The New York beach experience typically boils down to freakatoriums, bad rock concerts, and noxious cocktails served in luminous plastic cups. Yet another, better world exists at— of all places—the far tip of the Rockaways, where a few miles of clean, tightly packed, all-but-deserted sand hide behind trees, bushes, and grassy dunes.
Fort Tilden State Park feels like the city’s best-kept secret—an unspoiled island oasis, tantalizingly close to Manhattan. Even on a weekend at the height of summer, you’ll get a 50-yard stretch of beach to yourself. On weekdays, it’s practically all yours. On a busy day, you might see several families (mostly Russian) picnicking and grilling.
How can this be? Simple: Fort Tilden is so difficult to access that only the most intrepid Robinson Crusoe types dare venture there.
The nearest subway stop is at the 116th Street terminus of the A train, beyond reasonable walking distance. If you have a car, drive toward the southernmost tip of the Rockaways and park in the nearby lot. But in order to do that, you’ll need to watch a video on marine life to obtain a fishing license and the corresponding parking permit from the Fort Tilden Visitors Center.
If fishing lessons aren’t on your summer agenda, cycling is the best option. Take Flatbush Avenue to the end of Brooklyn, then ride over the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, a total of about twelve miles from Manhattan. Flatbush isn’t exactly the scenic route, but it does open out into wild, beautiful Jamaica Bay. Bring food, drinks, and entertainment—Fort Tilden has no on-site amenities.
Remoteness has its cons. There are no lifeguards on duty, so you swim at your own risk—and the currents are particularly strong. Stick to the sand: Where else in the city can you take advantage of the state law that permits topless sunbathing?