Frederick Drew of Bethpage was just 1 week old when his parents brought him for his first visit to the ocean. Denise and Danny Drew tucked their newborn in his stroller and wheeled him along the boardwalk. Sister Meghan, 22 months, got to romp on the playground next to the boards. Spending time at Jones Beach is like you're on vacation, Denise Drew says.
Kids like to feel like they're on vacation, too, and at these beaches, it's kid paradise. Here's why:
1. JONES BEACH
Why it's great for kids : If parents park at Field 6, they can escort the kids right onto the boardwalk instead of schlepping them under the roadway to cross to the beach. Field 6 is the shortest walk from a parking field to the ocean. The catch: "That's our most popular parking field at Jones Beach," says George Gorman, deputy regional director of Long Island State Parks. "It usually fills up on busy weekends by 8:30 a.m." Field 6 allows kite-flying, and as the family walks the boardwalk they'll pass basketball courts, a pitch-and-putt golf course, a lighted playground for evenings and a band shell that offers evening entertainment.
Admission Fee: $8 per car per day when lifeguards are on duty; Empire Passport is $65 for unlimited visits. Pitch and putt is $7 per person plus $2 club rental fee.
Why it's great for kids : Robert Moses is a big place, but if you go to Field 5, everything you need is nearby: a concession stand, lifeguards, playground and bathrooms. On top of that, the Fire Island Lighthouse is an easy hike away. The boardwalk trail starts from the Field 5 parking area. The walk is about 20 minutes, and it's easy to push a stroller along the boards. At the lighthouse, check out the museum or climb to the top. Cold drinks are for sale at the museum, and bathrooms are available there. Just don't walk back along the shoreline -- while the beach directly in front of the lighthouse is a clothed beach, on either side of the lighthouse the beach is clothing optional, meaning you're highly likely to bump into some nude sunbathers if you take that route back.
Admission Fee: $8 per car parking when lifeguards are on duty; $65 for an Empire Pass that allows unlimited visits; children must be 42 inches tall to climb the Fire Island Lighthouse's 192 steps; adults are $6, and seniors are $4.
3. CRAB MEADOW BEACH
Why it's great for kids : This is a manageably-sized, Long Island Sound beach in Northport. It's got lifeguards, a playground on the sand and La Casa restaurant. The Town of Huntington will offer drive-in movies at the beach at dark on July 23 and Aug. 20. In July it's "Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa," on Aug. 20 it's the people's choice; e-mail email@example.com by Aug. 1 to cast your vote for "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Bad News Bears," "The Karate Kid" or "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial."
Admission Fee: Residents $15 for a day, $25 for the season; nonresidents $25 for a day
4. SAILORS HAVEN
Why it's great for kids : The ferry ride across the bay from Sayville to Sailors Haven is a half-hour of fun before even arriving on the sand. Once at Sailors Haven, the Sunken Forest awaits; it's a maritime holly forest. "The reason it's called sunken is it sits below the dunes, between the dunes and the bay," says Chris Soller, superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore . "You come up over the dunes and go down into the forest." Sailors Haven has a snack bar, a marina and a visitor's center with exhibits for kids and weekend programs.
Admission Fee: The beach is free, but there's a charge for parking at the ferry in Sayville and for a ferry ticket. Call 631-589-0810 for ferry schedule and 2009 fees.
Why it's great for kids : Because mom and dad will be interested, too. When it just has to be the Hamptons, this is a great choice. The miles-long drive from the bridge to the tip of Westhampton offers magnificent views of jaw-droppingly opulent this-must-be-the-Hamptons housing (come on a weekday, or you and the kids will all be cranky because of bumper-to-bumper traffic). The beach is wide and pristine. Don't miss the sand castle contest on Aug. 15.
Admission Fee: With a Suffolk County Green Key card $5 per car, $12 per car without one
6. NICKERSON BEACH PARK
Why it's great for kids : Nickerson has "The Fun Zone," designed to be a family-friendly area for toddlers through teens in Lido Beach. At the south end is a playground area, in the middle, a basketball court. The north end has a skate park with seven ramps and two rails that is often filled with tweens and teens. "If you've got a fairly wide age span of kids, you can watch your toddler in the playground area and have your older child play ball or go to the skate park," says David Ring, a spokesman for Nassau County Parks. "It's a fun day and a little less hectic than Jones Beach." Head to the beach area, where bathrooms and a concession area are available.
Admission Fee: $8 per car with a Nassau County Leisure Pass, nonresidents pay $20 a car
7. ORIENT BEACH STATE PARK
Why it's great for kids : The beach is on Gardiners Bay, so the water is calmer for the kiddies. Kayak rentals and bike rentals are available. The playground is on the beachfront. Orient Beach is a shell-collecting paradise. "It has the most shells available of any state park beach," says George Gorman, deputy regional director of Long Island State Parks.
Admission Fee: $8 per car when lifeguards are on duty; $65 for an Empire Passport that allows unlimited visits
Why it's great for kids : You get the feel of a South Shore ocean beach without the potential roughness of the ocean waves. Sunken Meadow has a boardwalk, concessions, picnic areas and ballfields. And it has wide open, calm water for the little ones and seagulls that make it seem like you're at the Atlantic.
Admission Fee: $8 per car
9. OCEAN BEACH
Why it's great for kids : When the children get restless on the sand, there's Ocean Beach's commercial square to entertain them. The Ice Castle candy store is a hit, as is Rachel's Bake Shop, with fresh-baked muffins and cookies always in the store's plate-glass window. Public restrooms are available, and there's a big playground on the bay, a bay beach with lifeguard for when the ocean gets too rough and basketball courts with balls always on hand. Ocean Beach is the unofficial capital of Fire Island life , and visitors travel to Ocean Beach via the Bay Shore ferry. Ocean Beach also has hotels for overnight stays.
Admission Fee: Ferry tickets costs $9 one-way and $17 round-trip for adults, $4.50 one-way and $7.50 round-trip for children 2 to 12. Children younger than 2 are free. Parking at the ferry dock is $7 daily Monday through Thursday and $14 on Fridays and weekends.
10. HITHER HILLS STATE PARK
Why it's great for kids : Hither Hills becomes its own little community because of the collection of campsites on the north side of the dunes. A general store, a softball field and playgrounds offer diversions from the ocean. Children looking for playmates abound. Hither Hills frequently runs children's activities such as sand-castle building contests . Campers must reserve nine months in advance (800-456-2267), but daytrippers can pay the daily fee and join in the fun.
Admission Fee: $8 per car