Suggested listening while you read: Rockaway Beach, The Ramones
“Take the A Train” ranks right up there alongside “New York, New York” and “Empire State of Mind” for iconic New York City jams (sorry T Swift, you’re not making the cut this time). And while Duke Ellington will tell you that the A train is absolutely the best way to get to Harlem, if you get on it going the other way it takes you all the way out to another iconic New York destination: the Rockaways. Unlike its gaudy Brooklyn sister, Coney Island, with her freaks and rollercoasters, this idyllic beach community is absolutely the best seaside oasis between here and Montauk (and a lot easier to get to). Rockaway’s divine mix of classic New York (ancient barnacled beach bars full of NYPD and NYFD on their days off) and Nouveau York ingenuity (delicious cocktails, artisinal tacos, tons of tattoos), and its brand spankin’ new beautiful boardwalks and beachheads rebuilt after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy all just an hour from downtown Manhattan? We’re in. So grab your surfboard and your beach bag, we’re taking the A train….
Beach Bus– If you don’t feel like taking the A train, you can also take the beach bus, which departs from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the Barclays Center. $14 round trip and you get to sightsee all of the roti joints and junk shops lining Flatbush Avenue all the way to the beach.
Beach 116th Street- The bus drops you off and the subway lets you out right in the middle of this main drag, turn towards the ocean side and you’re a few blocks from the wide sandy beach and boardwalk, walk towards the bay side and you’ll end up at The Wharf, a pretty classic family seafood joint with panoramic views of Jamaica Bay and hazy Manhattan in the distance. Peep the Sandy high water mark on their exterior wall and be humbled by nature’s awesome nastiness.
The Boardwalk- Destroyed during Sandy and rebuilt in the intervening years, the boardwalk stretches for 4o blocks of beach access, glorious people watching, and delicious noshes and frosty bevs, of course. Our fave spots to stop are Ripper’s, a galvanized burger shack run by the geniuses from Roberta’s and Caracas, late of the East Village, whose arepas and frozen cocktails are perfect for hot weather.
Playland Motel– With its individually decorated “art installation” rooms and raucous downstairs music scene, this upstart hostel-style-motel is like Portland’s Ace Hotel dropped acid on the set of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and decided to hop a plane to Ibiza. Sound like fun? We thought so. Live music, good food, and impromptu dance parties are the norm. You might just show up for cocktail hour and end up seeing the sun rise.
Uma’s– Beloved by come-here-hipsters and Belle Harbor natives alike, this Uzbeki joint offers fresh pressed juices and ice cold Ukrainian beers on tap in addition to traditional dishes like manti and borscht.
Rockaway Taco– now re-located from their iconic farm-to-table shack on Beach 96th street, the newly christened “Tacoway” holds court in the Rockaway Beach Surf Club. The same insanely delicious fried fish tacos, now with ample seating surrounded by old Dewey Weber surf boards and the scruffy (read: hot) dudes who love them? Yep.
Riis Park Beach Bazaar– Move over Smorgasburg, this far-flung outpost of the Night Bazaar is its own whole thing. A ways down the beach from the hustle of the boardwalk and anchored by a 1930’s boathouse, the bazaar boasts food, drink, music, chair rentals, and Ample Hills Ice Cream (two words: crack caramel). If you go on a weekday (lucky you), this stretch of soft white sand is quieter and calmer than the madness down by 116th street and as a bonus: the very far east end of the beach is unofficially “clothing optional.”
So many things to do and eat, so much adventure, so little time! Grab your board, put on some zinc, and hit the beach. We’ll meet you there.