Beaches in New York City may seem like a strange concept, but really, there are plenty around to explore if you know where to look. Rockaway Beach is one of the top destinations of summer in New York, and for good reason!
Wait. Before we start this recap and travel guide for Rockaway Beach, it's important that we listen to a legendary track.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's take a journey out to The Rockaways.
Back when I was growing up on Long Island, I always thought The Rockaways were some place that was crazy far away. The Babylon line for the LIRR didn't go there, and you had to change at Jamaica (the horror!) for the train to Far Rockaway. I don’t know about you, but that’s basically another state.
As it turns out, The Rockaways actually ARE pretty far from other places if you don’t have a car. I first tried to get to Rockaway Beach and ended up on the A line for a long, long time before I gave up and just went to Coney Island.
Enter the bus. My first ride on an MTA bus. I realized I could catch a bus from pretty close to my house and take it directly to Rockaway Beach in about 30 minutes. The F line to Coney Island takes almost 90 minutes from Forest Hills, and no one has time for that.
This easy commute is one of the reasons I got to Rockaway Beach a few times this summer. I think it’s definitely a place you should go to more than once, since there are so many things to see and eat, and it’s important to soak up every minute of beach weather while you can.
Rockaway Beach encompasses a full neighborhood (it’s not a state park like Jones Beach is) on the Rockaway Peninsula at the very southern end of Queens. The neighborhood became a part of Queens (which, at the time, was a new borough) in 1898. On two separate occasions (1915 and 1917), Rockaway Beach, Arverne, and Far Rockaway tried to secede from Queens, but Mayor Mitchel vetoed both bills.
Walking through the area, I was surprised that so many people call this place home. I always wonder how beach residents get through the colder months, when the sand is deserted and all the tourists go home.
Rockaway Beach has a long and interesting history, and you can read more about that here. It's a place that was able to grow and flourish largely due to mass transit, as the addition of the LIRR station, Cross Bay Bridge, and Rockaway subway line made it easier for residents to live there during every month of the year.
Once I got off the bus, I walked around Rockaway Beach Boulevard for a few minutes. There are a bunch of little cafes, eateries, and stores to check out. On my second trip, I went to Rockaway Roasters for some coffee and a croissant.
The walk to the beach is just a few minutes from the bus and train stations. The first thing I noticed was the crazy number of surfers.
Surfing in Rockaway Beach is extremely popular, with many surfers coming out during the cold winter months. The boardwalk was destroyed during Sandy, but today the beach is seeing its normal high levels of surfers.
Fun (or not so fun) fact about me: I don't know how to swim. Whenever I go to the beach, the most adventurous I'll be is walking into the water. I always tell myself I'll learn how to not sink, but I'm yet to accomplish that. Surfing is on my life bucket list, so I spent a lot of time watching the surfers doing their thing.
Surfing is so big in Rockaway Beach that there are countless schools to learn how to hop on a board. I watched a lesson going on right near me, and I was super jealous. Maybe next summer I'll join?
The beach area has its own eatery: Rippers. They’ve got standard munchies like burgers, fries, and hot dogs. There’s also a smoothie and juice side where you can actually attempt to be healthy.
I went with beach fries, which are always a safe and delicious choice.
Yep, boxed water! There were fountains on the boardwalk so I could refill, and that’s always appreciated.
Over at the Surf Club (about a 7 minute walk from the sand), you’ll find Tacoway Beach.
So much to choose from!
I realized too late that this place is cash only, but I didn’t want to pay the extra fees to use the ATM. This meant I only had enough for one or two things.
I’ve heard their fresh coconuts are really good, so that’s on my list for next summer. I went with the fish taco, another popular item.
I loved the setup and beach vibe at the Surf Club. Part of me has always wanted to live by the beach, but not during the winter. I'll stick with coconut scented candles and things like that...
There were tons of people hanging out in between their surfing lessons and sunbathing. I definitely recommend checking this place out when you head to Rockaway Beach.
I’d be lying if I said my favorite food at Rockaway Beach wasn’t Mister Softee. I had been hunting for a truck all summer, and this hit the spot.
So how does Rockaway Beach stack up to the other NYC beaches? I would rate it at the top for its awesome atmosphere and great food choices...except the flies won’t let me do that. On my second and third trips I started getting chewed up by beach gnats, so I couldn’t stay as long as I wanted to. If you have a gnat remedy (please share!), then you’ll love checking out Rockaway Beach.
Interested in more bucket list adventures in New York City? Follow along on Instagram at @fiveboroughbucketlist!