nyc-etc: rockaway beach

May 26th, 2016
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It’s not hard, not far to reach
We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach

My connection to Rockaway Beach goes back as far as I can remember.

rockaway beach umbrella

Until my teenage years my paternal grandparents lived east, in Far Rockaway – in a large apartment complex just a few blocks from the beach.

And about 5 miles west my aunt and uncle still live, in a part of Rockaway called Belle Harbor – exactly one block from the beach.

So I basically grew up swimming in the ocean, loving that feeling of riding the waves.

But by the time I became a parent myself, I had started avoiding the beach – preferring the ease of a pool. Less schlepping, less mess, less hassle.

And then something shifted in me a few years ago, and as Mike and I sat on my aunt’s beach watching Noah play in the sand, I looked at him and said, “Let’s buy something here”.

And by “here”, I meant Rockaway Beach – smack between my aunt and my grandparents.

We’re about to start our third summer here and there are just no words to describe how much we love it.

noah rockaway beach

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better beach than our New York beaches, and Rockaway Beach is one of the best places to spend a summer day.

I thought about listing every single place I love in the area – but that would make for a SUPER long post. And not the most compelling reading. So instead, let me point you toward the most helpful sites and links – with a few shout-outs to my very favorite haunts.

Let’s start with food, of course!

If you’re spending the day at the beach you’ll want to be near one of the concession stands. Check out this link from The Rockawayist, detailing all of the new and returning food vendors for Summer 2016.

As you can see, the selection is top notch. Much like Smorgasburg, these concessions attract  some of the best food in New York – and doesn’t everything taste better on the beach? In addition, many Rockaway eateries open outposts in the concessions for the summer – making it super easy to sample “local” fare too.

Here are my faves:

On the beach:

We stay close to our house so we typically frequent the 97th Street concession. And it’s a good one. You literally cannot go wrong, and the rotating array of friends who come visit will attest to this.

97th street concession

For me? I’m a happy camper with an early breakfast sandwich from La Fruteria and an afternoon snack of fries from Bolivian Llama Party. Arepas from El Palenque are fresh and delicious, as are Justin’s fresh fruit City Sticks.

la fruteria bolivian llama party

When we do venture, it’s to Rippers on 86th Street for the best burgers on the beach. And though I only made it there once, I am definitely returning to the Riis Park Beach Bazaar. And NOT just because Ample Hills Creamery is there.

Off the beach:

Rockaway Beach Boulevard has been called the local “Restaurant Row” – and we are so lucky to be in walking distance to all of these fine eateries. Tops for our family is Playland Motel – which miraculously manages to be super hip and totally child-friendly at the same time. Case in point? The kids’ menu:

playland motel menu

playland motel

And if you’ve ever sampled La Newyorkina’s paletas in the city, you’ll know why I am over the moon that they are right here in Rockaway. The coffee cookie dough? I die.

la newyorkina coffee cookie dough paleta

Sayra’s Wine Bar is a perfect grown up spot for wine and small plates, in a pretty back garden space.

sayras wine bar2

As many of these spots are not very spacious – and the crowds seem to get bigger every year – we are grateful for the always reliable Bungalow Bar. Plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, an extensive menu and very kid-friendly.

For something a little different check out Uma’s – Uzbek cuisine that’s both fresh and accessible, and a friendly, beachy-urban decor.

Tacoway Beach is a must – located in the Rockaway Beach Surf Club and hands-down some of the best, freshest tacos and elote around.

tacoway beach collage

And last but not least is Whit’s End. Whitney Aycock makes some of the most delicious pizza I’ve ever had. He’s a bit of a character, but backs it up with insanely high standards that translate into crispy thin pies with transcendent toppings. Go.

whits end pizza

Next up? Surfing.

Rockaway Beach has a decades-long history as a serious surfing destination, and continues to attract the best surfers from around the world.

But there are several schools and shops catering to brand-new surfers too. You can do a one-day group or private lesson, or a week of surf camp. We are partial to Skudin Surf, a family-run business that is on its third generation of surfers. Noah has done surf camp there for the past two years, and the instructors are simply the best. For rentals and equipment check out Surf Shop, Boarders and Breakwater Surf Co.

noah surf camp

Another cool destination is Fort Tilden, a decommissioned U.S. Army Base that is a treasure trove of WWII historic artifacts.

fort tilden

The former fort is now also home to two local non-profit organizations, which have transformed abandoned military buildings into a haven for the arts.

fort tilden3

The Rockaway Artist Alliance offers classes and exhibitions in their gallery spaces (these pictures are from a great exhibit by Patti Smith 2 years ago), and the Rockaway Theatre Company hosts live theater productions.

fort tilden2

Remember my trip to Dead Horse Bay a few years ago? It’s right over the Marine Park Bridge.

And you’re SO close to Coney Island why WOULDN’T you go??

coney island

Our summer is not complete till we’ve paid a visit. So much fun.

coney island3

You’ll find lots more info on Rockawayist and Rockaway Beach Blog, including upcoming cultural events and transportation options. And feel free to ask me any questions if you’re planning a trip!

noah rockaway beach2

2017 update here!

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