg.
Spend a day out in Amagansett
A small hamlet with humble roots in the fishing, whaling and farming industries, Amagansett is less flashy than other parts of the Hamptons, but no less star-studded, with A-listers like Paul McCartney, Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. occasionally spotted around town. Two private golf clubs draw a ritzy crowd, and the local Main Street is revitalized and flourishing, its well-preserved buildings now occupied by upscale restaurants and shops.
To see and be seen – or simply spend a day out with the fam – head for uber-popular Atlantic Avenue Beach, where the atmosphere can be rowdy but not necessarily over the top. Umbrellas and beach chairs are available to rent. The beach at Indian Wells also draws a crowd.
Between the two beaches, there are two nature preserves: the Atlantic Double Dunes Preserve and the Amagansett National Wildlife Refuge, both of which protect the fragile shoreline habitat. Piping plovers and terns nest here, so pack your binoculars for birdwatching and check for closures before you head out – access can be restricted seasonally to protect the nesting birds.
Go surfing in Montauk
Once a sleepy fishing community at the easternmost point of Long Island, now home to artists, surfers and creative types of all stripes, Montauk tends to be like the rest of the Hamptons during the peak summer months – ie, party central – though it remains charmingly low-key in the offseason.
Less than 2 miles from the LIRR terminus is the family-oriented Kirk Park Beach, with public restrooms and lifeguards on duty. To mingle with the surf crowd, stake out some space on the sand at Ditch Plains, just east of the village proper.
One of New York’s top-10 state parks for biodiversity, Hither Hills is less populated than the beaches in town, and you can book a campsite and stay overnight if you’re so inclined. For an even more remote oceanfront experience, strap on your walking shoes and head for the Amsterdam Beach Preserve, where a gentle, wooded loop leads up to bluffs with ocean views and down to a rocky beach far away from the masses. (Just watch out for ticks.)
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