What you'll pay: $825,000
What you'll get: A three-bedroom, one-bath 1,500-square-foot home
Distance to midtown: A 90-minute trip, by car or the A train. Ferry service cuts time to 40 minutes.
In Manhattan's real-estate parlance, "water view" can describe the most meager slice of the East River visible only from a bathroom window. Not so in Belle Harbor. In this stretch of the narrow Rockaway peninsula that constitutes southernmost Queens, you're never more than a few blocks from the ocean. The tight-knit middle-class enclave is home to teachers, firefighters and police officers, many of whom were raised in the area. "I live around the corner from my parents, and down the street from a woman both my husband and I grew up with," says Maud Smith, mom of Kiernan, 6, Charlie, 3, and a third child due in August.
Of course, newcomers are welcome, too. Nancy Melchiorri, mother of twins Mia and Cara, 8, and Nina, 5, moved to Belle Harbor from Sheepshead Bay five years ago and loves the sense of community. "It's the best place to raise a family—there are kids everywhere. You've got the beach, nature, plus tons of activities like soccer and gymnastics." Among the many options for athletics, Aviator Sports and Recreation (Hangar 5, Floyd Bennett Field, Flatbush Ave at Belt Pkwy, Marine Park, Brooklyn; 718-758-9800), a five-minute ride by car (you'll need one to get around out here) from Belle Harbor, is popular for its ice-skating lessons and soccer teams.
For little ones, the play center Kids 'N Shape (162-26 Cross Bay Blvd between 162nd and 163rd Aves, Howard Beach, Queens; 718-848-2052) is a ten-minute car ride away. The space runs toddler groups and birthday parties as well as after-school classes for children up to age 11. Smith currently takes Charlie to toddler time at the Seaside Branch of the Queens Public Library (116-15 Rockaway Beach Blvd at Beach 116th St, 718-634-1876).
Beach 129th Street between Cronston and Newport Avenues is home to shopping services and a few casual eateries; locals go for the Italian treats at Ciro's Pastry Shop (415 Beach 129th St at Newport Ave, 718-634-7332) and the pizza at Plum Tomatoes (420 Beach 129th St at Newport Ave, 718-474-1775). The Belle Harbor Steakhouse (268 Beach 116th St at Rockaway Beach Blvd, 718-318-5100) will gladly pull up a high chair for your little one. In addition to the small grocery store on Beach 129th Street, there's a Waldbaums supermarket (112-15 Beach Channel Dr between Rockaway Pkwy and Beach 116th St, 718-474-6366) just a few blocks away.
Most of Belle Harbor's homes are one-family Victorians, many with original details such as fireplaces or French doors, starting around $825,000, according to Tighe Leavel, a broker with West End Realty in the Rockaways. You can score a 1,000-square-foot co-op with unobstructed views of the city skyline, one block from the beach, starting in the low $400,000s.
Insideschools.org gives the neighborhood's grammar school, P.S. 114 (134-01 Cronston Ave at Beach 134th St), its highest rating, thanks to intensive parent involvement and high test scores. One downside to living within easy access to the beach is the long haul to Manhattan —a whopping 90 minutes by car or the A train. Ferry service from nearby Riis Landing cuts travel time to 40 minutes. But even now, for true beach aficionados, the commute is worth it. "We have people from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island moving here," says Leavel. "It's the last undeveloped beach community—we still have land on the ocean."
Bottom line: If you want to live near the shore, check out this seaside town with a strong elementary school.