Staten Island or Coney Island: What’s the Better Beach Getaway?

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The Staten Island beaches — like South Beach, pictured here — have an undersung excellence. Photo: Photo: Peter Borghard/NYC & Company

Where’s better to enjoy a baseball-and-beach mini-vacation: Staten Island or Coney Island? Comparing two spontaneous, overlooked, and excellent weekend-getaway trips that you can do with a Zipcar rental and a camping tent.

Staten Island

The Beaches

Much of Staten Island’s eastern coast was, of course, slammed by Hurricane Sandy. But the island has since recovered and is even working to prep its beaches for a future disaster. Lynda Ricciardone, the Staten Island Parks borough commissioner, broke down the beaches’ personalities and features for us.

South Beach: If Staten has a beach-with-a-capital-B, it’s this one, probably the most crowded, and the one that many Staten Island kids grew up going to. (As did their parents and grandparents: In the ’50s, it was a bungalow-filled beach colony.) It’s the best beach for Instagrammable shots of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and there’s a boardwalk with a bike path that overlooks the water — the promenade length from South to Midland Beach is 2.1 miles. You can rent a bike ($12 per hour) at Wheel Fun Rentals, which also offers umbrellas and chairs for $8 a day. “We get a lot of folks who don’t want to go to the crowded beaches in Brooklyn,” says Ricciardone, so there’s often lots of day-trippers sunbathing and mingling with locals. If you’re here on Wednesday, come by for fireworks and other entertainment starting at dusk.

Midland Beach: Seaview Avenue, near Father Capodanno Boulevard, is the divider between Midland and South Beach, and that’s near where you’ll find the Ocean Breeze fishing pier (for fishing tips, check out our guide to urban angling). At both beaches, there are recreation areas — bocce, horseshoes, volleyball — but Midland distinguishes itself with more parking. Of course, there’s the Sea Turtle Fountain, a water feature popular with kids, and at the south end of Midland is a barbecuing area. (You need to get a permit for groups of 20 or more, though that doesn’t mean you have a reserved space — send someone early to stake your claim.) Back to the Beach — a festival with concerts, vendors, fireworks, and the like — is at Midland Beach and will be held July 22 and 23 this year.

Cedar Grove and Great Kills Park: Unlike at South Beach, as you move farther south, you’ll need to come prepared with food, beverages, bikes, and beach umbrellas, says Ricciardone. Cedar Grove (which was made public in 2011 and had been one of the last beach colonies in New York) is a local-frequented beach: Ricciardone notes that it’s not off a main thoroughfare and has only a small parking lot and a couple of lifeguard chairs. Still, she says, “it’s a beautiful beach — it’s bucolic, the sand is beautiful. It’s a really nice getaway. But whatever you’re doing, you’re bringing in for the day” — so come with your cooler packed and umbrellas ready. “We have a comfort-station trailer there,” she adds, “but you’re not going there and riding your bike. If you’re looking to go by yourself and grab a book and sit out on a beach,” it’s perfect.

Wolfe’s Pond: This relaxed park and beach area is on the South Shore — at Cornelia and Hylan Boulevard — so it’s less crowded with down-for-the-day beach fiends, but there are barbecue and playground areas, an adult exercise area, an outdoor hockey rink, a dog run, and plenty of parking. It’s a small beach, Ricciardone acknowledges (but one with a fascinating history). “People might go to barbecue, and the beach is part of that experience. It’s probably rare that people go just for the beach, but it has beautiful views,” she says. P.S.: A few miles south of here, Kayak Staten Island provides free kayaking trips on Sundays.

The Baseball

Check the promotion schedule before heading to an S.I. Yankees game. Photo: Julienne Schaer/NYC & Company

The Brooklyn Cyclones home, MCU Park, is a carnivalesque, cinematic version of a baseball stadium, but the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home to the Staten Island Yankees, is like a very tiny version of real Yankee Stadium. Things feel a bit more baseball-studious here. Attendance can be low — especially since parking has evaporated owing to construction of Empire Outlets — but this gives you the opportunity to get extremely up-close and personal (on our last visit, we watched an extended game of catch between players and a kid in the stands). Note that if you’re coming by ferry, signs will direct you to an exit that’s closed for the outlet-mall construction; you need to walk out of the terminal and along Richmond Terrace to the entrance. Go on a night when there’s a cool promotion or fireworks. But even if there’s no T-shirt giveaway, or discounted beer, or kids-eat-free special, you’ll still get gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline. Advance infield tickets are $16, and every seat gets you closer to the field than you’d be at an MLB game without selling your firstborn.

Where Should I Eat …

… At the ballpark: Get a $9, two-empanada special from Empanada Kingdom, unless Cheeto-flavored popcorn is more your speed (yes, that’s available). They’re crispy-chewy and especially good with a side of garlicky sauce.

… At the beach: South Fin Grill abuts the water, is open for lunch and dinner, and has a large outdoor bar. It’s a family favorite of Staten Island–born staffers of New York Magazine. On weekends, come when the DJ Cyril Nehme is spinning; Friday is Disco Night, where you might find a 45-plus crowd dancing, and Saturday is deep house, says Nehme. And Wednesday is a “pure-salsa” night.

… If I just want pizza: Pizza is a hot topic on the island, and everyone has an opinion. (In its “case for living on Staten Island,” this magazine evaluated the borough’s many storied pizza options.) A new entry, Dough by Licastri, has been popular since its late-2016 opening. They recently installed an outdoor patio, or “dough deck,” making the once-takeout-only shop a great place to have a pie — get the Ciro’s Special: onion-and-tomato sauce, mozzarella, bread crumbs on foccacia. (P.S.: There’s a wineshop just down the street and a bottle opener in the napkin holder on the patio. You know what to do.)

… If I just want candy: Philip’s Candy was once located on Coney Island — inside the Stillwell Avenue subway station — and shares an ethos with its candy-shop sister across the Narrows. Get the jelly-dipped apples on a stick.

Where Can I Stay Overnight?

fort wadsworth camping staten island
Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island — a former military hub — is home to one of New York City’s two official campgrounds. Photo: Photo: Marley White/NYC & Company

To complete the extremely–not–in–New York feeling, you can pitch a tent at the campgrounds at the 226-acre Fort Wadsworth, the onetime military HQ that is now a part of Gateway National Recreation Area. Fort Wadsworth is home to one of two official campgrounds in New York City. The best part is that the campsite has sight lines to the Verrazano-Narrows. There are showers, but you’ll need to bring most everything: a tent, aluminum foil and food for the on-site grills, a duffel bag full of gorpcore clothes. Book in advance here ($30 a night). And if the views of downtown New York at the ballpark were enough for you, and you’d like a comfortable, upscale night’s sleep, there’s even a Hilton for that (which offers a free shuttle to the ferry, if you didn’t bring a car).

What Else Should I Do?

Right by the ferry, visit the Alice Austen House, which was last month recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as an important site of LGBT history — Austen was a female photography pioneer who spent decades living in this home with her partner, Gertrude Tate. The suggested donation is just $3, and it’s also near the Fort Wadsworth campgrounds. Or get in the Zipcar and head to Snug Harbor Cultural Center, the 83-acre botanical garden and cultural center (you can get a free individual membership with idNYC). Before or after the game, have a drink at Pier 76; if you’re hungry, order a pizza — the pies are the same as those served at Joe & Pat’s.

And a Baseball-Geek Bonus Tip

If you want to fit in at a Staten Island Yankees game, consider learning to score a game; you’ll see lots of hard-core fans at the ballpark scoring. A sportswriter friend turned us on to Bethany Heck’s gorgeous Eephus League HalfLiner books, which allow for you to develop your own system of scoring and are generally a lot more attractive than the standard books.

Coney Island

The Beaches

Check out nymag.com’s story from earlier this summer about New York–area beaches, with guides to Coney Island and Brighton Beach included.

If you’ve spent at least one summer in New York, you know the deal: Claim your beach space at Coney Island for the iconic, as-seen-on-TV experience. But if you’re looking to lay out in a more peaceful space (and maybe pick up some khachapuri, like Gold Label), you should walk down the boardwalk about 20 minutes, until you pass the New York Aquarium and the crowds start to thin. Then you’re in Brighton Beach. Unless you’re exhausted, there’s no need to get on the subway to go between the two. And speaking of the aquarium: Construction on the new building was, of course, halted by Sandy, but you can visit many of the exhibits today.

The Baseball

Minor-league games in general are fun, and Cyclones games are especially so. First off, there’s tons of promotions, which rev up the kids. In between innings, King Henry comes out to run games like an egg-and-spoon race (with meatballs for Italian Heritage Night); the Surf Squad cheer-and-entertainment group does choreographed dances to “Cotton Eyed Joe” atop the dugouts; there are plenty of giveaways and fireworks and run-the-bases nights. It’s easy to make the baseball incidental. But it doesn’t have to be! Sit behind home plate or by the home-team dugout (on the third-base side) and you’ll be surrounded by die-hard fans, many season-ticket-holders who all know one another from the games. Of course, the setting is unbelievable: The breeze keeps the stadium cool; the whooshing of the Thunderbolt roller coaster sounds like it’s part of the sound design of the game.

Where Can I Stay Overnight?

Most hotels are going to be far enough into Brooklyn that it would likely make more sense to just drive home. But New York City’s other camping site is a 15-minute drive away at Floyd Bennett Field. If you’re going to stay in this part of Brooklyn, it’s probably the best way to feel like you’re leaving the city without actually doing it. You’re on Jamaica Bay, where you shouldn’t swim, but if you’ve brought bikes or a car, it’s easy to head over the Marine Parkway Bridge to Jacob Riis. Book campsites here, for $30 a night, and like in Staten Island, come prepared to rough it.

Where Should I Eat …

totonno's pizza coney island
Know the quirks of the place before you head to Totonno’s. Photo: Photo: Jen Davis/NYC & Company

… At the ballpark: Since you can get your hot-dog fix at the original Nathan’s after the game, order a beer from one of the stands vending Coney Island Brewing Co. (sections 7 and 12) and pick up a six-pack of arancini, served in an egg-carton-style container. You can pick and choose, but if it were us, we’d go heavy on the “Italian style” bucatini fritti — basically, it’s a fried mac-and-cheese ball that’s somehow hot, crispy, and satisfying without feeling overly indulgent.

… At the beach: Ruby’s right on the boardwalk has been cherished for its decades of existence, but it can get a little crazy and disorganized. Nathan’s tends to handle crowds a little more efficiently. And then on Bowery Street, between West 12th and West 15th Streets, just off the boardwalk, there are a number of little cafés with signs like “Only $20 minimum to sit at a table!” The table is probably a plastic one behind a chain-link fence, but take seats where you can get them at Coney. If you’re hot and sticky post-beach, order a cholado at the La Casa de la Piña stand to get, well, cool and sticky. Attached to it is K&E Fast Food, where you can get Pan-Latin dishes including encebollado, empanadas, and fries.

… If I just want pizza: If you’re brave, go to Totonno’s, best with food geeks who know the deal in advance (get there early in case they run out of dough; don’t bother asking for estimated wait times; etc.). If you’re with someone unaccustomed to New York hellish-queuing traditions, you might be better served at the Grimaldi’s around the corner. On a recent weekend evening when we stopped by, there was no line outside and relative calm inside.

… If I just want candy: William’s Candy has plenty of treats, but like at its Staten Island sister, here, too, you should get a candy apple. And don’t give a second look to It*Sugar down Surf Avenue.

What Else Should I Do?

See sword-swallowers at the Coney Island sideshow! Photo: Photo: Jen Davis/NYC & Company

It seems obvious because it is: Your easiest choice is to stroll the boardwalk. But if you’re overwhelmed by crowds and kids, slip into the Freak Bar, which is on Surf Avenue but usually relatively peaceful, for an ale or hard root beer from Coney Island Brewing Co. If you like the vibe, consider sticking around for the sideshow to see sword-swallowers and human blockheads.

And a Bonus Baseball-Geek Tip

On the way home, if you’re on the B or Q train, get off at Prospect Park to see the … apartment complexes at the onetime Ebbets Field location, home to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The stadium was closed in 1957 and demolished in 1960; the Dodgers, of course, moved to Los Angeles.

The Staten Island Beaches Should Be Your Summer Destination