When you’re after a beach in New York State, the glitz and glamor of the Hamptons and the old-school appeal of Coney Island – both in the vicinity of New York City – tend to steal the spotlight. But there are plenty more sandy havens to be found across the Empire State.
No matter which direction you’re heading, check the water quality at your destination before going for a swim. The 67 beaches in New York’s state park system make it easy, conducting tests at least once a week and posting the results online, at park offices and at any beaches with high numbers.
Here are 12 of our favorites, starting with those close to Manhattan.
1. Rockaway Beach, Queens
The Ramones may have put it on the map back in the 1970s, but over the years, Rockaway Beach has maintained its reputation as a super summertime spot with great waves, good eats and a pleasantly sandy stretch of shore.
This stalwart in Queens hosts the city’s only sanctioned surfing beaches, one between Beach 67th and 69th Sts and the other between 87th and 92nd Sts. Newbies can take lessons from Locals Surf School, and experienced wave-riders can rent boards and gear from a handful of shops nearby.
Local Tip: For refreshments, hit the concession stands at 87th, 96th and 106th, or venture off the boardwalk and head for Tacoway Beach, a seasonal setup that slings fish tacos that are worth the subway ride alone. Dig into arepas at Caracas at Beach 105th St or fresh fish at La Cevicheria at Beach 97th St. Revelers enjoy live music until the wee hours at Rippers, just east of Beach 90th.
2. Orchard Beach, the Bronx
Dubbed the “Riviera of New York” when it opened in the 1930s, Orchard Beach is the only beach in the Bronx, and it remains a hot spot to this day.
Don’t expect to find peace and quiet here. Between the playgrounds, the snack bars, the promenade with restaurants and retail, and dozens of basketball, volleyball, and handball courts, the 1.1-mile-long beach is a go-to destination all summer long. The waves are gentle, thanks to its perch on the Long Island Sound, and the sand is accessible, with beach mats and two sand-friendly wheelchairs available upon request.
3. Coney Island and Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
At Brooklyn’s southernmost point, Coney Island was developed as a resort in the 1800s, and by the turn of the century, its amusement park attractions were drawing crowds from all five boroughs. Though its wide strand isn’t the cleanest, its boardwalk is hard to beat for people-watching.
Steps away from the beach, Luna Park has rides, games and more. Though it’ll shake you up a bit, don’t skip the Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster dating from 1927 that’s a New York City landmark.
For a rainy-day option or a break from the sun, the nearby Coney Island Museum offers an overview of the neighborhood’s colorful history. The NY Aquarium is nearby too.
A short stroll down the beach or boardwalk is Brighton Beach, which is a little more low-key than its neighbor, with more people socializing, exercising and enjoying the outdoors.
Planning Tip: After a day in the sun, head off the Brighton Beach boardwalk for a Russian or Ukrainian feast (with some vodka) in the neighborhood, which is sometimes known as Little Odessa. We especially love the Uyghur dumplings at Kashkar Cafe.
4. Jacob Riis Park Beach, Queens
On the Rockaway peninsula between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Jacob Riis Park is home to a popular strip of sand nicknamed the “People’s Beach,” and it lives up to its reputation, welcoming tens of thousands of sunbathers – often topless – during the summer months.
Part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, a sprawling, 27,000-acre park covering parts of New Jersey, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, this historic LGBTIQ+ site boasts a restored 1930s art deco bathhouse, a pitch-and-putt golf course and concessions galore – think frozen guava margaritas, key-lime piña coladas, lobster rolls and fried clams – from the uber-popular Riis Park Beach Bazaar.
5. Long Beach, Long Island
Located off the South Shore of Long Island, smack-dab in the middle of the barrier island that gives it its name, Long Beach is less than an hour from Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad. But you’d hardly know it once you arrive. Given its pristine sands and surf-worthy swells, the town’s Ocean Beach Park could be half a world away, with only the crowds to hint otherwise.
The 3.5-mile beach is one of the island’s best, and it’s tailor-made for families, with multiple playgrounds for the little ones and loads of activities for the older ones, including surf lessons, bike rentals and a 2.25-mile boardwalk to explore. Food carts and concession stands sell burgers and ice cream.
The downside is a $15 day-use fee. You can buy passes (card payments only) at designated beach entrances or get digital passes online.
Planning Tip: Long Island Rail Road offers summertime beach packages on the weekend, which usually include discounted beach admission, a Long Beach trolley voucher and round-trip train fare, with departures from both New York’s Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.
6. Jones Beach, Long Island
A hop, skip and jump across a narrow inlet east of Long Beach, Jones Beach Island is considered to have one of the best beaches on Long Island. Its eponymous state park is extremely popular, drawing some six million visitors on an annual basis. Its appeal is due in no small part to the open-air amphitheater, a beautiful venue overlooking the bay and featuring A-list talent all summer long.
But the beach itself deserves credit as well. It has more than 6 miles of white sand and a 2-mile boardwalk lined with restaurants, cafes and concession stands. Follow the winding bike paths, enjoy quiet pastimes like fishing and birding, or play miniature golf and shuffleboard – there’s enough here to keep everyone occupied.
7. Fire Island, Long Island
Accessible only by ferry, car-free Fire Island – another barrier island, situated east of Jones Beach – is a welcome change from the gridlock on the rest of Long Island.
The boat takes you directly to a number of destinations across the 32-mile-long island, but if it’s your first visit, get off at Ocean Beach, a quaint village with postcard-ready storefronts and restaurants, for an easy entry into island life. If you’re vacationing here for Pride or seeking out LGBTIQ+ communities year-round, Cherry Grove and the Pines are where you want to be.
For house shares, bars and a thriving pickup scene, head to Kismet. For a slower, family vibe, check out Saltaire.
Planning Tip: If you’re heading to Fire Island from NYC for the day, plan for at least two hours of travel each way, with the ferry and the train. If you’re planning to stay overnight, book in advance because options are limited.
8. Plattsburgh City Beach, Plattsburgh
One of the largest freshwater beaches in the state, Plattsburgh City Beach is in the northeasternmost reaches of New York on Lake Champlain, directly across the water from Vermont and the Green Mountains.
In addition to its stellar views, it’s good for a sporty day out – kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent – or an excursion with a canine companion. Unlike many beaches in New York, dogs are welcome here.
No list of New York beaches would be complete without a mention of the Hamptons. Once a sleepy fishing community at the easternmost point of Long Island, home to artists, surfers and creative types of all stripes, Montauk these days is party central in the peak summer months but remains charmingly low-key in the off-season.
Less than 2 miles from the LIRR terminus is the family-oriented Kirk Park Beach, with public restrooms and lifeguards on duty. If mingling with the surf crowd is more your speed, stake out space on the sand at Ditch Plains, just east of the village proper.
Local Tip: One of New York’s best state parks for biodiversity, Hither Hills is less busy than the beaches in town, and you can even book a campsite and stay overnight. For a more remote experience, strap on your walking shoes and head for the Amsterdam Beach Preserve, where a gentle, wooded loop leads up to bluffs with ocean views and down to a rocky beach untouched by the masses.
10. Million Dollar Beach, Lake George
New York’s Atlantic-facing beaches get lots of attention, but its freshwater lakes deserve some as well. One of the best beaches in upstate New York can be found in the Adirondacks, about an hour north of Albany on Lake George.
Dubbed the Million Dollar Beach for its opening cost in 1951, this sandy 51-acre shoreline is public property operated by the state, with a bathhouse and a volleyball court, plus grills and picnic tables for meals alfresco.
11. Green Lakes State Park
Just outside of Syracuse in the eastern Finger Lakes, Green Lakes State Park comprises two crystal-clear lakes, one with a sandy beach for swimming and the other designated a National Natural Landmark.
The beach is a draw in its own right, a sandy spread overlooking blue-green waters encircled by thick woods, with a lifeguard, a modern bathhouse and concessions on-site, but the lakes themselves are the main attraction. Reaching depths of nearly 200ft, with a chemical balance that keeps the layers of water from intermixing, these lakes are meromictic, meaning that the layers of water do not intermix, a fascinating and rare natural phenomenon. The United States has fewer than 20 meromictic lakes, and this pair is even more unique, taking their signature aqua hue from the mineral content of the water, not biological sources like algae or phytoplankton.
12. Bennett Beach, Lake Erie
Some 20 miles south of Buffalo on the Lake Erie shore, Bennett Beach is a sandy (albeit rocky) freshwater beach with gentle waves, surrounded by grassy fields, wildflowers and dunes. The Angola-area favorite cultivates a family atmosphere – loud music and booze are strictly prohibited, and swimming is allowed only when a lifeguard is on duty. But the furry members of your household have to stay home, along with items like life jackets, rafts and kayaks, as dogs and flotation devices are forbidden as well.
Still, whether you’re fishing for trout in the nearby creek or watching for waterfowl, shorebirds and even the odd eagle, there’s enough at Bennett Beach to make a day of it, especially if you stay to catch the sun setting over the lake.