Escape to Rockaway Beach, New York with this fun guide … you’ll find everything you need to plan the perfect day or vacation!
This post contains affiliate links. Originally written on September 2, 2014, this post was most recently updated on June 18, 2019.
Do you have a favorite summer getaway? Mine is the Rockaways.
There’s no better place to spend a summer day! I love lounging on those sandy shores, getting up every once in a while to cool off in the ocean, collect shells, grab a snack on the boardwalk, or take a sunset walk on the beach.
I’m not alone in my love for the Rockaways. This laid-back beach community is the quintessential summer destination for many New Yorkers. And for good reason … the Hamptons are pricey, the Jersey Shore’s a trek, but Rockaway Beach is just an A-train ride away.
If you’re never been, then you are definitely missing out! After my first visit, I was hooked, and you will be, too. So start planning your perfect summer day with this comprehensive guide to NYC’s best beach.
Rockaway Beach, NY
The Rockaways are truly one of the best summer escapes in New York.
With its relaxed, friendly vibe, Rockaway Beach feels a world away from Manhattan. And yet, this amazing place—where you’ll have nothing better to do than sit on the beach, enjoy amazing food, and dip your toes in the ocean—is still part of NYC and just a subway ride away!
I know you’re going to love this amazing beach community just as much as me, and this guide covers everything you need to plan the perfect day (or a longer vacation) there!
Ready to start exploring?
Keep scrolling to read everything, OR use the links below to find what exactly what you need:
The Rockaway Peninsula is located in Queens, and although it doesn’t feel like it, it’s part of New York City. If you’re never been, you’re probably most familiar with it from the popular Ramones song … which is almost impossible to not get stuck in your head!
Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum
The sun is out and I want some
It’s not hard, not far to reach, we can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach
Up on the roof, out on the street
Down in the playground, the hot concrete
Bus ride is too slow, they blast out the disco on the radio
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach
It’s worth noting that Rockaway Beach is just one community in the Rockaways. Rockaway Beach is bounded by Averne on the east and by Rockaway Park on the west … and beyond that, there’s Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Belle Harbor, Neponsit, and other neighborhoods. We’ll cover a lot of these areas here, not just the area that’s technically Rockaway Beach.
Rockaway Beach History
Long before the Ramones hitched a ride there, the Rockaway Peninsula was a summer escape for New Yorkers. Starting the 1830s, the land (which is flanked by Jamaica Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other) was developed into resorts for the wealthy.
As transportation to the area improved in the 1900s (and the well-to-do were drawn to other areas), Rockaway Beach became a getaway for New Yorkers of more average means and permanent residents began moving in, too. (You can read more about the area’s history and see lots of vintage photos in this book.)
Through the years, the Rockaways have gone through many ups and downs. Most recently, the peninsula was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed or severely damaged hundreds of homes and upended thousands of lives.
My first visit to Rockaway Beach was about a year after the storm. It’s truly amazing how much the community has changed every year since then, although it’s worth pointing out that lower income residents have struggled the most to recover.
And I’m not the only one visiting! On a hot summer day, it sometimes feels like half the population of Brooklyn and Queens have hit the beach with me … are you ready to join them?
Where to beach? That is the most important question when heading to the Rockaways!
With miles of beaches, the best Rockaway beach is truly a matter of personal preference. Some beaches are filled with families, others with locals, and some with hipsters. The only way to find your best Rockaway beach is by visiting.
By the way, it’s easy to find your way around in the Rockaways. The peninsula is narrow, and the streets running perpendicular to the beach are numbered from Beach 2 in Far Rockaway to Beach 227 in Breezy Point.
Personally, I love the area near Beach 116 which has plenty of shops, restaurants, and perhaps most importantly, bathrooms! It’s also the terminus of the subway shuttle which makes getting there super convenient. We like to stock up on snacks and drinks at Pickles & Pies before settling on the beach for the afternoon.
Then, when we’ve had enough sun, we’ll walk down the beach to Caracas (on the boardwalk at Beach 106) for arepas, beers, and hopefully, live music and a sunset before heading home.
You might prefer a different beach experience though! Here’s an overview of the different Rockaway beaches to give you an idea of what to expect:
- Beach 9 to Beach 37: You’ll mostly find locals on this section of beach. The boardwalk begins at Beach 9, so if you want to walk or bike the whole thing, you’ll end up here at some point. If you’d like to barbecue, snag a grill at O’Donohue Park on Seagirt Boulevard, between Beach 15 and Beach 17 Streets. It’s the only place where grilling is allowed at the beach. Looking for a playground or bathroom? Find them at the Beach 9, 17, or 30th Streets. There’s also a skate park at Beach 11. Hungry? Visit DredSurfer on the boardwalk at Beach 17.
- Beach 38 to Beach 57: This area is currently closed to protect the nesting areas of several endangered shorebird species. Read more about these birds here.
- Beach 58 to Beach 79: If you’re looking for quieter section of beach, this is a great one! You’ll find numerous amenities here, including a Stop & Shop grocery store, coffee shops, and restaurants … all within easy walking distance of the train. There are playgrounds at Beach 59 and Beach 73, as well as bathrooms at Beach 59 and Beach 67. Surfers can ride the waves between Beach 68 to 71.
- Beach 80 to Beach 90: Here’s where to beach starts getting more crowded. Stock up on food and drinks at Key Foods or CVS. Before or after going to the beach, stop by Rockaway Beach Surf Club for tacos and drinks. It’s crowded, but worth it. If you’re craving something to eat on the boardwalk, head to Rippers at Beach 86. There are a couple playgrounds located between Beach 82 and 84, plus bathrooms at Beach 84 and Beach 90. Find surfing between Beach 87 and 91.
- Beach 91 to Beach 106: The stretch of beach is probably the most crowded, and for good reason! It’s easy to get to and the concession stands at Beach 97 and Beach 106 have awesome food and drinks, plus bathrooms. At Beach 97 you can also rent bikes, surfboards, or standup paddle boards at Boarders (they have surfing lessons, too). You’ll find a skate park located at Beach 91.
- Beach 106 t0 Beach 116: This is my favorite part of the beach. It’s full of groups of friends and families, and I love the fun, laid-back atmosphere. The shuttle ends at Beach 116, and the street is lined with places to grab a bite to eat or to stock up on snacks, umbrellas, beach mats, etc. To escape the crowds, walk a bit down from the entrances at Beach 116 and Beach 106 (both of which have bathrooms). You can surf between Beach 110 and 111. We never leave the Rockaways without stopping at Caraca’s (Beach 106) for arepas … yum!
- Beach 117 to Beach 149: The subway shuttle ends at Beach 116, so this area is quieter, harder to reach, and more likely to be filled with locals. You’ll find little to no amenities on these streets, apart from a few shops and restaurants on Beach 126, which is also where the boardwalk ends. There are some really pretty houses here, making this a great area to explore on bike.
- Jacob Riis Park (Beach 153 to Beach 169): Jacob Riis Park, also known as the “peoples beach”, has an interesting history. This beach is part of the Gateway National Recreation area and managed by the National Park Service. It’s very popular, has a hipster vibe, and is home to the Riis Park Beach Bazaar. You’ll find a restored art deco bathhouse here, along with a plethora of amenities, ranging from sports to live music to food. There’s even a beer garden.
- Fort Tilden (Beach 169 to Beach 193): Once you pass Jacob Riis Park, you’ll run into Fort Tilden. In its former life, this fort protected the New York Harbor during World Wars I and II and the Cold War. Like Jacob Riis, Fort Tilden is part of the Gateway National Recreation area. There are no lifeguards on-duty here (swim at your own risk), but you can hang out on the beach and explore the historic fort.
- Breezy Point (Beach 201 to Beach 227): Visiting this area of the Rockaway penisula can be downright difficult. Breezy Point is a tight-knit, gated co-op community. It feels exclusive and parking is practically non-existent (unless you have a permit). In essence, you will probably stand out as you explore its streets. If you do want to check out Breezy Point and its beach, your best best would be to bike there via Rockaway Point Boulevard, or to walk along the beach from Fort Tilden.
You’ll find three designated surfing areas in the Rockaways: Beach 68 to Beach 71, Beach 87 to Beach 91, and Beach 110 to Beach 111.
Wondering what to do in Rockaway Beach?
Although you could spend all your time on the beach, you’ll find lots of other options, too. These are my favorite Rockaway Beach activities:
Hit the Beach
Let’s start with the obvious! The best thing to do in Rockaway Beach, New York, and the thing most people visit for, is the beach itself. The cool water is the perfect temperature on a hot day, and the sand is soft. Both kids and adults will love splashing in the waves! Just keep in mind that the rip tide can be very strong. So don’t go too far out (the lifeguards will yell at you anyway), and always keep an eye on your kids.
Pro tip: most people congregate near the beach entrances. If you’re willing to walk down the beach from the entrances a bit, you’ll get more room to yourself.
Walk or Bike the Boardwalk
One of the best features of the Rockaways is the awesome boardwalk, which stretches 5.5 miles from Beach 9 to Beach 126. The boardwalk was completely rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy, and it features a smooth surface that’s perfect for biking or walking. Along the way, you’ll find benches that were built from the original boardwalk’s planks, playgrounds, bathrooms, spray showers, restaurants, bars, and more.
Although I’ve never found any truly spectacular shells on Rockaway beaches, it’s always fun sifting through the shells littering the water’s edge.
You never know what you might discover! On our last visit, we spotted a giant shell from a horseshoe crab. I’d never seen one before, and it look positively prehistoric (and a little scary). If you visit the beach in winter or early spring, you may find a sand dollar or two.
Grab a Bite to Eat
With everything from concession stands to restaurants to convenience stores, you’ll find some seriously delicious food in the Rockaways! We like to pick up snacks and drinks before hitting the beach, then grab a bite at one of the concession stands before heading home. Want to barbecue? You’ll find grills at O’Donohue Park on Seagirt Boulevard, between Beach 15 and Beach 17 Streets.
I’m sharing more info on my fave Rockaway food options in the next section, so keep reading!
New York City is surrounded by water, but surfing is only allowed at a few places … all of them in the Rockaways. The beaches are located between Beach 68 and Beach 71 Streets, Beach 87 and Beach 91 Streets, and Beach 110 and Beach 111 Streets.
Designated surfing areas are small, and surfers can be territorial and aggressive. If you’re not an experienced surfer, it’s best to take a lesson (Boarders Surf Shop offers lessons and board rentals). The best surfing conditions are typically found between September and April, but you can also check out the current surf forecast here.
Burn Off Your Energy at a Playground
Heading to the Rockaways with your kids? If they need a break from the beach, head to one of these playgrounds (all located at or near the boardwalk):
- Beach 9th Street Playground
- Beach 17th Street Playground
- Beach 30th Street Playground
- Beach 59th Street Playground
- Rockaway Beach Playground (at Beach 73rd Street)
- Rockaway Playground – N (at Beach 82nd Street)
- Rockaway Playground – M (at Beach 84th Street)
Walk or Run Along the Beach
When I’m at the beach, I usually don’t leave my towel unless I’m dipping my toes in the ocean. There’s nothing better than ending the day with a long walk along the beach though … especially as the sun is setting!
If you’re feeling a little more active, take a run along the beach. The sand is generally pretty flat and compressed by the water’s edge.
Explore the City Streets
If it’s your first time visiting the Rockaways, take some time to explore the area. Most of the shops and restaurants are congregated in a few areas, and the remaining streets tend to be laid back and residential. So don’t expect anything super exciting. But if you’re like me and enjoy checking out different neighborhoods, you’ll probably enjoy it. You may even stumble across a hidden spot!
Want to support a few women owned businesses during your visit? You’ll find lots of great choices here!
Go Boogie Boarding
Not quite ready to brave the waves on a surf board? Try your luck with a boogie board instead. You can pick one up in a shop on Beach 116 as you make your way toward Rockaway’s sandy shores.
Attend an Event
There is so much going on beyond the beach in the Rockaways. We personally love heading to Caracas after a long day at the beach for arepas and live music.
You’ll find many different events and activities—from yoga on the beach to live music to beach cleanups—during the summer and throughout the year. Looking for ideas? NYC parks hosts lots of weekly activities, but you’ll also find live music and events at boardwalk concession stands, a range of community events, and more. Heading out to Riis Park Beach? They have their own series of weekly events.
Watch Planes Pass By
Rockaway Beach is located super close to JFK Airport, and planes pass near the beach. If you’re obsessed with airplane spotting, you’ll love watching the planes on their way to and from the airport.
Visit a Memorial
In the space of a few months, the Rockaways were rocked by two horrible events, 9/11 (a disproportionate number of residents were killed either in the buildings or as first responders) and the crash of Flight 587. On opposite ends of Beach 116 Street, you’ll find memorials commemorating both of these tragic events.
You’ll also find a Veterans Memorial and a Women Veterans Monument on Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 94 Street. They are facing each other on opposite sides of the street.
Go Kayaking or Stand-Up Paddleboarding
Another great way to burn off a few calories at the beach is by kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. This is a great way to explore Jamaica Bay, which is on the non-ocean side of the Rockaways. Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are also allowed at Beach 32 Street and at Beach 57 Street. You can rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards from Rockaway Jet Ski, and the Community Boathouse offers free kayaking from Riis Landing and at Bay Breeze Park.
Catch a Beautiful Sunset
There really isn’t anything better than a beach sunset, know what I mean? And unless the weather is really overcast, you’re almost guaranteed a gorgeous one in the Rockaways. I never visit this beach without trying to catch one … the crowds have usually thinned out by the evening, and the beach feels so peaceful.
Walking along the beach as the sun sets is an amazing way to end the day. But enjoying the setting sun from one of the concession stands with a beer in hand is pretty perfect, too!
Rockaway Beach is not just a beach, it’s also a community. So you’ll have plenty of places to get active during your visit. You’ll find a couple basketball courts, a baseball field, six handball courts, three volleyball courts, and even roller hockey and skate parks in the Rockaways. Some of these facilities do need to be reserved in advance (see links for details).
One of the best things about visiting the Rockaways is the food. It used to be pretty slim pickings, but now the options seem to be endless … you’ll definitely need to visit more than once to try it everything!
You’ll find four concession stands on the beach, each with different choices:
- Beach 17: Home to DredSurfer, which serves everything from burgers to fish, plus drinks and cocktails.
- Beach 86: Here’s where you’ll find Rippers, which offers summer classics like burgers, hot dogs, and soft serve.
- Beach 97: You’ve got tons of options here, including Breezy’s BBQ, Palenque (Columbian), Uma’s (yummy Uzbek food), CitySticks (ice pops and ice cream), La Cevicheria (ceviche, salads, etc.), La Fruiteria (juice, toast, salads, etc.), Low Tide Bar (beer, wine), and more. There’s also a Boarders surf shop (for bike / surf board rentals) here.
- Beach 106: There are a couple great choices spots, including Brothers (juice, toasts, sandwiches, and more) and, my favorite, Caracas (arepas and other yummy Venezuelan food, plus drinks).
Riis Park Beach Bazaar
If you’re headed to Riis Park Beach, you’ll be spoiled for options! With everything from tacos to pizza, a raw bar, ice cream, and so much more, you definitely won’t go hungry. Check out all of your choices here.
Beyond the Beach
Of course, there are many places to eat beyond the beach, too. To be honest, I usually spend most of my time on the beach, but here are a few restaurants worth visiting:
- Rockaway Beach Surf Club / Tacoway Beach – This is a bar with a taco shop located inside. The tacos are awesome (the tofu taco is my fave and my husband loves the fish tacos), and you can get a drink or two at the bar while you’re waiting. It’s usually packed, and the crowd is on the younger side.
- Cuisine by Claudette – Yummy food that leans healthy (bowls, salads, sandwiches, smoothies, etc.), although you can get a grilled cheese, too! The original location is on Beach 116, but they just opened a new restaurant at Beach 69, and they’ve got a stand at Riis Park Beach Bazaar, as well.
- Uma’s – Head here for delicious Uzbek food, like dumplings, soups, and salads. There’s also a location on the boardwalk at Beach 97 if you’re feeling too grimy for a sit down meal.
Looking for more? Check out this roundup of the best restaurants from Eater, and let me know your favorite spots in Rockaway Beach. I’ll check them out on my next visit!
Need to stock up on snacks, drinks, ice, and other beach essentials? Here are a few places to do it:
- Beach 70: The Stop & Shop grocery store here is just a quick walk from the nearest subway station and close to the beach, too.
- Beach 87: You’ll find a Key Foods supermarket here, as well as a CVS. There’s also a deli nearby at Beach 91.
- Beach 116: There are a bunch of restaurants, delis / convenience stores, and shops on this street. We like Pickles & Pies which has a deli, plus all the snacks and drinks you could want. You’ll find everything else you could ever need for the beach (towels, chairs, coolers, umbrellas, etc.) on this street, too.
When stocking up on drinks, keep in mind that alcohol (and glass bottles) are not allowed on the beach. Although you can probably get away with bringing a few beers, as long as you don’t flaunt it or bother other beach goers.
If we’re being honest, one of my least favorite things about Rockaway Beach is getting there. While the trip itself isn’t difficult, it can take a looong time (especially from Manhattan). It’s totally worth it though … just be prepared to settle in for the journey!
There are many ways to get to Rockaway Beach. Here’s how to do it:
- Subway: The subway is my favorite way to get to the Rockaways. You’ll need to take an A train. At Broad Channel, if you are headed toward Beach 116, you’ll get off the A train and transfer to the Shuttle. If you’re headed toward Far Rockaway, just stay on the A train at Broad Channel. The ride takes about 1.5 hours from Manhattan, so bring a book or take a nap.
- Bus: Depending on where you’re starting from, the bus might be more convenient than the subway. In which case, you’ll want to take the Q53 or the Q52. The Q53 route starts at Brooklyn College and makes multiple stops in the Rockaways between Beach 116 Street and Beach 169 Street. The Q52, on the other hand, starts at Hoffman Drive / Woodhaven in Queens and makes six stops between Beach 54 Street and Beach 92 Street. Once you’re in the Rockaways, you can ride the Q22 bus to travel between Beach 169 and Beach 19 Street.
- Rockaway Beach Bus: Don’t want to deal with all those local stops? Hop on the Rockaway Beach Bus instead. The bus costs $29.95 round trip (or $19.95 one way), and it makes stops in the East Village, Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. Once you arrive in the Rockaways, the bus will drop you off at Beach 86, Jacob Riis Park, or Fort Tilden.
- Ferry: The NYC Ferry is another options. Catch it at Wall Street / Pier 11 (Manhattan) or in Sunset Park (Brooklyn). The ferry will drop you off at the Rockaway Ferry Terminal at Beach Channel Drive / Beach 108 Street. The cost is $2.75 one way, or $3.75 with a bike. To avoid crowds, leave as early as possible.
- Bike: If you’re heading to the beach from Brooklyn or Queens, then it’s possible to bike to the Rockaways. For the least strenuous / dangerous route, plan on biking over the Marine Parkway Bridge. You could also walk the same route, but it would be quite a hike, honestly.
- Drive: Planning to drive to the Rockaways? Once there, you can park on the street (keep an eye out for posted parking restrictions) or in one of the free lots between Beach 94 and Beach 95 or between Beach 11 to 15. There’s also paid parking available at Riis Park Beach Bazaar.
- Uber / Lyft: If you don’t want to drive and none of these other options appeal, take Uber or Lyft. Depending on where you’re heading in from, this can be a pricey (though convenient) option.
Rockaway Beach is open daily from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM, and the boardwalk is open from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM.
Lifeguards are on duty from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM during beach season, which runs from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. You’re only allowed to be swim when lifeguards are present. And although you can still access the beach before and after these hours, you’ll be yelled at to get out of the water if anyone patrolling the beach spots you.
Closed sections of the beach are marked with signs or red flags. Avoid these area, or again, you’ll get yelled at.
Of course, you can visit the beach anytime of year. I actually love going to the Rockaways in the off season when the beach is empty and the weather is cooler.
Whatever time of year you visit, make sure to check the weather beforehand. It can be quite cold on the beach (even on cooler summer days).
The Rockaways are very casual, so no need to dress up.
You will need a swimsuit, of course. I find it easiest to wear my suit to the beach, rather changing once I get there. Often though, I’ll bring clothes to change into after leaving the beach. That way, I can rinse off and freshen up before relaxing with a beer at one of the concession stands.
A cover up is also useful. And with little to no shade on the beach, sunscreen is a must. I’ve used this liquid sunscreen on my face for years (it’s super sheer), and lately, I’m loving this Sun Bum sunscreen, which is a great eco-friendly option. Don’t forget your sunglasses and hat, too. I looove this Panama hat … it’s super cute, cheap, and packs really well.
The sand can get super hot, so make sure to bring a pair of flip flops (the classic Old Navy ones are my fave) to protect your feet.
There are charging stations at Beach 84, 97, and 108, but I’d highly recommend bringing your own portable phone charger. That way, you don’t need to leave the beach. I have this one and this one, and neither have let me down yet!
Other Things to Bring
You won’t find any shade on the beach, so if you’re super pale like me, an umbrella is a must. I have this cute striped one, and it’s super sturdy, plus it tilts so you can continue blocking the sun as it sets. Make sure to get an umbrella anchor for securing your umbrella in the sand, too.
I always bring a beach mat (the cheap straw ones work fine) and of course, beach towels. If you’ll be spending most of your day on the beach, bring a cooler to keep your drinks cold.
The one thing I really don’t like about Rockaway Beach? For some reason, biting flies always seems to swarm the beach later in the day. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s really annoying. On my next visit, I’m going to coat myself with this DEET-free insect repellent.
The Rockaways really feel more like a neighborhood than a tourist destination. Because of that, you won’t find its beaches lined with hotels.
There’s a La Quinta in Edgemere and a Best Western in Far Rockaway, but neither are convenient to the beaches with the most amenities. You’ll also see many hotels located around nearby JFK Airport. In theory these hotels feel close by, but in practice, the commute would be super annoying if you’re planning plan to hang out on the beach every day.
With limited hotel options, you’re better off renting an Airbnb. And luckily, there are tons of great choices … here are a few of the best ones I spotted:
- The High Tide – this place is actually kind of a small, stylish motel / hotel, but the rooms are rented out Airbnb-style. Each room has its own unique decor (check them all out before deciding), but I really like the beachy look of this one!
- Restored Bungalow – The Rockaways were once known for their bungalows, and you can have one all to yourself here. I love the vintage, yet modern vibe.
- Salt Shack Houseboat – For a totally unique experience, stay on this stylish houseboat! It has room for six guests, perfect for a family or group of friends.
- Beach Lovers Dream – I love the modern, beachy decor in this space. It’s located close to the subway and other amenities, and it’s just a quick walk to the water.
Is it your first time using Airbnb? Use this link to register, and you can get $40 off your home booking, plus $15 to use toward an experience worth $50 or more.
Of course, visiting Rockaway Beach is far from the only fun thing to do in NYC!
Here are some of my favorites:
- Domino Park – Will you be in Brooklyn? Then head over to Williamsburg and visit Domino Park. This unique park was built on the site of an old Domino Sugar factory and features lots of industrial remnants.
- Central Park – No visit to NYC is complete with a stroll through this world-renowned park! My favorite time to visit is in fall, but it’s stunning anytime of year.
- High Line – A visit to the High Line, an elevated park that was built on a deserted train track is never a bad idea. You’ll be treated to public art, great NYC views, yummy food, and more.
- Heading to NYC during the holidays? It’s magical … before you go, make sure to check out my comprehensive guide to Christmas in New York. And you’ll also want to take a tour NYC’s best Christmas windows!
- Visiting in spring? Here’s where to find the best Cherry Blossoms in NYC.
- Brooklyn Bridge – Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of those activities on everyone’s NYC bucket lists, and my guide has tons of tips to help you do it!
- Governors Island – If you’re looking for another city escape, head to Governors Island. This unique park / National Monument is only a 10 minute ferry ride from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
- Want more ideas? Check out my A to Z guide to visiting (or living in) New York, as well as my list of NYC favorites after living there for my first eight months!
I hoped you enjoyed reading about this awesome beach! Have you ever been?