As far as I know, New York City is the only place in the world where you can take the subway to an ocean beach. These are the best NYC beaches you can get to on the cheap, for $2.50 each way, some with connections to a NYC bus. Remember that many of these beach destinations are home to local, family-owned beach businesses still recovering from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.
Coney Island, Brooklyn – Who says you can’t have it all? This iconic urban seaside resort features three miles of Atlantic Ocean beachfront, a boardwalk, amusement park rides galore, including the iconic Cyclone wooden roller coaster, the Coney Island Aquarium, the original Nathan’s Famous, palace of hot dogs an aquarium, and a minor league baseball stadium. And the subway stops less than a five minute walk from all of it. Surf Avenue, from West 37th Street to Ocean Parkway. Take the D, F. N or Q subway to Coney Island/Stillwell Ave. Coney Island website
Rockaway Beach, Queens – Rockaway is a peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side, Jamaica Bay on the other, and private homes, apartment houses, restaurants and shops in between. Pick a spot – any spot — along the five-ish miles between Far Rockaway (below Beach 25th St.) and Rockaway Park (Beach 116th St.) for sand, surf and boardwalk. Rockaway also is NYC’s only legal surfing spot, so expect to share the beach between 67 and 69 streets and 87 and 92 streets with surfer dudes. Take the A train to any stop after Broad Channel, and walk east a few blocks to the ocean. My recommendation — the boardwalk ends at 116th St., which is also a major shopping street for the neighborhood. Above that, it’s strictly residential, so the further you walk “uptown” from 116th into the neighborhood called Belle Harbor, the quieter it gets. Rockaway Beach website
Orchard Beach, the Bronx – This one-mile beach on Long Island Sound is part of Pelham Bay Park, the city’s largest (larger than Central Park). There are hiking trails popular with birders, playgrounds, picnic areas, ball fields and secret fishing spots, but the real appeal on a hot summer day is the crescent-shaped beach and the wide promenade — concrete, not boardwalk. Take the 6 subway to the last stop, Pelham Bay Park, and connect with the BX12 bus to the beach. Shore and Orchard Beach roads. Pelham Bay Park website
New Dorp Beach, Cedar Grove Beach, Oakwood Beach and Fox Beach, Staten Island – All four beaches are part of Great Kills Park, managed by the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation. The most quiet, private one is Cedar Grove Beach, secluded enough to be mistaken as a private beach. There are lifeguards, food concessions, picnic areas and restrooms throughout the park, plus hiking trails through the crucial wetlands that help defend against erosion. Take the Staten Island Railway to the New Dorp station and transfer to the S76 bus to Oakwood Beach. Great Kills Park website.
There also are plenty of NYC area beaches you can get to via other public transportation, including the Long Island Railroad and private ferries and busses. More about those another day. Remember your sunscreen.