#northamerica

Ultimate Guide To The Rockaways

Where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and more. Plan a day trip or extended weekend staycation.

Ultimate Guide To The Rockaways

The Rockaways are comprised of a 5.5-mile stretch of sandy beach and boardwalk along the peninsula in the borough of Queens, New York. It rose to fame in 1977 when the punk rock band, The Ramones, released the song "Rockaway Beach," and today, hoards of New Yorkers flock to the summer hot spot for a day trip or weekend escape. Having suffered extensive damage with Superstorm Sandy in 2012, The Rockaways underwent a significant, sustainable rebuilding process that stands as a testament to the resilience of New York City.

It boasts the only two surf beaches in the city—along with fishing spots, playgrounds for kids, independent boutiques, art galleries, and a vibrant restaurant scene. Toss a distinctively laid-back atmosphere into the mix and you've got yourself a destination that feels worlds away from the frenzy of Manhattan.  

Need help planning a staycation? Turn to Journy. We'll find you the best, within-budget accommodations, arrange transportation, provide a curated list of socially distant activities and vetted restaurants, and make sure you know where to get the essentials (grocery stores, markets, wine shops, pharmacies, etc).

Rockaway Beach | @rockawaybeachlocal 

How To Get To Rockaway Beach / The Far Rockaways

By car: It'll take you just around 45 minutes to reach The Rockaways by car from Manhattan, via either the Grand Central Parkway, I-495 E, or I-678 S. For best beach access, head to the end of Flatbush Avenue or take the Belt Parkway. There's free parking in the lots near the beach between Beach 94th and 95th Streets, as well as from Beach 11th to 15th Streets.

By subway: Take the A train to the Rockaway Park Shuttle, which stops at Beach 67th Street, 90th Street, 98th Street, 105th Street, and 116th Street. Depending on your stop, it should take you around an hour and 15 minutes from Manhattan. You can also take the J or Z to Woodhaven Boulevard and transfer to a Q53 or Q21 bus to 108 Beach Street.

By ferry: For a more scenic route, opt for the Rockaway Ferry, which leaves from Wall Street and Sunset Park. A one-way ticket will run you the cost of a metro swipe ($2.75).

By bike: If you're up for an adventure, take the two-hour bike ride along the paths that lead to the boardwalk. Start by biking down the West Side Highway in Manhattan, then cross over the Brooklyn Bridge and proceed through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Crown Heights. Once you get to Howard Beach, you'll turn right onto Cross Bay Boulevard, which leads straight to Rockaway Beach.

Where To Stay (if you're opting for an overnight trip)

The High Tide

This boutique, nine-room inn just a block away from the beach and boardwalk offers somewhat unconventional lodging. Upon entering the nondescript entrance, you won't see a front desk or any full-time hotel staff (except the cleaning crew, of course). Instead, you'll take the unique key code that was sent to you prior to arrival and use it to access your room. There are stylish, intimate studios as well as one and two-bedroom suites, all of which are uniquely designed by local Rockaway artists (including Jason Heuer of Avoid The Day...more on that below).

COVID-19 Update:
All cleaning staff at The High Tide wear and dispose of PPE while servicing the rooms between guests. Disinfectant with at least 70% alcohol is used for all high-touch surfaces, including light switches, door handles, and countertops. Additionally, all towels and linens are washed in high temperatures.

The Rockaway Hotel

The Rockaway Hotel | @matthewplacek

The just-opened Rockaway Hotel is a full-service, year-round hotel with multiple onsite restaurants (Margie's for riffs on classic American fare and Greenhouse Cafe for sandwiches, salads, and coffee) run by IGC Hospitality—the firm behind Refinery Rooftop, Parker & Quinn, Park Avenue Tavern, and Rockaway's Bungalow Bar. The hotel also features a rooftop bar with panoramic ocean views, an event space, and frequent cultural programs (art exhibits, film screenings, talks, etc). The 53 guest rooms and eight extended-stay suites are designed by the New York/Oslo-based firm, Curious Yellow Design.

Best Restaurants And Cafes In The Rockaways

There's no shortage of beachy cafes, bungalow bars, taco stands, and food trucks in this corner of Queens, so make sure to come hungry. These are some of our favorites:

Brothers

Brothers | @scoboco

Brothers is a hole-in-the-wall health food counter so tiny that most people miss it (keep an eye out for the sign on the side of Caracas). The seasonal menu, which is displayed on a white board above the counter, features dishes such as almond butter toast with strawberry-chia jam; kimchi grilled cheese with scallions; and brown rice bowl with zucchini, sesame cucumbers, and a miso tahini dressing. There's also a menu of refreshing juices and smoothies to keep you cool on scorching summer days. Cash only.

Kimo's Kitchen

Kimo's Kitchen is a Greek-meets-Egypt mashup that brings to life the concept of healthy, fast, and affordable eating. Helmed by Chef Mike Adil, an Egyptian immigrant and former personal chef to the Prime Minister of Greece, Kimo's offers pitas, wraps, bowls, and platters in a "choose your own adventure," counter service-style. First comes the base (Moroccan rice, quinoa, lentils, or spring mix), then protein, toppings, and dressings. There are also entrees (braised lamb shank, beer-battered fish fillet, and Greek moussaka), mezze platters, and salads to choose from. The highlights? Falafel Mahshea made Egyptian-style with ground fava beans and herbs. It comes stuffed with either garlic eggplant and harissa or feta and green olives, deep fried, and rolled in sesame seeds. We're also partial to Sambusa, the savory pastries stuffed with fillings like lamb, chicken, spinach and mushroom—plus cheese. And if you're thirsty, there's nothing better than Fahfahina, an Egyptian juice staple with a tropical blend of mixed fruit (choice of guava, peach, mango, or papaya) and topped with honey, whipped cream, and crushed nuts.

In addition to the grab-and-go counter, there's also an airy and spacious outdoor patio surrounded by string lights and lush green ivy. It's blanketed in slate and sand and outfitted with wooden picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, umbrellas, and the restaurant's own herb garden.

Caracas Arepa Bar

Caracas Arepa Bar | @caracasarepabar

Caracas has been dishing out homemade Venezuelan fare since 2003, when it opened as a storefront in the East Village. Since then, it has expanded to a full-service restaurant in Williamsburg and beachside outpost in Rockaway, which opened its doors in 2011. Our go-to? The classic Arepa De Pabellon, which comes packed with shredded beef, black beans, white cheese, and sweet plantains. There's also a selection of sides to round out your meal (rice and beans, cukes salad, French fries, and Venezuelan cheese sticks). Don't miss the frozen sangria.
This year, due to COVID-19, Caracas is open exclusively for grab-and-go service to the beach.  

Tacoway Beach

Tacoway Beach | @tacowaybeach 

Tacoway Beach, which is tucked away inside the Rockaway Beach Surf Club just a block from the water, boasts what are arguably the best fish tacos in all of New York City. A taco box comes with two tacos (grilled fish, black bean and cheese, chorizo, or tofu) doctored up with all the add-ons you'd want: guacamole, cabbage, radish, cilantro, and spiced mayo. You'll also get a side of chips with salsa verde and a cucumber, mango, chile, and lime salad.  

Cuisine by Claudette

Cuisine By Claudette | @cuisinebyclaudette

This health-conscious cafe and provisions store, which opened in 2012, is a neighborhood staple—the kind of place where, if you drop by once and introduce yourself, the staff will remember your name (and your order) when you return. The menu is extensive, with a juice bar, coffee/cold brew, breakfast all day, pitas, vegan toasts, grilled cheese, "power bowls," and a "create-a-plate" option that we love. Don't sleep on the charred veggie pita, which comes with butter lettuce, hummus, roasted veggies, broccoli rabe, and charred broccoli with tahini.

Last Dragon Pizza

A classic Margherita from Last Dragon Pizza | @lastdragonpizza

For the best pizza in The Rockaways, head to the female-owned Last Dragon Pizza, which is helmed by Nicole Russell, a graphic designer-turned-pizza connoisseur whose inventive pies (think jerk chicken—a nod to her Jamaican origins—and Asian barbecue) attract customers from Howard Beach, South Ozone Park, and Long Beach—she even ships frozen pizzas to California!

Bungalow Bar

This year-round beachside restaurant and tiki bar, which is nestled at the foot of Crossbay bridge, dishes out shareable appetizers, tacos, wings, soups, salads, burgers, and more—with stunning panoramic water views and breathtaking sunsets to boot. If you're there on weekends, you may even be treated to live music and DJs.

Uma's

Uma's manti with squash | @ifoodidrink

Run by husband-and-wife duo Conrad and Umida Carl, Uma's specializes in Uzbek food, including fresh pirozhki, kebabs, dumplings (known as pelmeni), and plov, Uzbekistan's national dish that comes together with rice, thick carrots, rough chunks of meat, and red raisins. They opened the effortlessly laid-back, beach-chic sit-down spot in 2013, with a concession stall on 97th Street for grab-and-go bites.

Avoid The Day

Avoid The Day is a part-bookstore, part-cafe founded by local husband-and-wife duo, Jianna and Jason Heuer. It features a curated selection of predominantly used books across all genres, purposefully maintaining affordable price points to ensure all people have equal access to the literary arts. In addition to books, Avoid The Day offers locally-sourced coffee (plus cold brew and tea) and snacks (vegan carrot muffins, butterscotch and chocolate chip salt cookies, chocolate chip biscottis, and more). Firmly entrenched in the Rockaway community, Avoid The Day supports local charity organizations and outreach programs such as Rockaway Food Relief, Rockaway Mutual Aid, and Ladies of Business Rockaway Beach.

For the summer season only, Avoid The Day has introduced new food, wine, and literature offerings to keep you well-fed and well-read.

Beach Picnic Basket (serves 4)
Collaboration between Clara Cakes, Bernadette's Summer House, and Avoid The Day
This basket comes with a rotating selection of beach reads from Avoid The Day, as well as watermelon margaritas from Bernadette's and an Italian vegan sandwich spread from Clara Cakes (homemade focaccia, cashew ricotta, carrot pancetta, tahini potato salad, apricot peach jam, pickled cherries and olives, and two strawberry and creme mini pies).

Wine + Book Pairings
Collaboration between Vino By The Sea and Avoid The Day  
This partnership is designed to offer the best literary wine pairings for beach and home readings. There are four options to choose from:

1. My Brilliant Friend—the first installment in the wildly popular Naples-based Neapolitan series, to pair with a can of Scarpetta Lambrusco or bottle of Scala Cirò Bianco.
2. A Moveable Feast—the Hemingway classic that takes place in post-World War I Paris, the perfect pairing for Wandering Barman Boomerang Old Fashioned Whiskey or a Château Les Rambaud, Château Ramnbaud Les Abeilles Bordeaux.
3. Perfect Tunes—a story about deferred dreams, the complexities of motherhood, and the balance between ambition and compromise, best paired with a Cutwater Gin and Tonic or Suhru Winery Sauvignon Blanc.
4. Where'd You Go Bernadette—a comedy that follows the relationship between an agoraphobic architect and her mother, who goes missing prior to a family trip to Antarctica, best when read alongside Underwood Rose Bubbles or Château Saint Marguerite Love Provence.

Weekly Puppet Readings
The ultimate kid-friendly activity, Weekly Puppet Readings has Jianna and Jason performing children's book readings on IGTV using their famous puppet doppelgängers.

Locals Collective

Locals Collective | @localscollective

Run by lifelong Rockaway residents Mike Reinhardt and Mike Kololyan, Locals Collective is a modern, cozy cafe that celebrates the area's rich surfing culture. It's the perfect spot to grab a small bite to eat or drink before or after your surf lesson—as well as a safe and comfortable place to change, shower, and store surf gear.

Best Things To Do In The Rockaways

Rockaway Beach

Swim

The beachfront stretch runs from Beach 9 through Beach 149; however, the most popular stretch starts with the streets in the mid-80s up through 100. For a quieter stretch with less crowds, head further east or west.

Swimming is only permitted from Memorial Day through Labor Day from 10AM to 6PM, which is when lifeguards are on duty.

If you're looking for outdoor shows and restrooms, head to 166 Beach, 97 Beach, and 102 Beach—or the playgrounds at Beach 59 and 17.

Take a surf lesson

If you're looking to get active during your stay in The Rockaways, there's no better activity than a surfing lesson. The NSSIA-accred Locals Surf School, which is affiliated with Locals Collective Cafe, offers group, private, and semi-private lessons all year long. Surfboards, wetsuits, and sunscreen are provided.

Group lessons

  • 3:1 student-teacher ratio
  • Two hours long
  • Tailored to beginner - intermediate levels

Private lessons

  • 1:1 student-teacher ratio
  • One hour long
  • Can accommodate any level (beginner - advanced)

Semi-private lessons

  • 2:1 student-teacher ratio
  • Two hours long
  • Can accommodate any level (beginner - advanced)

Rent a bike

To explore the entire length of the boardwalk (and access some of the less crowded beach spots), renting a bike is the way to go. There are several spots to choose from, including Paul's Bicycle Shop (Beach 116th Street) and The Mini Mall (Beach 129th Street).

And at the end of the day, be sure to head out for an evening stroll along the beach or boardwalk right as the sun is setting—the views are spectacular.

Sunset over Rockaway Beach | Sarah Corsa

For more staycation inspiration, discover these 10 outdoor activities in Westchester. If you want to log some miles on the bike, these routes in, around, and outside New York City are for you. And once you're back, treat yourself to the best slice of pizza in the Big Apple.

Rockaway Beach | @therockawayhotel