Your Guide to Rockaway Beach 2015
No question, Rockaway Beach got hit hard by Hurricane Sandy almost three years ago, and recovery's been slow-going in parts, but there's also no doubt in my mind that Rockaway Beach remains New York City's best subway beach. By which I mean: exit the subway, and you're just two blocks or so from the water. Farther out on Rockaway there are a couple of terrific public beaches, at Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park, but you'll need a car, or a bike, or a bus, to get there. But to get to what most people call Rockaway Beach, the A train, usually plus the Shuttle, puts you right there. I went out to Rockaway a couple of times over Memorial Day Weekend, mostly around the popular Beach 90 to Beach 99 area, and here's a quick look at what's new, and what still needs some work.
First of all, parts of physical beach itself remains "under construction". Heavy equipment occasionally rumbles by, there are several patches of prime beachfront closed off because of work (think piles of dirt and the usual construction debris), and the overall quality of sand may never fully recover from its pre-Sandy softness. But there are lots of positive signs as well! Dune-grass "farms" have sprouted up, which will certainly prove useful when the next storm lands. They finished a big stretch of brand new boardwalk connecting the main concession area at Beach 97 with its counterpart at Beach 90, and while it can't ever really replace the old wooden plank promenade that had stood for decades, the new concrete version is obviously more durable, plus I kind of like the wavy lines they incorporated into the design. There's lots of new seating, as well, and I heard reports that there are now futuristic-looking life-guard headquarters/public bathrooms at Beach 67, where several of the the local surf schools have classes. Overall, there is a good deal of tangible progress on the redevelopment front, and the city's clearly not giving up on these beaches.
Rockaway for Foodies
Of course, a huge part of the Rockaway appeal these days is the food. In fact, it was the opening of Rockaway Taco back in 2008 that kind of changed the whole area from undiscovered gem (except for the people who lived there; they had "discovered" it long ago) to frequent summertime destination for a certain subset of young and fun New Yorkers. Anyway, new Rockaway food options for 2015 include Tacoway Beach, which is what the Rockaway Taco chef Andrew Field is calling his updated spot over at Rockaway Surf Club; Summer Shift, where a rotating series of chefs take over the old Rockaway Taco for a few weeks, usually slinging some sort of Latino street food; Chicks-to-Go, a mostly-take-out Peruvian rotisserie chicken place that is making some fantastic birds; and a completely revamped Playland Grill at Playland Motel, with an all-new menu, owner, and a much more toned-down party vibe. Oh and on your way back to the train at Beach 98, make sure you stop at the brand new La Newyorkina for the best, most wonderfully flavored and refreshing paletas–popsicles–in town.