New York City in the summertime is hot. Between the humidity and the heat, it can get downright oppressive. Mingled into most plans for a week in NYC is a trip to Coney Island, which is totally worth it, but the beach there can be a bit suffocating with the crowd. An alternative to Coney Island is Rockaway in Queens. Rockaway is a local favorite, and in my opinion the best baby and toddler friendly beach in NYC. Brittany and I bring our family to Rockaway at least two or three times every summer.
So now that you know where to go, I called my friend and Queens native Katherine to help with the lowdown on what to pack, how to get there, where to set up, and where to eat. Katherine runs Heart of Queens, which is a fantastic resource for everything related to New York’s most diverse borough. She is self described as “Queens AF” so she clearly knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the best beach in Queens and NYC.
What to pack:
Packing for a baby and toddler friendly beach day in New York City is totally different than packing for yourself. This post is mainly geared for those coming from out of state and is an abbreviated version of our other post on how to pack for a non-resort beach vacation with babies and toddlers. I’m also assuming you already know to pack sunscreen, hats, etc.
Bring Collapsible Cooler filled with snacks. Brittany and I bought one of these in haste on our honeymoon 12 years ago and we still use it to this day. The benefit you get out of being able to pack meals far outweighs the hassle of lugging it on a flight. Note there are actually really good food options at the Rockaways, which I mention later, but we usually at least pack snacks and extra water. You never know what the kids will agree to eat or when they’ll beg for a snack. Heck, you may end up snacking on the subway.
Pack and Play
If you have a baby, you probably own a Pack and Play already, but if not I highly recommend one that can be carried as a backpack. We use the Guava Lotus Travel Crib and love it. We’ve gone through 3 different Pack and Plays, one for each kid (don’t ask), and this one is by far our favorite. It is the easiest to transport and the zipper feature on the side is amazing. It’s great for the beach, camping, or anywhere you want to be close to your baby without letting him or her eat whatever is on the ground.
Don’t bring your stroller to the beach. Don’t do it. Unless you brought a running stroller, you will curse yourself trying to push those little wheels through the sand. If you’re local you bring that running stroller or better yet a wagon.
Whenever we spend a day at the beach on vacation, we end up buying toys. Never fails. Playing in the water and building sand castles with your hands sounds great in theory, but the kids inevitably always want something for scooping. You can definitely buy toys on the boardwalk at Rockaway, but be nice to the environment. Limit the amount of plastic waste you produce and BYOBT (bring your own beach toys).
Also bring that Beach Blanket. My mom loves quilting so in the past we would just throw down a large quilt. When packing, however, it’s best to have something light weight, sand proof, and something that dries quickly.
Did you notice I didn’t mention an umbrella, chairs, or towels? Who wants to pack that on a trip to NYC? Instead use beachtripper. No affiliate marketing here, folks, it’s just easier and it’s not that expensive. You’d pay more for the airline fees to bring this stuff. Amenities like beach tripper are what makes Rockaway the best baby and toddler friendly beach in NYC!
How to get there:
Depending on your adventure threshold, you have four options. From downtown Manhattan, they all take at least an hour. For the best toddler and baby friendly experience getting to the beach in NYC, I usually choose the subway. The subway is usually less crowded and has open seats for tired legs on the way home. Below are all of your options:
Another option is taking an uber or taxi, but beware, first of all the cost will be insane. You may also wait 15-20 minutes for an available ride home. For reference, I checked Lyft from the Washington Square area to Rockaway Beach and the estimate was $108.00.
If you rented a car in NYC, hi, my name is Mike and I’d like to get to know you better. What do you do for a living? I’d like to know how I can make enough to afford this lifestyle of yours, you fearless daredevil with no regard for your own safety or your bank account. Also, you can park at the free parking lot between Beach 94 and 95 streets or in the lot between Beach 11th and 15th streets. Call me.
Finally, my actual choice, and the choice of most is the A train. The A train runs through the west side of Manhattan and will take you about an hour and a half to get to the beach. Just be sure to get on the trains that say “Far Rockaway – Mott Av” in the window. Occasionally A trains will make a last stop at JFK. Not to worry, without paying attention to the sign, it is still obvious what to do once you’re on the train because you can always just follow the other people with coolers and beach chairs. Or follow the bikinis… just sayin’ they’re probably going to the beach too 🤷♂️. Eventually you will transfer to the shuttle at Broad Channel and pick a beach stop after that, but again, just follow the swimsuits.
Where to Set Up
What makes Rockaway the best baby and toddler friendly beach in NYC? It’s not over crowded and there are plenty of amenities. I’m here to help you lather up that sunscreen and park your beach chair in the best spot.
Speaking of amenities, concession stands, and the biggest bathrooms, are located at Beach 86, Beach 96, and Beach 106. The best thing to do is take the shuttle close to one of the beaches with concessions. Then you can walk about 2 or 3 beaches away to avoid the heavy crowd.
Another option is Riis Park, which is at the far south end of Rockaway. Riis is actually a ferry drop off spot, has a huge parking lot, a nice playground, and a lot of food options. With all these amenities though it does get more crowded.
Where to Eat
You can pick up a great snack, or even a full meal at the concessions located at one of three beaches. Beach 86 has one vendor, the legendary Rippers, occupying the entire concession serving up delicious burgers and chili cheese fries. It is, however, a bit loud and a bit of a party occasionally. Beach 96 features the most options with Super Burrito, La Cevicheria, Breezy’s BBQ, Lobster Joint, and High 97 as well as a few others nearby. At 106th you’ll find Brother’s Rockaway and Caracas Arepas.
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A heat wave 🌡️ 🌞 is hitting NY this week- Stay cool at Riis Park. 🌊 Pictured: The Clamwich, a favorite from RPBB food vendor @rockawayclambar 📸 Photo by @Pithzester. . . . #riisbeach #riispark #therockaways #rockaway #nycbeaches #newyorkbeaches #nyc #summernyc #summer2018 #lobster #seafood #nyseafood #mainelobster #thingstodoinnyc #newyorkbeaches #summerdinner #summerfoodies #nycfoodies #foodies #welovelobster
If you’re already at Riis Park, why leave? It has everything from a beer garden to ceviche to ice cream. Check out the beach bazaar website for more info on all the vendors there.
Uma’s is a more modern, not quite hipster, but lively restaurant that focuses on Uzbek food. Not to worry though, it is definitely approachable for kids. The best dish is the pirozhki, which you can fill with anything from egg to rice or even beef. For the kids, you can get simple kabobs. If you want the authentic flavor but can’t make it to the restaurant, there’s a stall Beach 96.
Pico is a sit-down Mexican restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating. If you’ve read any of my other food related posts, you know I love a good margarita and they have one that hits the spot. The food is great and the portions are very generous. This makes a great filler after a long day at the beach.
Bungalow Bar & Restaurant
My favorite fact about Bungalow is that it was on that show Bar Rescue. It was different than most Bar Rescue episodes because rather than fix a poor performer the Bungalow needed help after Hurricane Sandy. Similar to Pico and Uma, there’s great food and a view here. You can get yourself a cocktail while serving up a “mocktail” lemonade or something for the kids.
Bonus: Mara’s Ice Cream Parlor
Mara’s is a great cool down after a long day at the best baby and toddler friendly beach in NYC. The little patio area is a fun spot for the kids to dig around in the sand one more time while they fill their face with a cold treat.
We kicked off this blog with a lot of posts about NYC because we have been giving a lot of recommendations to family and friends who visit the big apple. Since we love the beach, we thought we’d start out helping you identify the best baby and toddler friendly beach in NYC. Have you been to a beach in NYC before? What about other big cities? What big city with a beach should be next on our list?