Affordable Beachy Day Trips from NYC

Memorial Day weekend in New York City is either an excuse to barbecue or to hit the beach. From Manhattan, reaching a decent beach can become quite the odyssey, especially if you don’t have a car.

Even if you’re not lucky enough to summer in the Hamptons, you can leave the city and lounge on a beach without spending a fortune. Not all beaches around New York City, however, are created equal. Depending on your mood, here are four beaches that are within a day trip from Manhattan and accessible by public transportation.

Coney Island

Good for: Nathan’s hot dogs, a boardwalk with carnival games and rides (the new Luna Park opens Saturday, May 29), the New York Aquarium (the sea lion show is surprisingly fun), and the bone-rattling Cyclone wooden roller coaster.
Beach quality: Expect cigarette butts in the sand, virtually no waves, and murky water that’s OK for dipping in your toes. Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone who has actually jumped all the way into that water.
Cost from Manhattan: $4.50 for a round-trip subway card. Give yourself at least an hour in travel time by subway.

Fire Island
Good for: Relaxing on (comparatively) uncrowded beaches.
Beach quality: Rougher waves (beware of swimsuit malfunctions — wear a suit that can take the beating), but don’t expect too much in the way of amenities. Bring a beach umbrella because there’s little to no shade.
Cost from Manhattan: Long Island Rail Road train from Penn Station to Bay Shore (from $21.50 for an off-peak round-trip ticket) then a ferry (from $10 for a round-trip pass). Check the train and ferry schedules carefully, and make sure you don’t miss the last ferry back. For one-way travel times, allot two hours for the train and at least 20 minutes for the ferry.

Jones Beach
Good for:
Summer music concerts, lots of junk-food concession stands, some picnic tables, and decent waves.
Beach quality: Serviceable but crowded with families. Beach umbrella rentals are available.
Cost from Manhattan: $16.50 for the MTA’s Jones Beach package with discounted one-day round-trip LIRR tickets to Freeport and a bus connection to the beach. This year’s service is available on weekends May 29-Sept. 12 plus Memorial Day (May 31); weekdays June 28-Sept. 6.

Atlantic City, NJ
Good for: Gambling, strolling the boardwalk, and people-watching.
Beach quality: Obviously not the Caribbean, but not bad for a quick getaway. Keep in mind that you can easily sit in three hours of traffic trying to get to the Hamptons.
Cost from Manhattan:
The Atlantic City Express Service train from New York’s Penn Station is the fastest route by public transit. One-way tickets start at $29 for the 2.5-hour trip.

Having visited each of these beaches and mostly by public transportation, I feel obligated to share these seven seemingly obvious tips. Feel free to add your own.

[Image Credits: Amy Chen]

Check the schedule. When traveling by train, bus, or ferry, double-check the schedule for any service changes or delays. This is especially important if you need to connect by bus or ferry to reach the beach.

Have a Plan B. If you know you’re the type to dawdle, aim to catch the second-to-last departure on the way home. That way, in the event you lose track of time, you have a buffer and won’t have to stress about finding your way back.

Do the math. Depending on the size of your group or if you’re traveling with a lot of kids or gear, it may be more cost-effective and easier to rent a car. In the New York area, car-sharing companies such as Zipcar and Connect by Hertz offer hourly rentals with gas and insurance included. (Expect to pay a membership fee and familiarize yourself with any mileage limits — I once exceeded the daily mileage limit with my Zipcar rental and paid a penalty that effectively doubled the price of the rental). Don’t forget to factor in any parking fees or tolls.

Lighten your load. Can you rent chairs or umbrellas at the beach? Then don’t bother schlepping all that gear on the subway, train, bus, or ferry.

Know the rules. Does the train, bus, or ferry allow coolers or glass bottles? What about the beach? If certain items are prohibited, you could find yourself dragging unnecessary stuff and then being forced to dump all of it.

Bring a cover-up and a change of clothes. If it took you two hours to get there, you’ll want to be comfortable on the ride back.

Oh, and
don’t forget to wear sunblock.