New York City may be one of the most densely populated corners of the world, but it’s also surrounded by water — lots of it. This geography translates into an extensive coastline with miles of beaches, from the pounding surf of the Rockaways to unspoiled crescents on Staten Island. For many local beaches, the only thing you’ll need is a towel and subway card. Here’s our roundup of the best sandy spots for some fun in the sun.
Sandy Hook, New Jersey
“So Close to Manhattan, So Far Away in Spirit” is how the New York Times described this pristine beach on a slender peninsula at the northern tip of the Jersey shore. After being badly battered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Sandy Hook reopened in 2013 and is once again welcoming sun-seekers with its seven miles of beaches and dunes, plus hiking and biking trails. It’s not just about soaking up the sun. The area is also rich in history, with the National Historic Landmark of Fort Hancock and the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, one of the oldest in the country. Northern tip of the Jersey Shore, sandyhookfoundationnj.org
Getting there: Hop on the Seastreak ferry (seastreak.com), which operates daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, departing from East 35th St. and Pier 11 at Wall St. A variety of bus and train services also serve Sandy Hook, from New York City and elsewhere in New Jersey.
Fire Island, Long Island
This barrier island off the south shore of Long Island has something for everyone, from the cocktail-fueled gay nightlife at the Pines to massive stretches of windswept beach to the mist-soaked Sunken Forest, one of the few remaining maritime forests on the Eastern Seaboard. Fire Island National Seashore encompasses much of the island, with top beaches like Watch Hill, in the middle of Fire Island, across the Great South Bay from Patchogue. The inviting sandy beach has lifeguards in the summer, and amenities in the surrounding area include campsites, a visitor center, hiking trails and more. And anyone who has ever been stuck in Midtown traffic will appreciate the fact that Fire Island has no paved roads or cars — the only way to get around is by foot, bike or golf cart.
Getting there: Long Island Railroad (LIRR) travels to three ferry terminals on Long Island — Patchogue, Sayville and Bay Shore — where you can catch a 20-minute ferry to the island.
South Beach, Staten Island
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge draped over the water in the distance brings an elegant cachet to this well-maintained beach on the eastern shore of Staten Island. South Beach (unlike its hedonistic cousin of the same name in Florida) is invitingly quiet, offering a good balance between nature and amenities, which include the 1.7-mile Franklin D. Roosevelt boardwalk, a fishing pier and annual events like fireworks and concerts. Staten Island was slammed by Hurricane Sandy, and while most beaches have reopened, access may be limited in some coastal areas. Eastern shore of Staten Island, nycgovparks.org
Getting there: Take the Staten Island Ferry (siferry.com) from Manhattan, then bus S51. Or bring your bike for a beautiful ride from the ferry station.
Long Branch, New Jersey
No Snooki sightings here. This well-kept beach is proof that the Jersey shore isn’t all spray tans and pinky rings. The Long Branch beaches are wide and sandy, giving way to the cool waters of the Atlantic. For gourmet ice-cream, waterfront dining and upscale boutiques, head to nearby Pier Village (piervillage.com). Northern Jersey Shore, visitlongbranch.com
Getting there: New Jersey Transit trains travel regularly between New York Penn Station and Long Branch. The walk to the beach from the station is under a mile.
Rockaway Beach, Queens
The nickname for this peninsula — Rockapulco — may be a bit of a stretch, but this sunwarmed spit of land that juts into the ocean does have some of NYC’s best beaches. Rockaway Beach offers a summertime cocktail of good sands, strong surf and plenty of snack shacks, outdoor sports and other amenities. Several surf camps and schools have opened over the last few years to accommodate the weekend boarder. If you’re feeling some trepidation about hitting the waves, try the friendly Skudin Surf school (skudinsurf.com), whose motto is “If you can stand, you can surf.” Rockaway Peninsula, nycgovparks.org/parks/rockawaybeach
Getting there: Take the A train to Broad Channel, then transfer to the S train to Rockaway Park-Beach 116th St.
Long Beach, Long Island
Established in 1880, Long Beach is one of the oldest residential communities on Long Island, which lends it a hometown flavor that’s bolstered by great local restaurants and shops. An oceanfront island on the south shore of Long Island, Long Beach is, as the name implies, a very long beach, with over 3.5 miles of warm sands. Though the iconic boardwalk was ruined by the 2012 hurricane, the town reopened a new fortified boardwalk in 2013. South shore of Long Island, longbeachny.gov
Getting there: Take Long Island Railroad (LIRR) from Penn Station to Long Beach Station and walk from there.
Jacob Riis Park Beach, Queens
Forming part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which is managed by the National Park Systems, Jacob Riis Park is often described as one of the closest beaches to the city that doesn’t feel like it’s in the city. The beach has generally fewer crowds than Rockaway Beach, plus soft sands licked by the Atlantic and lots of activities, including kite flying, volleyball courts and the Brooklyn Golf Center (brooklyngolfcenter.com). Further west is the wild beach at Fort Tilden Park, but it’s closed this summer due to the hurricane and set to reopen next year. Western Rockaway Peninsula, nyharborparks.org/visit/jari.html
Getting there: Take the 2 train to Flatbush Ave., and then the Q35 bus to Riis Beach. On summer weekends, the New York Beach Ferry (newyorkbeachferry.com) travels from Pier 11 at Wall Street in Manhattan to Jacob Riis Park Beach.
Great Kills Park, Staten Island
Despite the name, this waterfront park on a peninsula off Staten Island’s south shore is alive with nature, with verdant parkland and a sandy swimming beach patrolled by lifeguards. It’s off the beaten path, but if you’re looking for plenty of beach space to unfurl your towel and sweeping harbor views, this is your place. Great Kills, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, is also the only osprey nesting site on Staten Island, and the area affords plenty of birding opportunities. Southern shore of Staten Island, nyharborparks.org/visit/grki.html
Getting here: Take the Staten Island Ferry (siferry.com) from Manhattan, then bus S51.
Coney Island, Brooklyn
Coney Island is practically obligatory for at least one summer weekend. There’s the beach dotted with colorful towels and umbrellas, the boardwalk, the Nathan’s hot dogs and the amusement park thrill rides — but most of all, there’s the nostalgia. In the early 20th century, Coney Island was one of the most famous beach resorts in the world. Much like its Cyclone rollercoaster, Coney Island has gone through dips and peaks, but in recent years its popularity has rebounded, and the area is once again drawing vast numbers of city dwellers to its nearly three miles of sandy beaches, lively boardwalk and popular festivals and parades, including the Mermaid Parade in June. Southern shore of Brooklyn, coneyisland.com
Getting there: Hop on the D, F, N or Q trains to Stillwell Ave. station. A variety of buses also travel to Coney Island from Manhattan and the other boroughs.
Cooper’s Beach, Southampton
The Hamptons are all about beautiful people toasting each other with champagne, and the beaches fit the bill, with immaculate sands, clean waters and sleek amenities, from sparkling showers to gourmet snack shacks. Top of the list is Cooper’s Beach in South Hampton, which has all the hallmarks of a Hamptons beach — fine sand, undulating dunes, blue waters — backed by stately mansions. It’s also family friendly, with outdoor showers and lifeguard supervision. Southeastern Long Island, southamptonvillage.org
Getting there: Long Island Railroad (LIRR) offers regular trains to the Hamptons, with many stopping at Southampton. The popular Hampton Jitney (hamptonjitney.com) also services the Hamptons, with direct service to and from Manhattan.