5 U.S. Beaches You Can Get to Without a Car

Beaches with a car - Chicago's Oak Street Beach
Flickr, Tom Gill

Summer may be winding down, but there are still a few weekends left to spend at the beach. Rather than sit in traffic or rent an expensive car, you can ride public transportation to many beaches in the U.S. Seasonal routes are especially likely to be popular, so go early and pack light.

Boston – CapeFLYER train to Cape Cod
Reintroduced this summer, the CapeFLYER train goes every weekend from Boston out to Hyannis, connecting to ferries for Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and buses up and down Cape Cod. Fares are from $18 from South Station, with a few bucks’ savings if you buy round trip. You can bring a bike, get concessions onboard and get free Wi-Fi. The train will run through Columbus Day, October 14.

Chicago – El train to Oak Street Beach
Not everyone thinks of this city smack in the midwest as a beach town, but thanks to Lake Michigan, there are more beaches around Chicago than Bermuda. There are many to choose from, but Oak Street Beach is the most central with the most spectacular skyline view. It’s a few blocks from the El train at Clark and Division, though a bus up Lake Shore Drive will get you there closer. Beaches are free and open until Labor Day, but you can enjoy the water views year round. CTA fares are $2.25, with deductions for transit cards.Los Angeles – Big Blue Bus to Santa Monica
While it’s a major car city, there are ways to get to Santa Monica and Venice Beach from downtown Los Angeles without wheels. The Big Blue Bus serves all of Santa Monica and connects to Venice Beach as well. Fares are just $1, with day passes available. LA Metro has rapid buses to Venice Beach, with fares from $1.50. A new light rail line will connect Santa Monica to downtown LA, getting you on the beach even faster.

New York – A train to Far Rockaway
New Yorkers are lucky to have lots of options for sand and swimming, from Brooklyn‘s Brighton Beach to Long Island‘s Jones Beach, and Rockaway Beach in Queens has long been an urban favorite. While it suffered a lot from last year’s superstorm Sandy, it’s back in a big way, with many boardwalk concessions reopened and a new boutique hotel. A $2.50 subway fare gets you there on the A train, and there’s also a weekend-only ferry from downtown Manhattan if you’d like a more scenic (and spendy, at $20 one way) ride.

Washington, D.C. – DC2NY bus to Delaware beaches
While a bit much for a day trip, budget bus company DC2NY offers seasonal shuttles to Delaware‘s Rehoboth (one of Dr. Beach‘s favorites in the country) and Dewey beaches from Washington, as well as Wilmington and New York. The trip takes about 2½ hours, leaving Friday night and weekend mornings through Labor Day. Fares are $39 each way, but you do get Wi-Fi, a power outlet and a bottle of water.

What are your favorite beaches to visit without a car?

A Night Aboard ‘Ms. Nancy Boggs’ At Far Rockaway’s Boatel

It was like stepping onto the set of a horror film. An array of dusty knick-knacks lined the shelves, ranging from empty glass bottles to vintage photographs and eyeless doll heads. Torn pantyhose, some colored red, were strewn up as curtains. In the closet, there was a musty aroma and a pile of something furry.

This would be our home for the evening.

We were onboard “Ms. Nancy Boggs,” a 1967 Drift-R houseboat that had been outfitted as part of the Boatel floating hotel project at Marina 59 in Far Rockaway, Queens, just an hour from downtown New York City. Described as an “interactive art and sound installation,” the Boatel consists of 16 themed houseboats, clustered around a central dock that functions as an outdoor kitchen and common space. “Bad Irene” combines futuristic décor with Bollywood kitsch; “Sweet Annisa” sports a red vinyl interior said to have been designed for West Indian drug lords; and “Americano” was built for a weekend bender with Vanilla Ice, Richard Pryor and Neil Patrick Harris. Personality? This place has plenty.

boatel

Our adventure had begun earlier in the day, on the A train from Manhattan. Boatel’s website had advised us to come “adventure-ready,” so our overnight bags were stuffed accordingly: bug spray, sunscreen, sleeping bags, booze and an assortment of costume apparel left over from last year’s trip to Burning Man.

By the time we arrived at Marina 59, the sun had already fallen. A few grizzled sailors manned the entrance to the Boatel, swilling Coors Light on plastic chairs. When we inquired about our night’s accommodations, a fairy-like blonde appeared with directions to our boat and an invitation to return if we wanted sheets.

The dock had seen better days, and its panels groaned under our weight. After unloading our gear onto Nancy and gaping at her oddities with a mix of whimsy, curiosity and fear, we poured ourselves a drink and ventured out to explore our surroundings.

First stop was the convenience store next door, where we were instantly reminded that we weren’t in a nautical Never-Never Land, but rather smack in the middle of one of Queens’ rougher neighborhoods. The cashiers seemed used to drop-in hippies from the Marina, though, and they laughed at our tie-dye and face paint.

Back in the Marina, we dropped by a shipping-container-turned-art-studio, filled with paintings that were colorful but angry, and filled with sexual symbolism. A pillow and yoga mat lay in the corner, as evidence of artistic commitment.

Walking back to the boat, we encountered two goats that seemed perfectly at home in the middle of a parking lot in a dilapidated marina in Queens. This would be an interesting night.

Back on the dock, a lecture was in progress. In addition to houseboat accommodations, Boatel also offers a variety of community programming, including lectures, live music and a “Floating Cinema” featuring screenings of nautical classics like “Treasure Island” and “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.” Two-thirds of the way through, the lecture was interrupted by a theatrical play on a shark attack, complete with splashing kayakers and projected images of sharp teeth.

Post-lecture, we barbequed, drank and relaxed on the pier. Between the softly lapping waves and surreal surroundings, it was easy to escape the pulsating energy of the city we’d left just a few hours earlier. Conversation jumped from topic to esoteric topic, and laughter echoed in the air. No one checked their smartphones. Somewhere between late evening and early morning, we slipped into deep sleeps, aided by Nancy’s gentle rocking.

Morning came, and intense sunlight woke us long before we were ready. As my eyes fluttered open, I took in the surroundings: the glinting glass bottles, the vintage photographs. The light was soft streaming in through the pantyhose. Even the doll heads didn’t look so creepy in the light of day.

Stepping off the boat, we greeted the friends we’d made the previous evening and began to prepare a light breakfast. But soon, the morning calm was interrupted by a band of police inspectors, who stopped at each boat to inquire about the Boatel’s safety practices. Despite my initial reservations the night before, I now felt affectionate toward the Boatel, even a bit defensive of the otherworldly atmosphere the artists and organizers had managed to create. The Boatel is no luxury “I’m On A Boat” experience, but it is certainly something special, and we shared as much with our interrogators. Then, with one last look back at the dock, the goats and Ms. Nancy Boggs, we braced ourselves to reenter the real world.

The Boatel is located at Marina 59 in Far Rockaway, Queens, just off the A subway stop at Beach 60th Street. Rooms are available from Wednesday to Sunday until November 1, with rates starting from $55/night.