Smart travellers know that New York City not just a famed concrete jungle but it has some fine, laidback coastal towns too. Case in point: the Rockaways in Queens.
The Ramones once sang about hitching a ride to this carefree beach town with a thriving art and entertainment community. Here, you not only get to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean waves and smooth sand, but there are plenty attractions and activities in Rockaway Beach.
Check out my list of things to do in Rockaway Beach NY and how to best get there.
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The Best Things to See in Rockaway Beach & Peninsula
1. Swim and tan at the Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk
The Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk stretches over 170 acres of soft sand and it teems with attractions that keep people of all ages and walks of life entertained.
Swim in the ocean, do some beach volleyball, relax under the sun, skate or learn how to surf. Rockaway Beach is NYC’s only legal surfing beach.
Moreover, it’s a good way to beat the oppressive heat during summers in the city and update your tan.
However, it’s not just summers that make a Rockaway Beach getaway worthwhile. I visited in early autumn and it was super empty but so nice! The weather was super warm and sunny and got to have the beach basically to myself.
2. Rockaway Surfing
Are you a seasoned surfer? I am not but have tried surfing a couple of times but I easily fall out of practice. If that’s you too, then why not take a refresher session at the local surf shop in the Rockaways. Or learn how to surf as a beginner.
I initially didn’t even know that you can surf in NYC. That’s pretty cool and while the Hudson isn’t a great place for water activities (so polluted); the nearby ocean offers plenty of options.
Also, you will get to mingle more with locals and experience the surf culture first hand by indulging in one of the beach town’s most favoured activities.
Get your gear from the East Coast’s oldest source of surfing gear, the Rockaway Beach Surf Shop. Even if you’re not that interested in this water sport, don’t miss the chance to check out a Rockaway Beach NY institution.
3. Ferry ride around the islands
Did you know you can take the ferry for $2.75 (one way) all the way from Manhattan or Brooklyn to Rockaway Beach? The ferry leaves fairly regularly. (Check the schedule online or through their app.)
You’ll boat around Jamaica Bay and then pass Coney Island and Staten Island on the way and have some pretty nice views over the smaller Queens islands as well as Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Breezy Point.
Other landmarks include the small The Coney Island Lighthouse in Seagate and Breezy Point Lighthouse in Rockaway.
If you want, you can explore West Brooklyn in the morning, take the ferry down to Rockaway in the afternoon and then get the ferry before sunset back to Manhattan to dine there at night. That’s a full New York City day trip sorted.
4. Do some urban exploring
If you’re into abandoned places and urban exploring in NYC, don’t just check out Roosevelt Island or Staten Island, for instance. There’s an abandoned hospital and smaller buildings around Jacob Riis Beach and Boardwalk.
Everything is fenced off and not maintained, so you can’t go inside. But you get a pretty good view from the road as you can see through the wires and take photos nonetheless.
Another cool site in Rockaway Beach is Fort Tilden (Fort Tilden Historic District). It was built for the military but has been retired and is now part of the official and natural park landscape.
There are a few batteries around the area, which are covered in tags and graffiti. A few years back, one of the ruins was turned into a colourful art project for the Rockaway! exhibition.
Should you want to find it, there are a few trails but be careful not to leave them. The area is an important nesting ground and you don’t want to step on any eggs or scare the breeding birds away.
5. Have a nice hotdog or burger meal at Rippers
After your workout (and surfing takes up a looooot of energy), satisfy your hunger pangs with a nice all-beef franks meal or yummy organic burgers with some fries on the side.
Come early though or you’ll have to be prepared for long lines. Energetic 80s tunes will keep the cool vibe going and a public beer funnel is made available to keep guests, whether you are still waiting in line or already dining.
6. Drop by at Bayswater Park
Mix and mingle with the locals at Bayswater Park, a choice neighbourhood open space, where lots of yearly community events happen like the Rockaway Fall Festival in autumn.
The park has neat facilities like picnic areas, ball fields, a playground for kids and barbecue stations. In the summer, the area hosts water festival events as well.
If you’ve brought snacks along, why not turn it into an impromptu picnic (or plan for one)? The park features nice areas to lounge around.
7. Hit the Jacob Riis Park
If you’re fond of the Art Deco style, then you need to head out to Jacob Riis Park and see the notable Art Deco bathhouse.
The Bathhouse Beach Pavilion is also home to pop-up shops, food stalls, events and even Camp Rockaway, a fun glamping experience, during high season.
When I visited in early autumn, most of the Jacob Riis Park attractions were closed but it was still a nice place to walk the promenade.
8. Check out the wildlife at Rockaway Community Park
Rockaway Beach NYC has a few interesting, well-tended and manicured parks, the Rockaway Community Park being one of them.
Should you not be too keen on tourists crowding the beaches during peak seasons, it’s quite nice if you end up here since you get to enjoy the chill, natural vibe of the park’s environs.
There are watersheds where anglers can catch fish and areas where bird watchers can observe birds in their natural habitat. Maybe that’s up your alley too?
9. Do not pass up a jet ski experience at the Rockaway Jet Ski
Stumped on what to do in Rockaway Beach when it comes to more waterside activities? There are endless thrills and sights that you need to take on in order to fully grasp the NYC experience.
Thus, don’t ignore a jet ski ride and visit the Rockaway Jet Ski place for some adrenaline kick.
Hourly rates are on hand and will take you to the harbour but for a more picturesque ride. Also, you can enlist for a tour where you can navigate throughout Coney Island shores and the Statue of Liberty.
10. Have some old-school Italian at Don Peppe
NYC is known for its solid Italian cuisine offerings due to various generations of Italians who lived in the city for decades. For some delicious Italian fare with a home-y vibe, you cannot go wrong with Don Peppe.
Try the fried veal with vinegar tomatoes and traditional linguini with creamy, white clam sauce for a hearty meal.
Remember though to dress up and bring enough cash with you. Credit cards aren’t accepted and beach wear isn’t allowed here.
Is Rockaway Beach free?
Yes! Rockaway Beach is free to visit any day of the year. Plus, it’s not touristy at all.
Where is Rockaway Beach?
Rockaway Beach is located on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, South of Brooklyn. It’s part of the Rockaway Peninsula, which also is home to Far Rockaway. (Don’t mistake the two.)
Even though it’s called beach and there is a beach of the same name, Rockaway Beach is a NYC neighbourhood. Fun fact: the neighbourhood was named after the beach.
If you hear people talk about the “Irish Riviera”, this is what is meant. The term is outdated now as the formerly large Irish American population here is no longer that prominent.
How to reach Rockaway Beach?
To go to the Rockaways, you can take the city’s ferry service from lower Manhattan, Sunset Park or Brooklyn.
The ferry takes about an hour to go from Rockaway to Manhattan Wall St./Pier 11. It lands at Sunset Park in Brooklyn on the way, too.
Metro and buses
From the ferry, you can take the local buses Q22, Q 52 and Q53 to get closer to Rockaway Beach or Jacob Riis Beach.
There are also a free shuttle buses (RES and RWS) leaving from the ferry stop towards both Rockaway Beach and Far Rockaway. Check the shuttle times here. (Scroll down to see it.)
Instead of taking the ferry, you can ride the metro A train to the last stop and take the free shuttle bus close to the shores.
I went to Flatbush Avenue (2 or 5 metro, last stop) and then took the bus Q35 down to Jacob Riis Park and walked along the beach towards Rockaway.
If you have any more Rockaways travel tips or questions, please feel free to do so in the comments below.
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