Bicyclists seeking a short, scenic ride will find sun, scenery and plenty of company along the Jones Beach bike path. Shared with pedestrians, runners, skaters -- and even the occasional tricycle -- the path runs five miles along the southern end of Wantagh State Parkway from Cedar Creek Park in Seaford to the east side of Jones Beach State Park's East Bathhouse. With views of some of South Shore Nassau's wildest natural scenery, and the scent of honeysuckle and saltwater permeating the air, the path is used by "a couple of hundred thousand visitors every year," says state parks spokesman George Gorman Jr.
This summer, thanks to $1.3 million in improvements, a recently paved, landscaped .7-mile extension keeps you pedaling past familiar beach icons all the way to the boardwalk.
Here's a suggested itinerary:
1. Start at Cedar Creek Park. The bike path entrance is located to the right after you enter the park, just beyond a boulder bearing the path's official name: the Ellen Farrant Memorial Bikeway. The 259-acre county park charges a $10 parking fee on weekends through Labor Day if you don't live in Nassau County. Bike south along the flat asphalt bikeway.
2. About four miles into your journey, take a breather at Zach's Bay beach, just south of the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater. This crescent of white sand is where generations of families have enjoyed playing in calm waters. A concession stand sells hot dogs and burgers. Picnic on the beach or in the sun-drenched grassy field near the theater. (There's also a playground.)
Push on for a leisurely ride on the new .7-mile bikeway extension. As the bike path curves east, past parking Field 5, you'll see the iconic Jones Beach water tower over your right shoulder. On your left you'll see pleasure boats in Zach's Bay. A tunnel under Ocean Parkway takes you to a new plaza with racks for locking up to 100 bicycles (biking on the boardwalk is prohibited from May to September).
3. Take a walk on the boardwalk, which includes new Brazilian hardwood sections and cement sea walls and runs almost two miles. The Art Deco park buildings are historic structures dating to the 1920s. Check out the "Castles in the Sand" exhibit at the East Bathhouse (free admission through Labor Day) featuring photos and archival materials of Long Island state parks and parkways dating to 1924. There's an observation deck on the second floor.
4. If you brought a bathing suit and decide to take a dip in the ocean, now's the time. For shade, rent one of those iconic beach umbrellas for $10 plus a refundable $10 deposit.
5. Hang out in the Central Mall, where there's a Friendly's ice cream window, the park's main concession serving French fries, clam chowder and other treats, and a gift shop selling Jones Beach souvenirs and beachwear. Keep walking west to the miniature golf course, basketball and paddleball courts for a round or two (fees are $2-$5) before the 5-mile pedal back to Cedar Creek Park.