Rockaway (or any NYC beach) is the total “duh!” of getaways during the summer. Not only is it a nice change of pace from the city, but it’s also really, really easy to get there. The Take the A train toward Far Rockaway to Broad Channel, then transfer to the Shuttle train that will take you to 90th, 98th, and 105th streets. (Additionally, you can ride to the last stop at 116th or forego the shuttle altogether and go to Far Rock at 65th/59th; all of those beaches are much quieter.) Anyway, going so often, we’ve had our share of overcast-rainy days, late nights, and even overnights at Rockaway Beach. And though the boardwalk is amazing, there’s plenty to explore inland, too. Here’s our guide to the best hidden gems and unexpected activities to do around Rockaway Beach.
Where to Eat and Drink at Rockaway Beach: On & Off Boardwalk
Our favorite new bar in the area is Rockaway Beach Surf Club on 87th Street. You may have noticed their incredible back yard from the shuttle train; if you sit on the right side of the Shuttle train, you’ll go right over it. The outdoor space is huge, with colorful umbrellas, a huge graffiti mural, and food-truck The Cookout. The bar opens at 11 and the food truck even serves breakfast. If you’re a bit further up the beach in the mid-90s, a perfect post-beach dive is Connolly’s on 95th. The frozen piña colada alone is worth the short walk from the beach. (Ask for a floater!) The small outdoor space will inevitably be packed with smokers, but if you’re lucky enough to grab a table, it’s great for people watching while sucking down piña colada after piña colada. Bonus points for the historical Rockaway Bikini Contest wall. For something slightly classier, Sayra’s is really cute wine bar with a beautiful back yard accented with surf boards and greenery. There’s a movie screen, presumably for weeknights, as well.
If you’re post-beach hungry and don’t feel like dealing with the crazy Rockaway Taco lines, the newest hidden gem is Uma’s at the intersection of 92nd and Rockaway Beach Blvd. It’s self-described as Central Asian/Russian cuisine–whatever that means–but we had some great shish kabobs.
Of course there’s a ton of stuff on the boardwalk, too. Our go-to spot is Caraca’s, which serves authentic Venezuelan food on the boardwalk at 106th Street. It’s the perfect beach snack; super fresh ingredients, and the arepas come out crisp and light. Our friend Antonio regularly DJ’s Sunday nights, for Shake It Up Sundays, playing vinyl-only soul, r&b, and garage rock. It’s the perfect soundtrack for enjoying the Caracas spicy micheladas and watching the sunset behind the DJ. We’re also regulars at the 97th Street concessions, home of Low Tide Bar, Breezy’s BBQ (of Good Co. in Williamsburg) and Citysticks. For a complete run-down of what’s new, what’s gone and what has remained at Rockaway, check out this great list by Bedford + Bowery.
Where to Stay at Rockaway Beach: A Floating Hotel Room
The ultra-cool lifestyle Playland Motel offers beautiful, artist-decorated rooms from $110 a night. At Beach 95th Street, what used to be a cruddy dive bar (that we loved) is now home to a hotel and nightclub. Downstairs from the rooms, the enormous back yard is a perma-beach party. For a more low-key, and definitely unique beach stay, consider the Truckafloat. These floating hotel rooms are docked at the 59th Street Marina, once home to Boatel. Roofed by truck camper shells, each room is equipped with a full bed (with mosquito netting), a folding table, coolers, hammocks, running water, sun showers, and electricity… so it’s by no means “roughing it.” On land, there are grills, and a bathhouse with showers and toilets. Rates start at $100 a night–for a room so close to the beach, you can’t beat that! If you stay here, make sure to get the number of the kayak rental guy and spend a morning kayaking into the Jamaica Bay, where you can watch enormous planes fly into JFK.
What to Do at Rockaway Beach: Surfing Lessons, or Kayaking the Bayside
It’s the beach, so swimming, eating, drinking, getting sunburnt are a given. But once you’ve done all that, why not try surfing? I’ve taken a couple lessons with Frank’s surf crew–and though it’s not cheap, you really only need one or two to get the hang of it. If Frank’s is full or you just want to try surfing on the fly, you can also take the A train to 59th Street, walk onto the beach and stop at any of the tents offering surfing lessons. There’s a lot of them. In the same area, you can rent a board for the day at Boarder’s on the beach at 58th Street for $35 up to 4 hours with a $50 maximum, which gets you the whole day. To rent further up the beach, there’s a second location at 92nd street, freshly reopened from Hurricane Sandy damage.
Another unexpected option is to go kayaking through the bayside of Rockaway. This little-known secret is probably our best hidden gem on Escape Brooklyn, so listen up. At Marina 59, you can rent kayaks, SUPs or fishing skiffs for the day and cruise around the bay. Call the number online to reserve your preferred watersport, and keep this one under wraps.