The Definitive Summertime Guide to the Rockaways

Getting away from the city in the summer can simply mean a quick trip to the Rockaways, New York City’s local beach
Getting away from the city in the summer can simply mean a quick trip to the Rockaways, New York City’s local beach | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip
Photo of Amy Schulman
Food Editor18 October 2019

Forget those touristy beach towns and crowded NJ Transit trains; the Rockaways, a narrow peninsula of beaches strewn with surfers, sunbathers and sunshine, are primed and prepped to usher you into summer.

Summer in the City explores what summer means to us around the world.

New York City is certainly not known for its beaches. New Yorkers are quick to point out that summer in the city actually involves leaving the five boroughs and heading to nearby beach towns, known for bodies of water not bobbing with trash. It’s fair to say that many New Yorkers and visitors don’t know that there’s a string of pristine beaches at the very end of the A train, freckled along Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. And most don’t know that this beach town is bursting with a community of its own: the peninsula harbors a wealth of restaurants, bars, breweries, vintage stores and fishing expeditions.

The Rockaways are a long peninsula, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Jamaica Bay on the other | © Aurore Carric / Culture Trip

How to get to the Rockaways

You can hop on a Far Rockaway-bound A train till you hit the Rockaway Beach Shuttle at Broad Channel, which will deposit you at Beach 90th, 98th, 105th and 116th Streets.

The S train drops passengers off along the peninsula | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

If you’re looking to feel that breeze in your hair, the Rockaway Ferry picks up passengers at Wall Street and Sunset Park for the same price as a subway ride.

For the beer-inclined, the Rockaway Brewing Co offers a bus of its own – the Brew Cruiser – to shuttle people from Long Island City to the beachside brewery for $20.

New Yorkers prepare to load up boats with coolers and fishing supplies | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

If you’re one of those elusive car owners, there are plenty of parking lots within walking distance of the beach, and you can always try your luck with street parking.

The Beaches

Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach extends from Beach 3rd to Beach 153rd street, a long, narrow strip of peninsula bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay. Puffs of white sand stretch toward the blue water, dotted with surfers, kayaks, paddleboards and sunbathers perched under a rainbow of umbrellas. The surfing community here is vast, with designated surfing beaches located between Beach 68th and Beach 71st Street, Beach 87th and Beach 91st Street, and Beach 110th and Beach 111th Street. Novice surfers can take classes at the Locals Surf School, and kayaks, jet skis and paddleboards can be rented at Rockaway Jet Ski.

The Rockaways are home to a community of surfers | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

The People’s Beach at Jacob Riis Park

Just a bit west of Rockaway Beach sits Jacob Riis Beach, a white-sand beach flanked by the Atlantic Ocean. The beach has long been a destination for the LGBTQ community; as early as the 1940s, parts of the beach became famous for their queer identity. Off the beach is the Riis Park Beach Bazaar – jammed with pizza, tacos and ice cream shops – and the park also hosts a number of events during the summer including live music, minigolf games, lobster dinners and guided yoga and meditation.

Jacob Riis Beach is squeezed between Rockaway Beach and Fort Tilden | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

Fort Tilden

At Fort Tilden, you’ll leave behind the hubbub of Jacob Riis and Rockaway Beach for a bit of much-needed serenity. A 10-minute walk west of the Jacob Riis Beach Bazaar deposits you here, a span of sandy strips dotted with occasional swimmers and bathers. It’s certainly a much calmer environment – thanks in part to the lack of amenities and nearby public transportation. The best way to get to this beach is to drive or bike, or take the 2 train to the Q35 bus in Marine Park, Brooklyn.

Fort Tilden serves as a calmer antidote to the busier beaches | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

The Food

Fish and chorizo tacos are served out of the trailer in this outdoor Mexican restaurant | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

Housed inside a surf club, Tacoway Beach is split into an indoor bar adorned with surfing paraphernalia and an outdoor patio invariably strewn with lines of swimsuit-clad patrons waiting for tacos. This small operation is run out of a shipping container, shepherding out white paper boats brimming with crispy fish, chorizo and tofu tacos, bowls of guacamole flanked by shards of plantain chips and fresh watermelon and pineapple juices.

Freshly squeezed juices, taco shells prepped with slaw, beans and caramelized plantains and sliced cucumbers are just a few of the options on the menu | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

Serving Rockaway Beach since 2013, Uma’s dishes up a smattering of Uzbek food: plump dumplings bursting with egg, green cabbage and beef; kebabs speared onto skewers; bowls of pink borscht; and a slew of salads and flaky, golden-brown meat pies.

Caracas’s beachfront shop, snugly set on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, sells handheld arepas. The corn pockets are filled with the likes of roasted pork shoulder, fried sweet plantains and spicy mango sauce, which can be taken to go or feasted upon at one of the picnic tables outside. On hot days, snag a plastic cup of frozen sangria, poured in white and red varieties.

Pad your beach bags with flaky pastries from Rockaway Beach Bakery: salted honey croissants, slabs of banana bread, sticky buns and blueberry danishes. If you’re in no rush to hit the beach, grab a seat at one of the few tables for a slice of quiche or bacon, egg and cheese shoved into a warm biscuit.

Stock up on a host of French and American pastries at the Rockaway Beach Bakery | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

Just a few blocks from the boardwalk is Cuisine by Claudette, ideal for when you want to scrounge around for a bit of a picnic spread. Here, you can pick up tins of vegetables, salads, heroes, grilled cheeses, burgers and falafel.

The beach bazaar is a bona fide food court on the Jacob Riis Beach boardwalk | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

There’s essentially a massive food court just steps from Jacob Riis Beach. Share a whole pizza at Pizza Moto, Bangkok street food from Warung Roadside, bowls of ceviche from La Cevicheria, scoops of silky sweet ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery, and lobster and clam rolls from Rockaway Clam Bar.

Choose from pizza, lobster rolls and scoops of Ample Hills ice cream | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

At the ever-bustling Rippers, you can fill up on burgers and hot dogs, cheese fries and puffs of soft serve, all while sipping on draft wine and beer. The counter operation is decked out in old-school surfing attire, and outside is an array of neon-painted picnic tables.

The Drinks

There’s craft beer galore at the Rockaway Brewing Co., a funky brewery in an old warehouse. (The beer is actually brewed in the Long Island City location.) Expect growlers and sudsy steins of lagers, pilsners and the Rockaway ESB, the malty, amber flagship beer.

Set on Jamaica Bay, the Bungalow Bar serves up cocktails and seafood dishes | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

Facing Jamaica Bay, the Bungalow Bar offers views of the Manhattan skyline, a slew of cocktails and a rotating selection of beer and wine. Food is prepared all day – from brunch items to shareable, seafood-forward small plates.

The move at this Irish bar is pink and white frozen drinks, topped with maraschino cherries and ladled into styrofoam cups. The bar is squeezed into a Victorian standalone house – a New York City rarity – and only a quick jaunt from the beach.

Helmed by a local surfer and artist, Sayra’s is the Rockaways’ first wine bar. Here, guests can sip seasonal wine and beer while snacking on tapas – either in the small bar or outside in the back garden.

The Fun

Hop on a boat with the Sea Wolf team | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

Go fishing with the team from the beloved Bushwick restaurant Sea Wolf, hosted on Gypsea Charters with Captain Jess, Josh and Jared, who set sail off the Rockaways on a fishing expedition. The boat will sail you around on the ocean as you fling lines to catch sea bass, fluke and porgy, which you’ll fillet yourself; the team also provides recipe cards for cooking inspiration.

The team will provide instructions on how to fillet fish | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

Treasures abound in this vintage store, plucked and curated by the store owner. Here you’ll find vintage clothes, body and bath products, antiques, furniture, art, vinyl, beach gear and handmade jewelry.

Since 1998, the Rockaway Artists Alliance has provided education and art programs to Rockaway locals. Pop in for a painting class or stop by the studio to see the exhibition on view for free.

During the 1930s, the marsh of Dead Horse Bay was used as a landfill, topped with buckets and buckets of trash. Soon after, the trash exploded out of its cap, spoiling the beach and transforming it into a trove of unsalvaged trash: hundreds of broken bottles, old shoes, scraps of sharp metal. It tends to be empty, aside from visitors puttering past to examine the bay’s eerie leftovers.

Fort Tilden’s dreamy beaches are generally quiet | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip
Beachgoers carry towels and picnic supplies toward the sandy stretches of Fort Tilden | © Levi Mandel / Culture Trip

Culture Trip’s Summer in the City explores what summer means to us around the world. Discover, among other delights, unlikely summer retreats, US state fairs, the great British seaside and how to re-create an Italian Job-style road trip.

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