The holidays are over, and gone with them are all the opportunities for free food and drink. As a plentiful December recedes, the reality of a New York winter starts to set in. Shake off the claustrophobia and satisfy that craving for some open sky by heading out to Rockaway Beach. And bring your South Brooklyn and Rockaways Beer Book (now 20% off), because Whit’s End, Sayra’s and Playland Motel are open, and the beach will be all yours.
With just the swipe of a MetroCard, you can have New York’s best beach all to yourself, as well some great food and drink. And no car is needed to get there, or even to get around once you arrive.
Take a Far Rockaway-bound A train to Beach 67th Street, which will leave you within a short walk of New York City’s only official surfing beach. Or you can switch at the Broad Channel stop for a Rockaway Park Shuttle. Either way, enjoy the unique views between the Howard Beach and Broad Channel stations: a sweeping panorama of Jamaica Bay, with the Manhattan skyline to the west. There are only four stops on the Shuttle after Broad Channel, and any of them will leave you in walking distance to cool bars, shopping areas as well as the beach.
If you are driving or biking, take Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens (which turns into Cross Bay Boulevard) or Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, and head due south. You will know you have arrived in Rockaway when you cross one of the two bridges connecting the peninsula to mainland Queens. Slow down and appreciate the views: any Rockaway resident will tell you this is the moment they decompress from city life. Street parking is plentiful and cheap in Rockaway, especially in the off-season.
WHAT TO DO
If you want to work up a sweat, sign up for a class at Hot Yoga Rockaway Beach (181 Beach 116th Street), owned by Anita Ruderman. One of the New York’s original Hot Yoga practitioners, the upbeat Ruderman will keep you focused and sweaty, and happy about it, through her class. The drop-in rate is $20. Also check their website for special weekend workshops in other yoga disciplines.
Savor the ocean and the bay
Rockaway’s die-hard surfers never let a bit of cold keep them from the waves of winter storms. Stop at the legendary Boarders Surf Shop (192 Beach 92nd Street) to rent a board (starting at $35 for four hours) and a wetsuit ($5 with a board rental). Lockers are available, and the ocean is just a block away.
Winter is a great time to explore the area’s uninhabited islands, and the cheapest way to see them is on a stand up paddleboard. Andrew and Amy Dima have just opened A-Team Paddleboarding (114-04 Beach Channel Drive), New York’s first SUP store, right on Jamaica Bay. Certified by the World Paddle Association, the energetic Dimas can get you suited up, and are also available for lessons or to lead tours. Board rentals start at $25 an hour.
Want to appreciate some great art for free? Since Superstorm Sandy, Rockaway has become a canvas for innovative street art. Beautify Earth, which seeks to brighten up neglected or blighted public spaces, has sponsored some large wall murals across the peninsula. The “Welcome to the Rockaways” mural became an instant icon when it was unveiled in 2014, and can be found at the foot of the Cross Bay Bridge. Also nearby, look for murals of the surfing dog and the crooning Billie Holliday. And a good eye will notice the distinctive work of locally renowned artist Geoff Rawling, who has painted dozens of commercial storefronts in the area.
Located at the foot of the Marine Parkway Bridge, Fort Tilden is a decommissioned U.S. Army base that is now part of Gateway National Recreation Area. While the raw and somewhat remote beaches of the park have become a big summertime attraction, there are also trails that are ideal for biking, hiking or running in the off-season. The interior trail starts just west of the baseball field, and leads to two abandoned World War II era gun casements. Climb the 65 steps to the top of Battery Harris East for the stunning 360-degree views of the ocean, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Also explore the abandoned buildings along the trail, which house some colorful graffiti.
Rockaway Artists Alliance is also located in Fort Tilden at Studio 6. Check their website for current information on exhibits. They also offer landscape painting classes and guitar workshops.
Fort Tilden is also the home of the Rockaway Theater Company. They will be staging Seussical Jr. in January and February. At $10 a ticket, the price can’t be beat.
Averne Flea Market
While it might not be the Brooklyn Flea, Rockaway has its very own outdoor market, the Arverne Flea by the Sea (62-02 Beach Channel Drive). It will be open every Thursday through Sunday from 8am to 5pm. The organizers are attracting vendors from the old Valley Stream Flea Market, so bargains are sure to abound.
WHAT TO EAT
For homemade-style cooking, fresh juices and the best coffee in Rockaway, Cuisine by Claudette (143 Beach 116th Street) should be your first stop. The shop features a wide menu of prepared foods, many that are gluten-free, and the perfect cup of Oslo coffee. Stop and chat with the amiable Claudette or her son Yarden (Rockaway’s best barista) to get some of the neighborhood news. Tasty, home cooked meals can be had for under $12.
Brisas del Mar (99-02 Rockaway Beach Boulevard), one of Rockaway’s best-kept secrets, serves a full menu of Latin American fare at prices a Brokester will love. For $8, order the succulent Dominican-style roasted pork with a generous side of rice and beans. Brisas also has a wide range of shakes (“batidos”) available starting at $2, and a traditional Dominican Desayuno breakfast of plantains, home fries, eggs and sausage will only set you back $6.
Use your Brokelyn Beer Book at Whit’s End (97-14 Rockaway Beach Boulevard) and enjoy some of Rockaway’s best pizza. Try the cavolini, infused with brussell sprouts (don’t knock it until you have tried it). But the real secret at Whit’s End is to ask about the off-menu items. It might be freshly caught seafood, or a burger, but just sit back and enjoy the culinary magic.
Another neighborhood favorite that is accepting the Brokelyn beer passport is Sayra’s Wine Bar and Bier Garden (91-11 Rockaway Beach Boulevard). If the weather is nice, or even if it isn’t, step out to the sculpture garden and enjoy the refreshing ocean air. Sayra’s also host regular movie nights. Follow them on Twitter for updates.
Edgemere Farm (97-20 Rockaway Beach Boulevard) is closed for the winter, but they are still hosting monthly pop-up dinners at Playland Motel (another place where you can cash in a Beer Book ticket). Enjoy a home cooked meal by a guest chef with ingredients from a local farmer’s market for $25, including a drink.
The rooms at Playland Motel (97-20 Rockaway Beach Boulevard) are open throughout the winter. Make reservations for one of the funky suites, each one designed by a different artist. Convenient to the A train, as well as a number of attractions, crashing here allows you to enjoy all the area bars without the worry of a commute back home. Rates start at $69 per night.