The Rockaways suffered something of an unsavory reputation in the 90s and early aughts, but new construction, a slew of recent noshing opportunities and a renovated 5.5-mile boardwalk have encouraged a new generation of surfers, hipsters, families and hangers-out to discover the Queens and Brooklyn shores. It’s an easy trek on the A train or by car, so as the Ramones once warbled, “hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach” and discover what some are now calling Williamsburg by the sea.
To get to Rockaway Beach, take the A train to Broad Channel, then transfer to the S Train, which stops along the length of the beach from 90th to 116th streets.
By car from Manhattan, take The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to 278, head along the Belt Parkway, exiting at either Flatbush Avenue or Cross Bay Boulevard until you hit the beach; or hop on the 59th Street Bridge to Queens Boulevard, connecting to Woodhaven Boulevard. Take it all the way until it becomes Cross Bay Boulevard and follow to the shore. Parking is free but can be hard to find on the streets, and there is a free parking lot near Beach 94. To get to Jacob Riis Park and Beach, take the 2 to Flatbush, transfer to the Q35 which goes directly to the park. By car, take Flatbush Avenue south through Brooklyn all the way until you hit the park.
There is a $2.75 toll at Marine Parkway Bridge, and parking at Riis Park is $5. Total travel time, by car, train or bus is 40 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on your starting location in the city.
Among the city’s nearby shores The Rock is less crowded than Coney Island/Brighton, more beachy than Jones, easier to get to than Fire Island, and tends to be better maintained than Howard. Most of the action happens in segments, oriented by street location. Your best bet for a first visit is around Beach 95 or 96, where you’ll find most of the quirky vendors, though 102nd and 108th street are also popular. Surfers should head to 67th street, while the north-east end of Jacob Riis Park at 149th/Channel Drive is still popular with gay men and women, with a legacy, like Fire Island, dating back to the 1960s or before. Riis also offers a large, grassy park perfect for picnics along with playgrounds and basketball courts. There is no fee for using the beaches. The 5.5-mile-long boardwalk has been largely renovated, and biking or jogging are popular activities along the entire length. Note that the cluster of new vendors at 96th street is in constant flux — BabyCakes vegan doughnuts does not have a presence in 2012 — so be prepared to be flexible. Like anywhere, keep your eyes open and consider your surroundings. Lifeguards are on duty along most of the beach during the summer, and no swimming is allowed when lifeguards aren’t present.
Related: A Guide to NYC’s Free Beaches
What To Do
Boarders Surf Shop
192 Beach 92nd St.
Rockaway, NY 11693
The only places within NYC city limits surfing is legal are stretches of Rockaway beach around 67th Street and between 87th and 92nd Streets. The waves may not be Maui-grade, but they’re righteous enough for avid boarders to get their fix, and mild enough for first timers to hop in quickly. Opened in 2004, this father-son shop helped support the burgeoning surf culture in NYC and has become a fixture in the area. Last year it opened a second storefront at Beach 97th. Handmade and custom surfboards are a specialty, while accessories, board rentals, lessons and beach/surfwear are all available as well. This is also a great place to learn about surf camps for kids.
Riis Park Golf Course
155th St and the Boardwalk
Price: $16 per person Monday to Friday afternoon/$24 Friday afternoon and all weekend
Despite its original name — Breezy Point Executive Course — this is a public, 18-hole, par 3 course, opened in 1935. If you want to be near the water, yet don’t care to dip into it, this may be your solution. Bordering the Gateway National Park, you could do far worse than enjoying the ocean and Manhattan skyline views as herons and cranes fly in and out of the marshlands. No reservations or minimum groups here, but discounts abound. Enjoy senior discounts on weekdays, and a new discount this year for active military at the neighboring driving range and miniature golf course.
19 Rockaway Beach Blvd at Beach 95th St
Rockaway, NY 11693
The go-to spot on Rockaway Beach, this taco joint is now in its fifth year on the Boardwalk, with two locations. Small and relaxed with a somewhat eccentric hipster staff, the food is creative and outdoor-appropriate. Fish tacos are the default order, but you’ll find beef, chorizo and quesadillas on the short-and-sweet menu, and breakfast now from Thursdays through Sundays. Expect long lines during peak hours.
Related: NYC’s Five Best Tacos
Ode to the Elephants
97-01 Shore Front Parkway at Beach 96th Street
Most people love this Thai vendor (which also boasts a Puerto Rico branch), offering an authentic spiciness not often found on, say, Ninth Avenue. Expect to find a bit of calm-in-the-storm and more reasonable lines than the adjacent Rockaway Tocos. Chef-owner Kevin Ngosuan, whose father operates Amsterdam Thai in Manhattan, offers up bah mee hang noodles, spring rolls, Thai-influenced burgers and hot dogs, and a variety of Asian-influenced iced teas and martinis.
La Joya de Ceren
112-16 Rockaway Beach Blvd.
Queens, NY 111694
Though Rockaway crowds aren’t as insanely dense as they can be at Coney Island, sometimes it’s still nice to get off the beaten path. This comfortable, non-pretensious Salvadoran spot run by native Regina Ayala relocated from The Bronx last year. Expect fresh seafood, ceviche and pupusas, a stuffed corn tortilla not unlike an arepa. Beer and traditional Latin American juices are also available.
Related: Best Clam Chowder in NYC
106-01 Shore Front Parkway
Queens, NY 111694
This year-old seasonal outpost of the popular Brooklyn/Manhattan Venezuelan mini-chain opens on the Boardwalk in mid-May, weather permitting. Arepas, a dense corn pocket bread, are stuffed with traditional fillings of meats, beans, potatoes and cheese and run from about $4 to $7 (cash only). Beer and cocktails are also available. Expect long lines on busy days, and consider grabbing an Italian ice at nearby DiCosmo’s for your wait.