Jaycee Levin and Wesley Grantham, of Manhattan, eat at Tacoaway...

Jaycee Levin and Wesley Grantham, of Manhattan, eat at Tacoaway Beach in the Rockaways. Credit: Linda Rosier

We all have that distant cousin: The one who looks a little like us, lives an hour away and is always up to cool stuff, but whom we hardly ever see. For Long Island, Rockaway Beach is that cousin: Beachy like us, rich with adventure, and a relatively short drive away. We just somehow never get there because …. well, we have our own beaches, thank you.

Yet there are 101 reasons for Long Islanders to plan a day trip here.

The Rockaway peninsula, which juts between Jamaica Bay and the ocean just beyond Kennedy International Airport, holds a string of diverse neighborhoods that morph from bungalows to high-rises to desolate, wind-swept dunes. It’s impossible to see it all in a few hours — but this daylong tour will reveal this unique community’s flavors, colors and textures.

The Belt Parkway to the Cross Bay Bridge is the easiest way for Long Islanders to get here, though you can also slip in from the west end of Atlantic Beach or the Five Towns. So skip breakfast at home, cue up some Ramones and aim your car across Broad Channel and into the heart of Rockaway Beach. Or, if you prefer to leave the car at home, take a Long Island Rail Road train to Far Rockaway then catch a nearby Q22 bus to Rockaway Beach, or catch a ride-sharing service from the station.

Grab breakfast

A beach towel is our morning destination, but you’ll need supplies, and the east-west artery Rockaway Beach Boulevard is where most businesses cluster. Parking is a challenge on these stubby cross streets — if you find street parking early, hang onto it like gold and consider taking a bus or Uber around town. Alternatively, you could park in the commercial lot at Beach 108th Street, one of the only such lots in town, and bring your bike to get around.

For a pastry-driven breakfast, find the homey Rockaway Beach Bakery at Beach 87th Street, where the bakery case tempts with maple-blueberry financiers, apricot croissants and mango scones.

Hit the beach

Head west, young grasshopper. Well, at least as far west as Jacob Riis Park, a graceful beach about a 10-minute drive past the neighborhoods of Belle Harbor and Neponsit. The sweeping sand is peopled with a mellow mix of families and young beachgoers, many of whom have taken the ferry from the city. (Car parking is $20) 

Children play on the shoreline at Jacob Riis Park in...

Children play on the shoreline at Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways, July 22, 2021. Credit: Linda Rosier

Named for the 19th-century photojournalist, Jacob Riis Park was unveiled in the 1930s and became known as both "the people’s beach" and a safe hangout for LGBTQ community. The surf looks gentle enough, but the beaches of the Rockaways are known for their strong currents — so be vigilant.

Browse local shops

If in a shopping mood, a few blocks away you’ll find chockablock dresses, bags and curios inside Zingara Vintage, run by Suffok County native Erin Silvers, who if she’s here bubbles over with local intel and tips.

Cheers with a cocktail

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, especially here, and if you haven’t started drinking beer or "beach juice" at Rippers, you are probably two steps ahead (or behind) everyone around you. The drinks come at premium at Rockaway Beach Surf Club, which isn’t on the beach at all (it’s under the A Train) but feels like a psychedelic tropical shack. Its main draw is as the home of Tacoway Beach, the modern incarnation of cult-favorite food truck Rockaway Taco. The lush patio is a Gen-Z hangout, the fish tacos are unfussy and the plastic-cup margaritas…..well, you get the idea.

Farther east, the neighborhood of Arverne — a stretch of newish condos in the Beach 70s — harbors a quieter beach and a few solid hangouts, among them Rockaway Tiki Bar, where rum-heavy mai tais and "pain chillers" (a frozen painkiller) await, as do bar bites like crispy mushroom bao buns and togarashi-dusted fries. For a more traditional sit-down dinner, the shoulder-to-shoulder places along Rockaway Beach Boulevard boast ramen, Jamaican barbecue, and even an Uzbek place called Uma’s where you can fortify with plov (barberry-studded rice pilaf) or manti, aka steamed dumplings.

Have dinner and enjoy live music

The Rooftop bar overlooking Rockaway beach at the Rockaway Hotel,...

The Rooftop bar overlooking Rockaway beach at the Rockaway Hotel, July 24, 2021. Credit: Linda Rosier

At this point, you may be calling it a night. Yet this staycation is not complete without a view of Rockaway Beach at sunset and from on high. That would be on the sixth floor of the Rockaway Hotel.

The Tuna Crispy Rice platter at the Rooftop bar at...

The Tuna Crispy Rice platter at the Rooftop bar at the Rockaway Hotel, July 24, 2021. Credit: Linda Rosier

There are multiple nooks to play: A poolside bar and patio with cabanas, a ground-floor seafood restaurant called Margie’s, and The Rooftop, a pair of patios (one each overlooking the ocean and the bay) joined by a lazy, elegant bar. If you hang around long enough on a weekend night, there are DJs; and if evening turns to late night, rooms here start at $425 or so.

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