The Best Beaches of New York City

No vacation time at work? No problem. Fake a beach vacation without leaving city limits
No vacation time at work? No problem. Fake a beach vacation without leaving city limits Jeffrey Zeldman
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Just because you live in Manhattan doesn't mean the beach is out of reach. Whether you're into hanging out on crowded swathes of sand and people-watching after a long day of adventures in the city, or you're looking for a place to plop down after a long beach run or mountain bike ride, you're never far from the ocean in NYC. But some spots are better than others, at different times of the week. So whether you're off for a full weekend and looking to camp, have one weekend day to kill, or can call in sick on a weekday, here are our top choices for best beaches in New York City.

1. Weekend Day Trip: Rockaway Beach or Jamaica Bay

Rockaway Beach gives you an ocean getaway that's accessible by subway. 
Rockaway Beach gives you an ocean getaway that's accessible by subway. 

If you're a surfer, Rockaway Beach is probably a familiar site, as it's reputed to have the best swell in the city. Even in the winter, you can occasionally spot a surfer in a full wetsuit boarding the A train and heading to the beach for a session. In the summer, it becomes a bit more tourist-heavy, but there are always spots open for surfing, and the beach is a bit quieter than Coney Island. Expect to be surrounded by people, but you likely won't have to fight for a spot to put your towel. The stroll along the beach is a favorite of locals as well: you can see the city skyline, but you can also just focus on the horizon making you feel miles away from downtown. It's a weird juxtaposition, but a cool one.

Rockaway is also easily accessible via the Jamaica Bay Greenway, which makes it a great day-long bike trip from the grid of Manhattan.

2. Weekend Camping Adventure: Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook in summer. via Hypnotica Studios Infinite on Flickr
Sandy Hook in summer. via Hypnotica Studios Infinite on Flickr

If you have a full weekend to spend somewhere, camping at Sandy Hook is a great way to spend a couple of days. You can drive or be adventurous and take the ferry, and set up camp practically on the beach. While you're there, you can enjoy fun in the sun, or you can  hit the road on a road bike or nearby trails on  your mountain bike. Traveling light? Hiking in Hartshorne instead of riding is also beautiful, or you can enjoy beach, trail or road running right along the coast of Sandy Hook. Feeling adventurous (or traveling exceedingly light)? There's a nude beach for that. There's also a standard fun-for-the-whole-family beach area, with a few food vendors if you get hungry, and decent washrooms to change in.

All in all, if you're going camping but need to be back in time for work on Monday morning, this is the perfect spot to do it.

3. Weekday Day Trip: Belmar, NJ

Belmar surfing. Well, Belmar "attempted" surfing.
Belmar surfing. Well, Belmar "attempted" surfing. Catherine E. Bailey

As long as we're talking about New Jersey, we can't ignore the phenomenon that is the Jersey Shore. Belmar might have gained notoriety on the Jersey Shore reality show, but it's actually an awesome beach that features the best surfing in the state. We don't recommend heading there on a weekend, since between traffic on the Parkway and on the boardwalk, it's a bit of a nightmare especially between Memorial and Labor days. But, on a weekday it's usually quiet enough to enjoy a boardwalk run or ride, surf a few waves, have a slice of excellent pizza and end the day watching the sun set on the shore.

If you don't drive, it's about a mile from the nearest train station, but it's a fairly simple trip from the City.

4. Any Time: Coney Island

Coney Island is another local favorite because of its unique New York style meshed with boardwalk beach culture. On the weekends, it's crazy-crowded, but at least the people-watching is topnotch. On weekdays, it's a bit calmer, but still pretty nuts. There's fun for the whole family, and you'll feel like you've entered a time warp or at least another dimension that's similar to ours but not quite.

In between all the fried dough and ice cream, be sure to get out for agood run on the boardwalk, ending on the beach with a few sprints and a quick dip in the water. Then afterwards, treat yourself to an awesome snack at Nathan's, home of the recent annual hot dog eating contest. Hint: don't try to beat the record. You won't.

It's just a subway ride away, but it'll feel like a world apart from your day to day life. That's why Coney Island is ranked as a place to go at anytime. Because anytime you need a break—after a long day at work, on a weekend, faking sick for a day—it's there, ready and waiting.

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