When you think about the best beaches in New York State, New York City probably doesn’t come to the top of your list. You might think about the Hamptons or Fire Island or maybe even Jones Beach. If this is what comes to mind, you’re missing out on one of the best beaches not just in New York State but in the United States — Rockaway Beach.
Not only is it a beautiful beach with great waves for swimming and surfing, but it is uniquely New York with a ton of things to do, see, and eat. There is even an LGBTQ+ beach near Rockaway Beach — Riis Beach — which we’ve been frequenting for more than 30 years.
Next time you’re in New York, check out Rockaway Beach. Here are some of our recommended things to do and places to eat in Far Rockaway.
Things To Do In Rockaway Beach
1. Enjoy The Beach
Located on a peninsula at the eastern end of Queens, Rockaway Beach is a beautiful beach with a 5-mile-long boardwalk. It’s a great place for swimming and water sports. This is not your Hamptons crowd; it is relaxed and down to Earth. Picture families, young people, native New Yorkers of all ages, races, and ethnicities, and surfers. Lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Technically, that’s the only time that it is legal to swim at Rockaway Beach.
There are people at the beach and on the boardwalk all year round. It gets crowded in some areas on the weekends and during holidays, but if you walk far enough, you are sure to find a spot that’s more peaceful and less crowded.
If you want to find the LGBTQ+ beach scene, stop by Jacob Riis Beach. Technically a separate beach from Rockaway Beach, it is on the same peninsula. There’s also the bay side (the peninsula is narrow) to explore.
2. Learn To Surf
If you’ve been wanting to learn to surf or just to try it out, the Rockaways is a great place to start. Rockaway Beach is the main place to learn surfing in New York City. People travel from all over — Westchester, Long Island, and New York City — to surf in the Rockaways. The waves are good for beginners and fun for experienced surfers. There are surf camps for teenagers and hourly lessons for people of all ages.
You can’t just show up with your board at any spot at Rockaway Beach, there are designated areas for surfing as well as for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
3. Walk Or Bike The Boardwalk
Walking, people watching, or bike riding along the 5-mile-long boardwalk is a very pleasant way to spend some time. There is a bike path on the boardwalk and several places to rent bikes during the summer season.
4. Get Your Game On
For those that are interested in active pursuits in addition to water activities, there is a skate park near 91st Street, handball courts, basketball courts, and volleyball courts at a variety of locations. Go have a game or stop by to watch.
5. Dig Into History
Originally inhabited by the Mohegan tribe of the Canarsie Indians, the Rockaways were “sold” first to the Dutch West India Company and then to the British in the 1600s.
In the late 1800s, the Rockaways became a summer destination for the wealthy with hotels and mansions. Luminaries included the Vanderbilts, Washington, Irving, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. They came on horseback, horse-drawn carriages, and even by ferry.
In Far Rockaway, the Russell Sage Memorial Church (now called First Presbyterian Church of Far Rockaway), Jacob Riis Beach, and the Far Rockaway bungalows (by 24th, 25th, and 26th) are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these spots are far from the beach. These are not right on the beach, but a bit of a walk. There’s also a Flight 587 Memorial, the Rockaway Doughboys Statue, and a Rockaway Women Veterans Monument.
Best Restaurants In Rockaway Beach
There are a lot of places to eat just off the beach, on the nearby blocks, and by the bay side (just a few blocks away). There are concession stands with multiple vendors and picnic tables at Beach 97th Street. Here are a few restaurants that we also recommend.
Our favorite place to eat is not on the beach — it’s two blocks inland. Uma’s is a local place for Uzbekistan food. If you’ve never had it, don’t miss Uma’s. Try the Landman, delicious noodles with vegetables and chickpeas. The dumplings are hardy and tasty. There are other traditional Uzbeki and central Asian dishes to sample. Uma’s is on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 92nd Street.
7. Thai Rock
If you like Thai food, Thai Rock is the place to go when you are at Rockaway Beach. Ask for a table on the patio to enjoy the beautiful views of the bayside and the Cross Bay Bridge. You’ll have to get to Thai Rock early as it is often very crowded. The curries are good; make sure to specify how spicy you would like the dish. In the summer, come for the sunset and stay for the drinks and live music. It is on Beach 92nd Street.
8. Caracas Arepa Bar Rockaway
We love arepas for a quick snack or lunch. Caracas Arepa Bar is the place to go if you are at Rockaway Beach. The arepa and empanadas are very filling and tasty. It’s only open seasonally. On the weekends, you can catch live music here. It’s near Beach 106th Street.
9. The Bungalow Bar
Great views and a wonderful cod sandwich can be had at The Bungalow Bar. It’s a great place to watch the sunset and hear live music. You’ll find it near Beach 92nd Street.
Rippers is great if you are looking for standard beach fare — grass-fed burgers, fries, pasture-raised hotdogs, and veggie burgers. Like many of the establishments, you’ll find live music here on the weekends. It’s not far from a playground and the beach. It’s near Beach 98th Street on Shorefront Parkway.
Whatever you’re craving, you’ll find it somewhere on or near Rockaway Beach: Mexican, Japanese, Mediterranean, Dominican, pizza, ice cream, and more. There are concession stands at Beach 97th Street with picnic tables. Plus, there are many more places on Rockaway Beach and on the bayside that are worth checking out.
Pro Tips: Getting To Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach is accessible via mass transit. It will take over an hour on the A train (subway) from Manhattan and then it’s either a long walk or bus ride.
For the same price, you can take the ferry from Lower Manhattan. The ferry ride is also about an hour, but it is a beautiful ride and more relaxing than the subway. In the summer and on holiday weekends, it’s best to make a reservation in advance if you want to get on a specific ferry. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting in line and a few ferries might fill before you get on one.
The least relaxing way to get to Rockaway Beach would be to drive. However, it might be necessary if you’re trying to bring a lot of gear (or children) with you. There is parking near the beach but you’ll have to arrive early to get a spot.
Rockaway Beach is part of the Far Rockaway section of Queens. It is a very diverse neighborhood. Native New Yorkers refer to this area as Far Rock.
Rockaway Beach is the perfect day trip from anywhere in New York City. The boardwalk is fun anytime of year, but especially in the summer. We recommend putting a visit to Rockaway Beach on your next New York City trip.