How to Have the Perfect Day at NYC's Rockaway Beach
New York City may not be known for its beaches, but when the sweltering summer heat sets in, you'll want to be by the ocean. And one of the best places to spend a summer day is at Rockaway Beach, on a narrow peninsula at the southeastern end of Queens. Something about the Rockaways just hits the sweet spot: It's easily accessible by subway; the beach is totally free, spacious, and clean; and its uniquely laid-back crowd is neither the Hamptons nor the Jersey Shore — just a perfectly chill mix of beach bums, families, hipsters, and surfers.
As a self-proclaimed Rockaway early adopter (I've been riding the A train out to this beach haven for the past decade — yes, even when I lived two hours away in the far reaches of the Upper West Side), I've seen it survive the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, then bounce back and grow into the vibrant community it is today. After preaching the Rockaway gospel to anyone who will listen for years, the word has steadily gotten out about this unlikely urban beach town. With more restaurants and shops popping up each year to add to the appeal, and the arrival of the hip Rockaway Hotel solidifying its growing popularity, this once humble surf spot has become a summer destination in its own right.
Visit on your next free weekend, whether you're a longtime New Yorker, or just in town for the week. You'll be won over by the good vibes, the tight-knit community, and how incredible it feels to walk off the subway and immediately feel the difference in the ocean air. If you aren't already, you'll be a Rockaway convert soon enough. Below, the ultimate guide to the best things to do in Rockaway Beach.
Go to the Beach!
First thing's first: get your beach lounge on. This long stretch of clean, soft sand has something for everyone.
Go to 67th Street if you're looking for good surf, a chill vibe (there are no concessions on the beach, though there are several a block inland), or a little more space between you and your neighbors on the sand. Because of the waves here, beach patrol often restricts swimming at this end of the beach, but you can typically go in for a quick dip unbothered. Even if you have zero interest in getting in the water, this is a perfect place to marvel at other people catching waves.
Head to the beach around 90th to 98th Streets for more of a scene, but expect crowds on summer weekends. Here you'll find eateries right on the boardwalk, as well as Rockaway mainstay Rippers, an open-air bar that often has live tunes.
The beach at 105th to 116th Streets is quieter, often uncrowded, and good for families: there's a paid parking lot by 116th Street if you're arriving to the beach with a lot of gear.
Take Surf Lessons
Surfing is what put Rockaway on the map and makes up such a large part of its singular New York surf town culture. It's also the perfect place for beginners to learn as the forgiving waves never get too big or too rough (of course, avoid going out during storms). Various companies offer surf (and SUP and skateboard) lessons at Rockaway, but Locals Surf School, founded by life-long Rockaway residents Mike Reinhardt and Mike Kololyan, is probably one of the oldest and most beloved. Operating out of black tents on the beach at 67th Street, they offer group lessons ($90 for two hours, gear included) as well as private lessons ($120). Instruction is offered year-round if you're willing to brave the cold, and the school's troop of teachers will enthusiastically — and patiently — guide you to riding some waves, even if it's your first time.
Check Out the Shops
Locals founders Mike and Mike also opened a coffee shop called Locals Collective that makes great espresso drinks, breakfast sandwiches, and açaí bowls to fuel up for a surf sesh, or just to veg on the sand — we're not here to judge. Pick up a logo t-shirt or sweatshirt so you can rep Rockaway back in the city (real ones will know).
Breakwater Surf Co. and Station RBNY are two surf shops that rent boards and wetsuits if you're a bit more seasoned and want to catch some waves on your own. If you're looking to up your surfer gal or guy style, both shops sell swimsuits and apparel from your typical surf and skateboard brands.
Pop into Zingara Vintage for an array of vintage treasures from books to board games, parasols to purses, and a highly curated selection of vintage clothing from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Owner Erin Silvers also magically transforms old terry-cloth robes into stylish bikinis and miniskirts and sells them at popups at local businesses in Rockaway and around New York.
For something more modern, browse the pretty displays of brightly patterned beach coverups, caftans, totes, and jewelry at the The Swellife boutique. In addition to designing and making all of the The Swellife jewelry, owner Katie Long also personally sources every item in the store, which includes unique handmade items from around the world such as Oaxacan woven baskets, Nigerian textile bags, and Moroccan leather sandals.
Cruise the Boardwalk
Get your steps in on the boardwalk, totally reconstructed post Hurricane Sandy and a pleasant place for a long stroll — all 5.5 miles of it — coupled with great people watching. Make a pit stop at the skate park at 91st Street to watch local skaters trying tricks in the bowls and halfpipes.
For a coffee and quick bite before hitting the sand, Rockaway Beach Bakery is a local favorite. Pastry chef Tracy Obolsky's fresh-baked danishes, loafs, scones, muffins, cookies (the list goes on...) are some of the best I've had anywhere in the city, but here they happen to be perfect for throwing in your tote to munch on while you work on that tan. For breakfast, how does one choose between the flaky ham & swiss everything croissant, the stacked smoked salmon croissant-wich, and the biscuit BEC with a gooey fried egg? Just come back to try them all.
Though bagel bloat might not sound like the best way to start off a beach day, I'd be remiss not to include this great deli — and hey, you're in New York. Bagels on a weekend morning are religion, bathing suit or not. Like any New Yorker, I take my bagel recommendations seriously and Boardwalk makes one fine hand-rolled, boiled, then baked breakfast delight: a perfectly crisp shell with a chewy, doughy interior.
If you find yourself peckish even after a generously-portioned breakfast sandwich, the eateries along the boardwalk will keep you from getting hangry before heading home or before your group makes the pilgrimage to Tacoway (see below). At 106th Street you'll find an outpost of Caracas Arepas Bar that does the famous East Village eatery justice with its Venezuelan stuffed corn cake sandwiches. At the 97th Street concessions stands, Edible Island serves fresh poke bowls, a perfect light beach lunch, and Red Hook Lobster Pound satiates the lobster roll craving that inevitably comes with being by the ocean. Rippers, near 90th Street, grills up surprisingly decent burgers, hot dogs, and fries, and the frozen sangria hits the spot after hours in the sun.
There is no better place for post-beach nourishment than at Tacoway Beach, and there is no better order than the lightly battered whitefish tacos with pickled veggies and guac. (Vegetarian and chorizo options are available as well.) Tacoway can get crowded on weekends, but it's a small price to pay for the best fish tacos in New York City.
This iconic Rockaway taco shack started frying up tacos out of a humble sidewalk location a decade ago, arguably starting the burgeoning food scene in the Rockaways. It's now found a much bigger home in the yard adjacent to Rockaway Beach Surf Club, with long communal tables and a space for bands to play. Inside the Surf Club you can purchase drinks to wash down the tacos and elote, and can often find local artists' work on display. They also host a yearly Women's Surf Film Festival as part of their mission to celebrate Rockaway's uniquely surf-meets-urban culture.
As a surf community, it was only a matter of time before craft beer found its home in Rockaway. Started by locals who began homebrewing in their backyards so that, according to the website, "they'd have something to sip on after a day of surfing," Rockaway Brewing provides exactly that — an expansive taproom and front yard with picnic tables and high tops to throw back a few cold ones after a day at the beach. They also host food residencies and pop-ups (tacos, pizza, burgers, and brats), and live music on weekends.
It's hard to say if there's a better beach meal than burritos. They're self-contained, easy to eat, don't require silverware, and just feel right when eaten by the ocean. The ones at Super Burrito are jam packed with super tasty, quality ingredients, and could likely feed a small family. Don't sleep on the excellent shrimp burrito if they have it on the menu that day. If you don't trust your ability to house a burrito without getting beans and sour cream all over your towel, or need the proper Valentina hot sauce ratio on every bite (crucial burrito-eating strategy), visit their newly-opened indoor spot on the 69th Street strip, completely decked out in fun retro 80s decor.
One cuisine you wouldn't necessarily associate with the beach is Uzbek food, yet here we are. This Rockaway institution makes for a great stop for dinner before heading home and a perfect place to try this rather esoteric Central Asian cuisine. Start off with the baked patties (bichaki) and dumplings (manti) filled with delicately seasoned meats and vegetables, or refreshing salads with dill, feta, and yogurt. The classic beet borscht and a traditional Uzbek rice dish called plov are also must-tries.
Although it looks like a punk-rock record store from the outside, and a hunting lodge meets dive bar on the inside, if you find yourself in Rockaway for dinner and want to experience a real local's joint, head to Whit's End. The irreverent chef/owner Whitney Aycock makes the area's best wood-fired pizzas, with interesting flavor combos to boot (pork belly, peaches, and hot honey is a recent invention). But the rotating fresh seafood dishes (Aycock butchers his own daily catches), ranging from the signature smoked bluefish dip to scallop tartare to crispy-skinned sea bass, are highlights as well and shouldn't be missed. Several nights a week they also host a variety of live entertainment: bands, magic and burlesque shows, and DJ sets.
Where to Stay
The Rockaway Hotel
Rockaway has been sorely lacking in accommodations — until now. With the opening of the chic Rockaway Hotel in the summer of 2020, this is far and away the best place to spend the night. With a buzzy pool surrounded by loungers and cabanas, a leafy rooftop bar where DJs spin sunset sessions, daily fitness classes on the roof deck, and gorgeous airy design throughout (pampas grass, blonde wood, and rattan abound), a getaway here truly feels like you've escaped busy New York City life and arrived at a destination beach resort. The staff's impeccable and attentive service adds to the blissed out feeling of being on a vacation — even though you're just a subway ride away from home.
When the beach gets a bit too windy (as it so often does in the afternoons at Rockaway), or you're ready for cocktail hour, the pool deck is the perfect place to lounge away the afternoon. Afterwards, grab a seat at the beautiful wood-paneled bar at the hotel's restaurant Margie's, and enjoy a seafood tower of fresh oysters, snow crab claws, and lobster tail. Before you leave, be sure to check out Tunie's in the lobby, a beautifully curated shop with swimwear, summer gear, and knick knacks from local Rockaway brands.
With the Rockaways' growing popularity comes a growing inventory of apartments available to rent on Airbnb. The Arverne community, on the eastern end of the beach, has newly-constructed condos with fenced in yards perfect for post-beach grilling and chilling, and some even boast roof decks. Here you'll have easy access to the surfing beach and a huge Stop & Shop supermarket (a true luxury for New York city dwellers) to stock up on provisions.
How to Get There
Hop on the A train to Far Rockaway and ride it directly to Beach 67th Street — and you're there! Or get off at Beach Channel station and stay on the platform to wait for the S shuttle train that will bring you to Beach 90th, 98th, 105th, or 116th Streets. The A trains that go all the way to Far Rockaway only run about every 20-plus minutes, so be on the lookout that you're boarding the right train.
A ferry to Rockaway runs from Pier 11/Wall Street in the Financial District, stops at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, then goes to Beach 108th Street in Rockaway, giving you a mini tour of the New York City coastline and some lovely ocean breezes on your way down to the beach. It takes about an hour, but capacity is limited, so on busy weekend days you may have to wait for more than one ferry to board.
If you drive, or manage to convince your friend of a friend with a car to take a trip out to Rockaway (highly recommended), try to get there early in the day on summer weekends. Street parking, which is free, can be tough to come by as it's used by area residents.
If riding a coach bus with cold drinks of the alcoholic variety sounds appealing, recruit some friends and take the OvR Rockaway Beach Bus, with pickups in Soho and Williamsburg.