For more than 80 years, Jones Beach has been a summer haven for thousands of city-weary New Yorkers. With more than 6 miles of ocean beach and a half-mile of bay beach, it can get crowded, but the water is surprisingly clean. There are also some swimming pools available (and locker rooms), but Jones Beach State Park was hit hard by 2009 budget cuts, so call tel. 516/785-1600 for updates on closings and hours. Tip: To escape the crushing crowds, head to the beach's west end -- there you'll find the park's most undeveloped areas that are home to a variety of migratory birds and native plants.
With a summertime stadium, Jones Beach is also a fun setting to take in a concert by some of music's biggest names. The beach and stadium are set out over a causeway and are not accessible by train. In fact, when Jones Beach opened in the 1920s, it was socially exclusionary; buses couldn't negotiate the low underpasses, and less wealthy people didn't own cars. Today, beach- and concertgoers travel the causeway by car and bus to walk the Jones Beach boardwalk.
Getting There -- From New York City, the Long Island Rail Road (tel. 516/822-LIRR) offers a Jones Beach Package in summer, which includes round-trip rail fare to Freeport plus round-trip Long Island Bus connections to the beach. By car, take the Long Island Expressway east or Grand Central Parkway east to Northern State Parkway east, to Wantagh Parkway south, to Jones Beach State Park or Belt/Southern State Parkway east, to Wantagh Parkway south, to the state park. It's $8 to park in summer.
Visitor Information -- The main number for Jones Beach State Park is tel. 516/785-1600.
Robert Moses State Park
Technically part of Fire Island since it sits at the island's western end, this beautiful stretch of beach is in a different world because you can actually drive here. Motor over to the eastern end of the park and you'll see the barriers that prevent access to the car-free area of Fire Island. So park and take a stroll on the 5 sandy miles, or try your hand at a game of pitch-and-putt.
Getting There -- Take the Southern State Parkway to Robert Moses Causeway (exit 40) and go south to the western end of Fire Island. Parking fee is $8 in summer.
Visitor Information -- The main number for Robert Moses State Park is tel. 631/669-0470.
In the past, Long Beach -- with miles of surprisingly clean beach and water, along with a lengthy boardwalk -- was best experienced as a day trip from the city, since it wasn't set up for overnighters. But now, thanks to the 2009 opening of the Allegria Hotel & Spa, 80 W. Broadway, Long Beach (tel. 888/ON-BEACH or 516/889-1300; www.allegriahotel.com), visitors can spend the night -- or make a weekend of it -- here at the City by the Sea. With 7 stories, 112 rooms, a beachfront location, a full-service rooftop spa, an infinity-edge pool, and an excellent restaurant, the Allegria also rents bikes and surfboards, and provides guests access to the beach via a tunnel. Really, what more could you possibly need?
Still, if you're not in the market for an overnight, a day trip (it's less than an hr.-long train ride from Manhattan) is a great option. Just be prepared: The beaches get super-crowded on summer weekends, and the skies are even more crowded with planes on their way into and out of New York.
To actually get onto the beach, you have to purchase a beach pass ($10) on the weekends from late May to late June and then daily until early September. You can buy them from the cabanas on the boardwalk or with your train ticket from New York City. When you tire of the sand, take a bike ride on the boardwalk; the center lane is reserved for bikes, and the salty air is exhilarating. For rentals, try Buddy's, 907 W. Beech St. (tel. 516/431-0804); they'll set you up with a 3-hour rental for $15.
Getting There -- The Long Island Rail Road (tel. 516/822-LIRR) goes straight to Long Beach in about 40 minutes from Penn Station. Driving? Take Route 27 to Route 878. If street parking proves difficult -- and it probably will -- your best bet is the train station lot, which is just a couple of blocks from the ocean.
Visitor Information -- Contact the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, 350 National Blvd. (tel. 516/432-6000), or the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau (tel. 877/FUN-ON-LI or 631/951-3440).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.