When you're after a beach in New York State, the glitz and glamor of the Hamptons or the old-school appeal of Coney Island – both in the vicinity of New York City – tend to steal the spotlight. But away from the Atlantic Coast and across the Empire State, in the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes, western New York and northeastern, there are sandy havens to be found.

No matter which direction you’re heading, be sure to check the water quality at your destination before going for a swim. The 67 beaches in New York’s state-park system make it easy, conducting tests at least once a week and posting the results online, at park offices and any beaches with high numbers. 

Rockaway Beach is the ideal place for surfers

The Ramones may have put it on the map back in the ‘70s, but over the years, Rockaway Beach has maintained its reputation as a super summertime spot with great waves, good eats, and a pleasantly-sandy stretch of shore. The Queens stalwart hosts the city’s only sanctioned surfing beaches, one between Beach 67th and 69th streets and the other between 87th and 92nd; newbies can take lessons from Locals Surf School, and experienced wave-riders can rent boards and gear from a handful of shops nearby. For refreshments, hit the concession stands at 87th, 96th, and 106th, or venture off the boardwalk and head for Tacoway Beach, a seasonal setup at Rockaway Beach Surf Club slinging fish tacos that are worth the subway ride alone. 

Orchard Beach is the Bronx's summer hot spot

Dubbed "the Riviera of New York" when it opened in the 1930s, Orchard Beach is the only beach in the Bronx, and it remains a hot spot to this day. Don’t expect to find peace and quiet here: between the playgrounds and the snack bars, the promenade with restaurants and retail, and dozens of basketball, volleyball, and handball courts, the 1.1-mile-long beach is a go-to destination all summer long. The waves are gentle, thanks to its perch on the Long Island Sound, and the sand is accessible, with beach mats and two sand-friendly wheelchairs available upon request.

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Coney Island's Wonder Wheel and crowded beach, as seen from the water
The attractions at historic Coney Island draw people from across NYC © Julienne Schaer / NYC & Company

Coney Island has the best beach for amusements

Once a seaside escape for the city’s moneyed elite, Coney Island was developed as a resort in the 1800s, and by the turn of the century, its amusement-park attractions were drawing crowds from all five boroughs. Today, its South Brooklyn sand and surf aren’t necessarily the cleanest (watch out for broken glass and other detritus), but its boardwalk is hard to beat for people-watching, especially if you manage to snag a table outside at Ruby’s, where the beers are cheap and cold and the littleneck clams are too.

Steps away from the beach, Luna Park has rides, games, and more. Don’t skip the Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster dating to 1927 that’s a New York City landmark. For a rainy day option or a break from the sun, the nearby Coney Island Museum offers an overview of the neighborhood’s storied history.

The shoreline at Brighton Beach on a cloudy day
Brighton Beach is a calmer spot to the east of Coney Island © Will Steacy / NYC & Company

Brighton Beach is a local favorite in Brooklyn

A quick stroll down the boardwalk to Coney Island’s east, Brighton Beach is a bit more low-key than its rowdier neighbor, with fewer day-trippers and more locals socializing, exercising, and simply enjoying the elements. Known as Little Odessa, the area is famous for its Russian and Ukrainian restaurants, many of which are located off the beach and under the elevated train on Brighton Beach Avenue, making for a convenient – and surprisingly satisfying – stop after the day in the sun. 

Manhattan Beach is Brooklyn's family-friendly beach

On the other side of Brighton is the residential enclave of Manhattan Beach, a family-friendly neighborhood at the southern tip of Brooklyn with baseball fields, tennis, volleyball, handball, and basketball courts, and two playgrounds – one outfitted with a pirate ship, complete with climbing ropes and a crow’s nest. With gentle waves, plenty of sand, and grills available on a first-come, first-served basis, this beach embraces families from all over for sunny-day barbecues, picnics, and more. 

Jacob Riis Park Beach draws thousands in the summer

On the Rockaway peninsula between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Jacob Riis Park is home to a popular strip of sand nicknamed “the People’s Beach," and it lives up to its reputation, welcoming tens of thousands of sunbathers – often topless – during the summer months. Part of Gateway National Recreation Area, a sprawling, 27,000-acre park covering parts of New Jersey as well as Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, this historic LGBTIQ+ site boasts a restored art deco bathhouse dating to the 1930s, a pitch-and-putt golf course, and concessions galore – think frozen guava margaritas, key-lime piña coladas, lobster rolls, and fried clams – from the uber-popular Riis Park Beach Bazaar. 

A cyclist passes on a trail through plant-lined sand dunes
The more secluded Fort Tilden Beach in Queens is best reached by bike © CHOONGKY / Shutterstock

Fort Tilden is NYC's best remote beach 

Most of New York City’s beaches are easily accessible via public transit, but not Fort Tilden. Getting to the former military site from Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens requires a lengthy excursion by train, bus, and/or water taxi, depending on your point of departure, so you’re better off jumping in the car – or even better, on your bike – to make the trek. (Note that if you choose to drive, you’ll have to park nearby at Jacob Riis and walk over, so pack accordingly.)

Rest assured, though: once you reach the shore, transportation hassles will be the furthest thing from your mind. Also part of Gateway National Recreation Area, Fort Tilden benefits from its remote environs, with a relatively quiet beach unspoiled by massive crowds and complications. Of course, such simplicity comes at a cost, and you won’t find amenities like snack bars, restrooms, or even lifeguards here; for all that and more, opt for Jacob Riis. But the water feels cleaner and the sand is unsullied, making it well worth the trip. 

Long Beach has activities for all age groups

Located off the South Shore of Long Island, smack-dab in the middle of the barrier island that gives it its name, Long Beach is less than an hour from Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad. But you’d hardly know it once you arrive – given its pristine sands and surf-worthy swells, the town’s Ocean Beach Park could be half a world away, with only the crowds to hint otherwise. The 3.5-mile beach is one of the island’s best, and it’s tailor-made for families, with multiple playgrounds for the little ones and loads of activities for the older ones too, including surf lessons, bike rentals, and a 2.25-mile boardwalk to explore. You'll find plenty of food carts and concession stands selling burgers and ice cream too.

Two teens walk away from the camera up a beach path with grass-topped dunes either side of them
Jones Beach has more than 6 miles of sand to enjoy © Alex Potemkin / Getty Images

Jones Beach is part of a popular state park 

A hop, skip, and a jump across a narrow inlet east of Long Beach, Jones Beach Island is considered to have one of the best beaches on Long Island. Its eponymous state park is extremely popular, drawing some six million visitors on an annual basis. Its appeal is due in no small part to the open-air amphitheater, a beautiful venue overlooking the bay and featuring A-list talent all summer long. But the beach itself deserves credit as well. There are over 6 miles of white sand and a two-mile boardwalk lined with restaurants, cafes, and concession stands. Follow the winding bike paths, enjoy quiet pastimes like fishing and birding, or play miniature golf and shuffleboard – there’s enough here to keep everyone occupied.

Early morning clouds light up in pink and magenta against a blue sky near a lighthouse
Kismet is a lively beach town on Fire Island © Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images

Fire Island has New York's best LGBTQ+ beaches

Accessible only by ferry, the car-free Fire Island – another barrier island, situated east of Jones Beach – is a welcome change from the gridlock on the rest of Long Island. The boat will take you directly to a number of destinations across the 32-mile-long island, but if it’s your first visit, get off at Ocean Beach, a quaint village with postcard-ready storefronts and restaurants, for an easy entry into island life. Whether you’re vacationing here for Pride or seeking out LGBTIQ+ communities year-round, Cherry Grove and the Pines are where you want to be; for house shares, bars, and a thriving pickup scene, head to Kismet; and for a slower, family vibe, check out Saltaire.

Plattsburgh City Beach is great for water sports

One of the largest freshwater beaches in the state, Plattsburgh City Beach is located in the northeastern-most reaches of New York on Lake Champlain, directly across the water from Vermont and the Green Mountains. In addition to its stellar views, it’s good for a sporty day out – kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent – as well as an excursion with a canine companion. Yes, unlike numerous spots in the state, dogs are welcome here. 

Father and son fishing at a pebbly beach
Find a family-friendly spot at one of Montauk's beaches © The Good Brigade / Getty Images

Montauk has beaches for solitude, surf crowds, and families

What list of New York beaches would be complete without a mention of the Hamptons? Once a sleepy fishing community at the easternmost point of Long Island, home to artists, surfers, and creative types of all stripes, Montauk now tends to be party central in the peak summer months, though it remains charmingly low-key in the off-season. 

Less than two miles from the LIRR terminus is the family-oriented Kirk Park Beach, with public restrooms and lifeguards on duty. If mingling with the surf crowd is more your speed, stake out space on the sand at Ditch Plains, just east of the village proper. One of New York’s top-ten state parks for biodiversity, Hither Hills is less populated than the beaches in town, and you can book a campsite and stay overnight if you’re so inclined. For an even more remote experience, strap on your walking shoes and head for the Amsterdam Beach Preserve, where a gentle, wooded loop leads up to bluffs with ocean views and down to a rocky beach untouched by the masses.

Million Dollar Beach at Lake George is the best freshwater beach

New York’s Atlantic-facing beaches get lots of attention, but its freshwater lakes deserve some as well. One of best beaches upstate can be found in the Adirondacks, about an hour north of Albany on Lake George. Dubbed the Million Dollar Beach for its opening cost in 1951, this sandy 51-acre shoreline is public property operated by the state, with a bathhouse and a volleyball court, plus grills and picnic tables for meals alfresco. 

Blue waters over a rocky shore, with trees in the background
Green Lakes State Park, New York © Jeffrey M. Frank / Shutterstock

Green Lakes State Park's beach is surrounded by woodland

Just outside of Syracuse in the eastern Finger Lakes, Green Lakes State Park comprises two crystal-clear lakes, one with a sandy beach for swimming, the other designated a National Natural Landmark. The beach is a draw in its own right, a sandy spread overlooking blue-green waters, encircled by thick woods, with a lifeguard, a modern bathhouse, and concessions onsite. But the lakes themselves are the main attraction here. Reaching depths of nearly 200ft, with a chemical balance that keeps the layers of water from intermixing, these lakes are meromictic – a fascinating natural phenomenon, and a rare one too. There are less than 20 meromictic lakes in the US, and this pair is even more unique, taking their signature aqua hue from the mineral content of the water, not biological sources like algae or phytoplankton.

Bennett Beach on Lake Erie is perfect for fishing and birdwatching

Some 20 miles south of Buffalo on the Lake Erie shore, Bennett Beach is a hidden gem: a sandy (albeit rocky) freshwater beach with gentle waves, surrounded by grassy fields, wildflowers, and dunes. The Angola-area favorite cultivates a family atmosphere – loud music and booze are strictly prohibited and swimming is only allowed when a lifeguard is on duty. But the furry members of your household will have to stay home, along with items like life jackets, rafts, and kayaks, as dogs and flotation devices are forbidden as well. Still, whether you’re fishing for trout in the nearby creek or watching for waterfowl, shorebirds, and even the odd eagle, there’s enough here to make a real day of it – especially if you stay to catch the sun setting over the lake.

Introducing Eastern USA

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This article was first published March 2021 and updated March 2022

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