RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC
Head to the best NYC beaches (and other local beaches!) for more summer fun than you can possibly handle. Free activities for kids are the best, after all! Beaches in New York (in many cases) are easily accessible by subway or Metro North/LIRR, plus you can simply pack a picnic, some beach chairs and go at any time (especially this Memorial Day for kids). Take advantage of NYC beaches all summer long with our handy guide below, and don't forget to visit our favorite swimming pools.
NYC beaches for families
Hoovering cotton candy, taking a ride on the iconic Cyclone and putting your toes in that less-than-pristine sand on Coney Island are all rites of passage that can't be matched elsewhere, and the kids will love posting up under an umbrella for some prime people-watching between dips in the ocean. Expect the three-mile stretch of sand and the boardwalk running its length to be packed on a regular basis, but with enough adult chaperones, the memories are worth battling the hoardes. You'll also probably want to visit the New York Aquarium and, of course, Luna Park nearby for some epic summer thrills (and if not, no worries—nobody ever said building sandcastles was a bad thing).
Escape the city scene and enjoy a day of fun in the sun, minus the crazy crowds. Airplane-obsessed tots can feel the rumble of jets en route to JFK at this underutilized beach near the airport, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. In addition to sunscreen and towels, pack a picnic for the gang—you'll want to avoid schlepping the kids to one of the spread out food vendors.
While this shore was forced to scale back its operations in 2011, there are still 6.5 miles of sand and a two-mile boardwalk to enjoy. If swimming in the waves intimidates your tots, take them to one of the beach's two pools. Pro tip: Make the drive early in the day to ensure a good parking spot—nothing brings on temper tantrums like trekking across hot pavement with beach chairs.
Avoid the crowds of Brighton Beach, and kick back at its calmer seaside sister. Manhattan Beach juts out from the same peninsula and boasts wide stretches of soft sand for families to romp around on. Between dips, the kids can face off in a game of volleyball on the regulation-size courts and explore the 36-foot-long pirate ship outfitted with wooden planks, talk tubes, a cannon and a crow’s nest in the nautically themed Pat Perlato Playground. Pack sneakers and sandals to take advantage of the space’s two handball courts and three basketball courts, then enjoy a picnic on or bring a barbecue to the northeast side of the promenade.
Need to cool off? Head over to the Staten Island Ferry for a full-day beach getaway on New York Bay. As you make the trek down the 2.5-mile Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk, keep an eye out for the colorful Playland Playground, channeling an age-old Staten Island amusement park with carnival faces and dolphin decorations throughout. You won’t be able to miss the sea-turtle fountain—a favorite for kids to frolic in (bring your water shoes!)—and there’s plenty of recreation nearby for those who’d choose sports over sand castles. Strap on skates and hit the roller-hockey rink, try out handball and shuffleboard or bring a set of wheels to use on the bike paths and skateboard park ramps.
The crescent-shaped beach is only 1.1 miles long and is entirely man-made. Thanks to the sound's minimal waves, parents can feel more at east with little ones playing at the water's edge. Nearby concessions keep hungry kids happy and the changing rooms, showers and bathrooms ensure that everyone's sand-free for the ride home. The surrounding grounds of Pelham Bay Park—with picnic areas and nature trails—are equally worth the trip to the end of the 6.
This Long Island state park is a little farther out, but it might be worth the extra travel time if Jones is too crowded for you—and if you have a car (the easiest way to get here). Thanks to ample parking spots and multiple trails to the beach, hauling the kids' supply of buckets and toys is a bit easier. Stroll along the long, flat shoreline and help the tots search for seashells, but be forewarned—the easternmost stretch, called Field 5, is clothing-optional.
Encompassing more than 170 acres of sand, this family-friendly beach attracts New Yorkers from all five boroughs. Seven playgrounds keep kids happy while wave riders enjoy the city's only surfing areas. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, kids ages five to 15 can take individual or group lessons or weeklong surf camps taught by certified instructors. Low-wave day? Older kids can take a stab at stand-up paddling on the bay. Fishing, skating, volleyball, sunning and, of course, swimming are also favorite activities.
Hop aboard the SeaStreak ferry in Manhattan for a 40-minute ride to immaculate, shell-strewn Sandy Hook. After they've been dropped off near the lighthouse in the Fort Hancock Historic District, kids (four feet and up) can climb 95 steps and a nine-rung ladder to the top. Guided tours are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Get some fresh air in your lungs and hit the trails as a family at this scenic Staten Island oasis. Meander through Wolfe’s Pond Park’s native forest (the spot is a wildlife and plant preserve), and keep an eye out for marine life, like blue crabs and jellyfish, and birds such as killdeers and sandpipers skittering along the water’s edge. Active kids can hit the nearby basketball and tennis courts, or the family can kick back and enjoy a picnic and soak up some sun on the sandy beach, looking out over Raritan Bay.