Take the A Train

Compiled by Kate Appleton Approx. travel times assume you start your journey in midtown Manhattan.

Brighton Beach
Brightwater Ave., Brooklyn (Stretches east from Corbin Pl. to Coney Island)
The scene: Mom-and-pop shops with Cyrillic signage and eateries specializing in decent borscht and vodka line the boardwalk, giving Little Odessa a kitschy, Old World appeal. At the oceanfront park, Russian-speaking men face off at passionate rounds of speed chess.
Getting there: B, Q to Brighton Beach
Travel time: 45 minutes–1 hour
Contact: 718-946-1350
Fees: $2 subway; free beach admission

Photo: Sandra Nygaard

Coney Island
Surf Ave. at W. 12th St. (Stretches from W. 37th St. to Brighton Beach)
The scene: A gritty relic of Americana charm, Coney Island is home to the rickety Cyclone rollercoaster, the New York Aquarium, a circus sideshow, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs—and its famous eating contest.
Getting there: D, Q, N, or F to Coney Island Terminal-Stillwall Ave.
Travel time: 45 minutes-1 hour
Contact: 718-946-1350; coneyisland.com
Fees: $2 subway; free beach admission

Fire Island's famed lighthouse. Photo: NPS

Fire Island
Ocean Beach, NY
The scene: Barefeet, bicycles, red wagons, and an overabundance of brazen deer distinguish the dozen or so tiny communities that make up this laid back, (comparatively) unpretentious Hamptons-alternative. The Pines and Cherry Grove are legendarily gay; Point o’ Woods is exclusive, and gated; Dunewood and Fair Harbor are family areas; and Ocean Beach is the biggest scene.
Getting there: Take Long Island Railroad from Penn station or David Brothers Taxi from Manhattan (68th St. and Third Ave. or 53rd St. and Second Ave.) to Bayshore, then take ferry to Fire Island
Travel time: 2.5 hours
Contact: 631-289-4810; nps.gov/fiis; Ferry: 516-666-3600; David Brothers Taxi: 631-665-4384
Fees: Ferry, $13 one-way on weekday, $9.50 one-way on weekend, $14 for round-trip ferry; Taxi, $18 one-way, $21 one-way on holidays and Sundays; free beach admission

Jacob Riis Park
From Beach 169th St. to Beach 149th St.
The scene: An eclectic mix of sun-seekers flock to Jacob Riis, a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and essentially a shabbier extension of Rockaway Beach. The isolated east end has long been a prime gay pick-up spot.
Getting there: 2 to Flatbush Ave., Q35 Bus to Riis Beach
Travel time: 1-1.5 hours
Contact: 718-318-4300; nps.gov/gate
Fees: $2 subway; free beach admission

Jersey Shore
Ocean Ave., Asbury Park (Stretches from First to Eighth Aves. along Ocean Ave.)
The scene: The beaches of the much maligned Garden State may bring to mind rowdy crowds, funnel cake and skeeball, but not so Cape May: a serene throwback to Victorian times, with slate sidewalks lit by gaslight, period houses and antiques shops. The catch? It’s located a good four to five hours away (by bus), at the southernmost tip of NJ.
Getting there: NJ Transit from Penn Station to Asbury Park
Travel time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Contact: 732-775-0900; NJ Transit: 1-800-772-2222, njtransit.com
Fees: $10.05 one-way; $15.25 off-peak round-trip; beach admission, $4 weekdays, $5 weekends and holidays
Cape May alternative: NJ Transit Bus 319 direct from Port Authority to Cape May Transportation Center; $29.45 roundtrip for adults, $13.25 roundtrip for children and seniors

Photo: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

Jones Beach
Off the Wantagh Pkwy (South Shore of Long Island, roughly between the Wantagh and Meadowbrook Pwys)
The scene: Best known for the amphitheater’s annual big-name summer concert series, the beach itself draws crowds for its four miles of bike paths, a nature center, an Olympic-size pool, and a blissful “no radio” policy throughout.
Getting there: Long Island Railroad from Penn Station to Freeport, then transfer to Jones Beach shuttle bus
Travel time: 1 hour
Contact: nysparks.state.ny.us, 516-785-1600; 516-822-LIRR
Fees: Round-trip train and bus package, $15 from Manhattan or Brooklyn, $11 from Jamaica; beach admission: $8 per day in summer; $6 per day regular season; $59 for season pass

Long Beach
South shore of Long Island (Stretches from Maple Blvd. to Brookline Ave.)
The scene: A celebrity-studded resort in its early 20th century heyday, this five-mile pristine stretch of sand still has an historic boardwalk for rollerblading or cycling.
Getting there: Long Island Railroad Express from Penn Station
Travel time: 1 hour
Contact: 516-431-3890; 516-822-LIRR
Fees: Roundtrip train and beach admission package, $17 from Manhattan or Brooklyn, $14 from Jamaica; beach admission only, $7

Manhattan Beach
Oriental Blvd., Brooklyn (Stretches from Ocean Ave. to Mackenzie St., on eastern end of Coney Island)
The scene: Stately mansions surround this rather remote, quarter-mile strip of sand. The concrete promenade, while less impressive than those at Coney Island and Brighton Beach, merits a stroll.
Getting there: B, Q to Brighton Beach, then 5 minute bus ride on B1 Bus to Oriental Blvd.
Travel time: 1 hour
Contact: 718-946-1373
Fees: $2 subway; free beach admission

Photo: NPS

Orchard Beach
Pelham Bay Park at Orchard Beach Rd., the Bronx
The scene: Robert Moses’s man-made, mile-long “Riveria of New York” comes with a hexagonal boardwalk; a bandshell for concerts; 26 courts for tennis, paddleball, and basketball; and the outlying, heavily wooded Pelham Bay, three times the size of Central Park.
Getting there: 6 to Pelham Bay, transfer to the Bx12 bus to Orchard Beach
Travel time: 1.5 hours
Contact: 718-885-3273
Fees: $2 subway fare; free beach admission

Rockaway Beach
Beach 9th to 149th Sts., Rockaway Beach, Queens
The scene: A haven for handballers and surfers thanks to numerous handball courts and high, heaving waves, Rockaway runs the gamut from moneyed communities to housing developments to conservation areas.
Getting there: A to Broad Channel, transfer to the S to Rockaway Park-Beach 116th St.
Travel time: 1.5 hours
Contact: 718-318-4000; nycgovparks.org
Fees: $2 subway; free beach admission

See also:
The Secret Queens Beach

Take the A Train