1. FOR FAMILIES
Long Beach, Long Island
East Hampton’s Main Beach has long been touted as an idyllic spot for families, thanks to its soft white-sand dunes, gentle surf, well-kept facilities, and quaint snack stand. But the better family beach is much closer to home: in Long Beach. Take the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station: A round-trip adult ticket—which comes complete with a beach-access pass—costs $17. Long Beach calls itself the “city by the sea,” but it’s a small town with an informal resort feel that you can navigate entirely by foot. The beach is a 3.5-mile-long sliver of sand, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Reynolds Channel. Park Avenue, the main restaurant and retail drag, is about a ten-minute walk from the beach (hit Gino’s of Long Island for its superb slices and Italian ices). Unlike Main Beach in East Hampton, there are lots of activities for kids: boat and bicycle rentals, snorkeling, and sand-court volleyball.
2. FOR PEACE AND QUIET
East Hampton, Long Island
When novelist—and notable Georgica beachgoer—A. M. Homes wasn’t issued a beach parking pass, her lament was covered in the New York Times. Her disappointment was understandable. This is the un-Hamptons beach—refreshingly un-sceney, a serene oasis noteworthy for simply being beautiful. Though the beach is bordered by celebrity homes, the real action is watching swans swim in the adjacent Georgica Pond. One of the only Hamptons beaches without amenities (there are public restrooms, but no concession or food stands), Georgica is never crowded. Still, those looking for the ultimate in tranquillity might consider going before 9 A.M. (when beach rules don’t apply and dogs walk off-leash) or after it closes at 6 P.M. (at which time anyone is free to park, even A. M. Homes).
3. FOR SURFERS
Robert Moses State Park
Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island and Montauk’s Ditch Plains do not evoke the same awe that Hawaii’s Pipeline or San Francisco’s Maverick’s do, but local surfers all along the Eastern Seaboard will tell you their home breaks are much more fun. Of the two, Ditch is the more popular and thus the more crowded, whereas the five miles of beach break at Robert Moses, even on its busiest days, usually have no more than five or six surfers in the lineup. Plus, it’s open year-round and from sunup to sun-down: just the thing for hard-core surfers who are indifferent to the weather, if it means a good ride.
4. FOR SINGLE GAY MEN
Jacob Riis Beach
The Fire Island Pines is a lovely piece of land, pristine but snooty, and many gay men find it forbidding. For a better cruising option, try Jacob Riis Beach in Queens. Less expensive to get there, more accessible, and appealingly low-key: ideal for a day of volleyball and BBQ, and just an A-train ride away.
5. FOR SCENESTERS
Crescent Beach is a thin stretch of pebbly sand, and there are no waves to speak of. There are, however, great hordes of hotties, thanks to André Balazs’s Sunset Beach hotel, restaurant, and bar, which injected an unlikely shot of Miami flair into sleepy Shelter Island when it opened nine years ago. The scene has an almost surreal diversity. First, there is the standard Balazs crowd of supermodelish ladies in micro-kinis and their paramours with impossible tans and abs of steel. They all look like record producers and drug dealers, and they play the meanest, sexiest game of volleyball you have ever seen. Then there are the local preppy girls sneaking mojitos, and maybe a few nerds on hiatus from the nearby Itzhak Perlman music camp. Rounding it all out are the retired firemen and their extended families, the backbone of Shelter Island, guzzling Coors Light. It all makes for quite a party.