10+ hours in…the Rockaways


Photo: Antonio De Pietro

One of the best things about summer in the city is that you can take the subway to the beach. That never ceases to amaze me. You could get off work, decide to go to the beach and just stay on the subway until the last stop, and, bam!, you’ll feel the sand between your toes. But if you want to find a beach that isn’t full of masses of sweating city folk, the Rockaways is your best bet. It’s a little less direct. You have to take a subway to a bus, or drive a car, or ride a bike, or else you can take a ferry. On weekends, the American Princess ferry goes express to Jacob Riis Beach from Pier 11 in Manhattan $15 each way. 

The Rockaways is less crowded and has a cooler vibe than Coney Island; it was immortalized by the Ramones and current residents include Patti Smith. Rumor has it, Jacob Riis (aka “the people’s beach” and Fort Tilden next door are the city’s only nudist beaches.) It can sometimes feel like a skit about “When Brooklyn cool kids hit the beach,” but look past all the Influencers in straw hats, and it is definitely worth the trip. There are spacious boardwalks, great concession food options, whale watching (!) and camping on the beach. It’s the perfect family-friendly staycation—or just an epic adventure with friends.


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10:00 am: Brunch at the Beach Bazaar 

You’ve made it to the beach! Before touching down on the beach, I recommend filling up your stomach before getting too sandy. Beach Bazaar 9 has great food options, including Cuisine by Claudette, a companion concession stand to the well-known health-conscious cafe in Far Rockaway. Here, you can indulge in light fare that won’t fill your bikini up too much: choose from a selection of cauliflower rice bowls ($15), a falafel bowl ($15) or salads ($5). Also, you can get an iced coffee to perk yourself up. Sit at the tables in front of the concession for great people watching, and an unparalleled view of the ocean. Cuisine by Claudette Concession Stand, Riis Park Beach Bazaar, Bay 9 East, Rockaways.  

Photo: Antonio De Pietro

11:00 am: Explore Fort Tilden

It’s a myth that you need to wait 30 minutes after eating to swim! So, go ahead, jump in the water if you want to. You could stay here at the beach and body surf for an hour or so, or you could make your way down the boardwalk towards Fort Tilden, a former U.S. Army base right on the beach. If it’s not too hot, you can wander around the pathways, exploring the abandoned military bunkers, peep some great graffiti, or take advantage of the less crowded beaches over here. (There are even rumors of a nude beach, but I’ve never seen it.) Make sure you climb to the top of one of the lookouts for a spectacular view. Note that this is about a 20-minute walk, so you won’t have too much time to explore if you plan to do the next item on this itinerary, but it is a picturesque area with lots to see. Pro tip: There is poison ivy around Fort Tilden so take care before you go bushwacking through any overgrowth; it’s safer to stay on the paths.


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1:00 pm: Go whale watching..or not 

At this point you might be in heavy chillax mode, you’ve caught some waves, you’re sprawled out on a towel and you’ve cracked your summer read. Time to pack up though if you want to make the boat! The American Princess Whale Watching cruise sets sail at 1 pm, and even if you have a reservation, they will not wait for you. If you were driving, they would recommend getting there an hour early, but even from the beach, you’re going to want to allow yourself plenty of time. We’ve reviewed the entire whale watching experience here, and suffice to say that it is not a “chill” experience, although it is a unique and somewhat magical one. The whales have returned to New York Harbor and you are basically guaranteed to see one, as well as dolphin and rays with the beautiful backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. Pro tip: You could theoretically take this boat right from Manhattan, and stay on it for the four-hour Whale Watching cruise, depending on your tolerance for getting seasick. American Princess Whale Watching and Dolphin Adventure Cruise, leaves from Riis Landing, $52 adult, $35 child.


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5:30 pm: Check into the glampground

You’re back on land, possibly feeling a little worse for the wear from the churning waters in the deep ocean. Possibly feeling hyped up from all the sea world show you witnessed. Either way, checking in to Camp Rockaway will psych you up. Tucked behind the Jacob Riis Bathhouse (a bit further down the beach) is a hidden campground right on the sand, each tent complete with queen size Caspar mattresses, Parachute sheets, and solar-powered fans. Check out our full review of the camp experience here, but in short, it is the perfect medium between getting close to nature and pure comfort. (For a similarly novel sleeping arrangement, you could Airbnb a houseboat at Marina 59.) Check out your tent, drop off your beach towel and toothbrush, meet with Kent Johnson, the owner, say howdy to the group barbecuing at the bonfire, and then think about dinner. When you come back you can sit by the water until late cooking s’mores, play board games in your tent, or just watch the sky for shooting stars. In the morning, you’ll wake early (because of the sun) and have “the people’s beach” all to yourself. This is a must for your summer bucket list. Camp Rockaway, Jacob Riis Park, 157 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Rockaway Park. Reserve a two-person tent for $249/ night on weekends and $195/night on weeknights.

6:00 pm: Dinner time

If you prefer to stay local, you can ramp up the beach vibes on Friday nights with a $30 full lobster dinner at Rockaway Clam Bar concession, part of Riis Park Beach Bazaar on the boardwalk. There will be music, surf, and fresh crustaceans to eat at the picnic tables. (Make sure to reserve your lobster earlier in the day, or week, for this option.) Also, on Fridays, you can join the National Park Service at Wise Clock at Jacob Riis Beach for a campfire with s’mores and a singalong. Or maybe you have sunstroke from being on a boat all day, and you’d rather escape to some AC. Take an Uber to the other side of the peninsula for a local’s favorite, Whit’s End. Outside you might find a man outside scaling fish and inside you’ll definitely some delicious wood-fired pizza. I’d recommend a sausage and clam pizza with a farm salad described as having “lots of fresh farm shit” on the menu. There’s taxidermy on the wall, rolls of paper towels on the table and a neighborhood vibe amongst the patrons, who on the night we visited included a man with a Ramones t-shirt and a dyed green beard. Maybe there will be a jazz band playing, as we also encountered. The lead singer looked like a version of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers if he had been left in the sun for a decade, and summed up the atmosphere succinctly when he yelled, “You have found the one place in the Rockaways without screaming, obnoxious people!” Afterward, head down the street to Connelly’s, an old school Irish bar, known for delicious frozen drinks served in Styrofoam cups. Nothing says summer like a Pina Colada.


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8:00 pm: Drinks and s’mores

Take your return Uber back to the camp. There are still hours left before the Bathhouse concessions close at 10 pm, so pull up a barstool and have another drink. Have a sweet tooth? Get a package of s’mores from Camp Rockaway to roast over their open fire. Wander along the beach, go for a night swim, or just curl up in your tent to read. After all, you’re on vacation, you can do whatever you want. Quiet time in the Campground is at 10 pm, and by then you’ll be ready to zip up the flaps of the tent and get some rest. The surf will be calling your name bright and early in the morning. 

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