Recent New York transplants tend to frequently and loudly bemoan the lack of access to nature in the city, but longtime residents are well aware that there’s plenty of green space if you know where to look. From Forest Park to Meadow Lake, Queens has a lot to offer in the way of connecting with Mother Nature. Woods and wildlife are just the tip of the iceberg, though – when the summer heat sets in, there’s no better place to be than Rockaway Beach. More easygoing than the Hamptons, more authentic than the Jersey Shore, and closer to the city than both, Rockaway Beach offers the perfect escape for city dwellers.


Located on a narrow peninsula at the southeastern end of Queens, Rockaway Beach is free, spacious, and clean, and the local crowd is friendly and laidback. An easy train, shuttle bus, or ferry ride will make you feel like you’ve left the city behind entirely. The surfer town is rife with quaint shops, good eats, and casually vibrant nightlife, making Rockaway the ideal spot for a New York City day trip. Here’s an idea of what your day at Rockaway Beach might look like.

Getting to Rockaway

Getting there will take a bit of planning, but there are several ways you can easily find your way to Rockaway Beach. 



Of course, if you’re one of the rare few New Yorkers with access to your own set of wheels, driving will be the quickest method of travel. 



The car-less majority of folks will want to take the A train, which stops at Beach 67th Street and continues throughout the town of Rockaway. 



You can also use the New York City ferry system for an extra-memorable trip. The Rockaway/Fort Tilden Express Ferry Service will pick you up from Pier 11 in Wall Street, Manhattan, or Sunset Park in Brooklyn and deposit you right at the beach. On summer weekends and holidays, $10 will get you a spot on the Rockaway Rocket Ferry, a quicker ride that begins at the Brooklyn Bridge Park.


Shuttle Bus

Another way to get to Rockaway Beach is by booking a roundtrip ticket ($39.95) through the OvR Rockaway Beach Bus. The shuttle runs every weekend from Memorial Day through Labor Day and includes perks like free adult beverages and exclusive deals at partner businesses in Rockaway.


Grab breakfast and beach supplies

Once you’ve arrived in the town of Rockaway, you’ll likely be hungry from your journey. Stop by the Rockaway Beach Bakery for mid-morning sticky buns, croissants, and quiche, or head towards Greenhouse Café for a caffeine hit and healthy breakfast to fuel up before your beach day.


If you’re low on sunscreen or beach towels, stop by Breezy Point Surf Shop or Rockaway Beach Surf Shop to stock up on essentials. Those who forgot to pack a beach read can swing by Avoid the Day Bookstore & Café to browse a wide selection of new and used books.


Hit the beach

Now that your belly and tote bag are full, it’s time to head to the beach. You’ll want to choose your spot wisely based on what your ideal beach day looks like.


If you’re looking for the best spot for surfing or a stretch of sand where you can sprawl out while maintaining plenty of space between you and your neighboring beach-goers, go to 67th Street. The waves are bigger on this end of the beach, meaning beach patrol frequently restricts swimming, but you can typically sneak in a quick dip. 


The beach around 90th to 98th Streets offers a bit more of a scene. This is a good place to stake your umbrella if your main goal is people-watching and easy access to boardwalk eateries and bars, but know to expect crowds in this area on summer weekends.


Further down, the beach at 105th to 116th Street is quieter, typically uncrowded, and ideal for families. The paid parking lot by 116th Street is where you’ll want to head if you’re showing up with a lot of gear.


Many New Yorkers come to Rockaway Beach for a relaxing retreat, but those looking for a more active experience come to catch some waves. Surfing is what put Rockaway on the map, and is a huge part of its culture. Since the waves are normally more laid-back than they are at many surfer’s havens, it’s a great place for beginners to learn. Look no further than Locals Surf School, operated by lifelong Rockaway residents Mike Reinhardt and Mike Kololyan out of black tents on the beach at 67th Street. They offer group lessons that include gear at $90 for two hours, as well as private lessons for $120. Locals Surf School is open year-round if you’re willing to brave the cold, and the instructors will patiently and enthusiastically guide you through the waves, even if it’s your first time. If you’re an experienced surfer looking to go it alone, head for Breakwater Surf Co. or Station RBNY to rent boards and wetsuits.


Time for a break! Let’s grab some lunch and window shop

You’ve spent a few hours on the beach by now, so take some time to stretch your legs and take in more of what Rockaway has to offer. The town has seriously upped its retail game in recent years: you can browse vintage goods, bedazzle your own tank top, and stock up on surfer-approved apparel.


Zingara Vintage offers a hodgepodge of antique treasures, from parasols to home goods, as well as a well-curated selection of vintage clothing. Owner Erin Silvers frequents pop-ups throughout Rockaway and New York, selling both items from the store and her own handmade bathing suits, up-cycled from old terrycloth robes. Browse through the racks of dresses and shelves of retro art and old-school board games, or just relax and enjoy the AC in the comfy lounge and vinyl room, where the Beach Boys will likely be playing on a loop. 


For something more modern but equally eclectic, take in The Swellife’s colorful displays of caftans and accessories. Store owner Katie Long designs and creates all of the jewelry, and personally sources all other merchandise from around the world, from Oaxacan woven baskets to Moroccan leather sandals.


Lola Star’s glitter bar, where you can bedazzle your own slogan tee or deck yourself out in metallic temporary tattoos, is always an enjoyable visit. The rest of their kitschy inventory ranges from postcards to leopard-print roller skates. They also offer events like sunset yoga, Sunday morning hula hoop classes, and pin-up girl makeup tutorials.


Looking for a sit-down lunch? Take in the panoramic views and live music on the Bungalow Bar’s waterfront deck. They offer classic beach-side fare like crab cakes, baked clam dip, seafood pasta, and fish sandwiches. If you’d prefer to grab something quick on your way back to your spot on the sand, swing by local favorite Super Burrito to pick up the perfect ocean-side finger food: a massive shrimp burrito.

Take a sunset stroll along the boardwalk

As afternoon begins to turn to evening, fold up your beach towel and throw on your cover-up before heading back to the boardwalk. After beach-goers begin to filter out and before the nighttime crowd shows up in full force, the boardwalk takes on a tranquil atmosphere, perfect for a relaxing walk after a day of catching rays. It was completely reconstructed after Hurricane Sandy, and the restored walkway offers some seriously top-notch people-watching, not to mention the quintessential boardwalk eateries and ice cream parlors.


Head towards 97th Street to enjoy a selection of concessions from mainstay vendors like Caracas Arepas Bar and La Cevicheria. Or, grab a cone from Steve’s Ice Cream to enjoy as you watch the sunset over the ocean.

Have a big night out, Rockaway-style

Those able to spend an evening in Rockaway will get to see this sleepy beach town come alive at night. If you haven’t already filled up on beachside concessions, head to Uma’s for stellar central Asian cuisine or Whit’s End for wood-fired pies, fresh seafood, quality cuts of meat, and a rock n’ roll vibe. 


If you’re more in the mood for a nightcap and a good time, Rockaway has a host of bars where you can enjoy a beverage while watching the tides and chatting up the locals. Get a frozen pina colada at the newly-reopened Connolly’s Bar, indulge in local brews at Rockaway Brewing Company, or unwind from a day spent in the hot sun in the backyard of Sayra’s Wine Bar & Bier Garden.


Spending your evening in Rockaway might necessitate finding some overnight accommodations, and there’s no place better than The Rockaway Hotel. It’s more than just a place to crash: this boutique getaway has a full-service spa, heated outdoor pool, and a rooftop bar with a killer view.