The longest and most diverse of the city’s beaches, Rockaway caters to everyone: nude sunbathers, barbecue maestros feeding hordes of children (see the picnic lawn in front of Robert Moses’s Art Deco bathhouses), and hunters of horseshoe crabs and stingrays (scouring around the beach’s rock jetties in front of Fort Tilden), to dirt-road bikers and hikers (scattered around Fort Tilden’s decommissioned missile sites and batteries). Crowds gather for massive volleyball tournaments on the sprawling half-moon beach west of the bathhouses. The farther you get from the parking lot (in either direction), the fewer humans you’ll encounter. Migrating birds on their way to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge are another story. After a day of fishing, kite-flying, or whatever, settle on the back deck of the Rockaway Lobster House for fresh crab legs and trashy cover bands.
Getting there: The A train to Rockaway Beach. Travel time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
Everything worth loving and hating about Long Island, rolled into a 2,413-acre package of sand and marsh, concrete and asphalt, belly-button rings and diapers. Actually made up of eight separate (often jam-packed) beaches named after their accompanying parking lots, the park has a little bit to offer everyone: Field 6 gives families an easy walk from minivan to sand, the famed Jones Beach amphitheater lets fans of Poison and Ratt relive past glories, the Central Mall beckons teenagers in from the boardwalk, and the dunes on the far eastern side provide cover for nudists. A still-water bay on the park’s northern side serves as a makeshift kiddie pool, while those looking for a little quiet can settle into the radio-free zones at Fields 1 and 6.
Getting there: LIRR to Freeport, 1 hour and 45 minutes; N88 bus to Jones Beach, 30 minutes. Travel time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Less of a scene than Jones Beach, more quaint than the Rockaways, Long Beach offers a laid-back oasis on one of Long Island’s loveliest pieces of shoreline. The beach is a throwback, with cleaner-than-average facilities, a splintery wooden boardwalk, boat and bicycle rentals, snorkeling, and sand-court volleyball. Daily passes ($10 a day, free for kids under 13) are available along the boardwalk and at various beach entrances.
Getting there: LIRR to Long Beach. Travel time: 55 minutes.