Once known as “New York’s Playground,” Rockaway Beach is on track to reclaim that title — but in a new way.
The Queens neighborhood that housed the former, famous Rockaways’ Playland amusement park might be without a Coney Island-like scene, but a different one is taking hold where trendy restaurants, beach-side bungalows and boutique motels add vibrancy to the seaside community.
Many of the waterfront homes and businesses that were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy reopened for the summer. And the Parks Department is working overtime to rebuild portions of the boardwalk that were completely washed away. Construction has resumed on new town house and condo developments that are aiming to attract more residents.
“After Sandy, the area is surprisingly hot again after [nine] months,” said Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska.
Rockaway Beach takes its name from the largest urban beach in the United States, a seven-mile stretch of sand that extends the entire length of Rockaway Peninsula.
The neighborhood has always attracted surfers because it has the city’s only legal surfing beach, but in the past few years, it has also reeled in young entrepreneurs, artists and families. Gaska says the influx of new residents and visitors — some of whom rent out bungalows for the summer — is a positive force.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, Rockaway Beach was home mainly to Irish immigrants whose descendants remain there today, but now the nabe is just as diverse as the rest of the city. A largely working- and middle-class community, residents take pride in its welcoming ambience, which bodes well with the grand ocean view.
“It’s very community oriented, and it almost has a California-type culture,” Colin O’Leary, an avid surfer and resident who moved to the area last year, said. “You feel like you’re not in New York.”
O’Leary, who is also a real estate agent with Manhattan Residential Group, says a range of people are opting for Rockaway Beach, from folks in their mid-20s and new families to seniors and retirees.
“It’s kind of been this hidden secret for some time, and I think people are realizing, ‘Hey, I can spend $300,000 to half a million for a condo, and I’m right on the beach, and an hour or so from Manhattan,’ ” Gaska said. “It’s taken a while, but the secret’s out now.”
A few new eateries have popped up in recent years as well as the area’s first wine bar, Sayra’s Wine Bar, which opened in June. A new motel named Playland also opened that month. It offers 12 uniquely different rooms, a diner, an outdoor space and a bar.
As the influx of establishments promises a trendier place for New Yorkers to play, Rockaway Beach’s residential charm remains. It is captured in its bungalow homes, oceanfront town houses and colonial single-family houses where, on a typical weekend afternoon, residents recline on their balconies and porches, conversing with neighbors or giving directions to visitors.
“What I’m seeing now is the resurgence of the neighborhood I grew up in as a young child,” said Dolores Orr, who chairs Community Board 14. “There’s a new sense of pride, and that’s something that was lost for a piece of time. But we’re getting it back.”
Rockaway Beach is located on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. It is bordered to the east by Arverne and to the west by Rockaway Park. Its specific street boundaries begin at Beach 79th Street and end at Beach 108th Street.
A train connection to the shuttle train at Broad Channel station. The shuttle goes to Beach 90, Beach 98 and Beach 105 stations.
Rockabus on Saturdays and Sundays, with a drop-off location at Beach 84th Street and Shore Front Parkway. Pickup locations in the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. Round-trip: $15. One-way: $10.
Rockaway Ferry at Beach 108th Street Landing going to Pier 11/Wall Street. One-way: $2.
New York City Beach Bus on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, with pickup locations in Williamsburg and at Barclays Center and one drop-off location at Beach 84th Street and Shore Front Parkway. Round-trip: $12. One-way: $9.
Q22, Q52, Q53, QM16, QM17 buses
Queens Library Peninsula Branch, 92-25 Rockaway Beach Blvd. 718-634-1110
U.S. Post Office, Rockaway Beach Branch, 90-14 Rockaway Beach Blvd., 718-634-4075
The 100th Precinct at 92-24 Rockaway Beach Blvd. covers Rockaway Beach. According to NYPD CompStat statistics, the murder rate in the area has been relatively low historically. There were seven murders in 1990 and two in 2012. Robberies have significantly decreased, from 279 in 1990 to 53 in 2012.
Burglaries in the precinct are still somewhat high, despite a 51% decrease in the past 22 years. In 1990, there were 426. In 2012, there were 208.
Rockaway Beach prides itself on its seaside eateries. A few of its restaurants also offer patio seating with waterfront views.
Bungalow Bar, 377 Beach 92nd St. A glance at Bungalow Bar’s façade hides its hidden secret: a large outdoor deck in the rear overlooking Jamaica Bay. It leads to a pier where small-boat owners can dock and grab a bite to eat. 718-945-2200.
Caracas Arepa Bar, 106-01 Shore Front Pkwy. Another hot spot among residents and visitors, Caracas is located right on the boardwalk. Local bands perform in the outdoor seating area on weekends. 718-474-1709.
Uma’s Rockaway Beach, 92-07 Rockaway Beach Blvd. Opened just shy of a month ago, Uma’s, a cozy, brick-walled eatery, serves up Uzbek cuisine. 718-318-9100.
Connolly’s Bar, 155 Beach 95th St. This pub and restaurant is rumored to be haunted. It’s settled snug in the basement of an old Victorian beach house and known for its friendly vibe and famous frozen piña colada with a rum floater. 718-474-2374
Sayra’s Wine Bar and Bier Garden, 91-11 Rockaway Beach Blvd. Newly opened Sayra’s takes a step away from the hot dogs and frozen-drink vibe generally associated with Rockaway Beach to offer a more elegant atmosphere.
Irish Circle Tavern, 101-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd. This easygoing bar is also a local favorite. There’s a bit of everything, from hot wings to jalapeño poppers, wraps, a “build your own” burger and specials, including 50-cent wings and $3 drafts on Mondays. 718-474-9002.
Rockaway Beach is lacking in retail outlets. Residents shop the small stores just outside the western boundary on Beach 116th Street in Rockaway Park, or they commute east on Long Island, to Brooklyn and to other parts of Queens. Community leaders say they would welcome a big-box store.
Boarders Surf Shop, 192 Beach 92nd St. Superstorm Sandy couldn’t keep this surf shop under for too long. Boarders, like many others affected by the storm, is back in business. The shop rents and sells surfboards as well as basic beach apparel and accessories. 718-318-7997
The Blue Bungalow, 165 Beach 116th St. Located just a few footsteps outside of Rockaway Beach’s western boundary in Rockaway Park, The Blue Bungalow is frequented for its unique gifts, jewelry and home décor, much of it beach inspired. 718-318-4663.
Waldbaums, 112-15 Beach Channel Dr. Also steps outside of the neighborhood, this Waldbaums branch provides residents with quick access to fresh groceries and greens. 718-474-6366.
Besides relaxing on the beach or frolicking about in the Atlantic, there are a few other water activities in and near to Rockaway Beach.
Rockaway Jet Ski at Thai Rock, 375 Beach 92nd St. Also a popular restaurant and bar with a waterfront back deck, Rockaway Jet Ski promises a thrilling time for adventurous water lovers. Patrons can rent Jet Skis for anywhere from a half-hour to two hours. Full-day and multiday tours are also offered, promising close-up views of the city’s bridges and the Statue of Liberty. Those looking for a more a tame activity can rent kayaks. For more information, visit rock awayjetski.com. 646-318-0111.
The Rockaway Beach stretch has always been a well-known spot for surfers. The most popular spot to ride the waves is Beach 90th Street. According to surfer Colin O’Leary, the jetty helps create better waves.
Boarders offers surfing lessons just outside the neighborhood’s eastern boundary at Beach 69th Street. Skudin Surf offers surf camps for adults and kids, individual lessons and weekend classes for groups.
New York Surf School also offers group and individual lessons at that same location. The school also hosts a “surf yoga” practice where yoga and surfing are combined in a daylong activity called the Rockaway Beach Yoga and Surfing All-Day Retreat.
WHALE- AND DOLPHIN-WATCHING ADVENTURE CRUISE
Docked a few neighborhoods west of Rockaway Beach at Riis Landing, Breezy Point, American Princess Cruises takes curious seafaring onlookers of all ages into the Atlantic Ocean on a narrated whale- and dolphin-watching cruise. Cruises are ongoing until Aug. 29. Visit americanprin cesscruises.com for more information. 718-474-0555.
Since November of last year, the Parks Department has been working to rebuild sections of the boardwalk destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.
They have managed to get many sections up and running again in time for this summer. According to a department spokesperson who asked not to be named, Beach 71st to 85th streets and Beach 108th to 149th streets are now open for swimming. The department has placed red flags in areas where swimming isn’t yet allowed.
The spokesperson said that emergency protective measures are under way along the beach. These include berms, sand-filled geotextile bags and the replacement of damaged concrete baffle walls. The department claims the work will protect the beaches from erosion and the community from flooding and wave action.
According to the spokesperson, more than $140 million has already been invested in rebuilding Rockaway Beach and roughly $200 million has been budgeted to allow for long-term repair. The department hopes to have the boardwalk fully restored as soon as possible.
Q&A with Dolores Orr
Dolores Orr was born and raised in Rockaway Beach. She has served as the president of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association for 10 years and also chairs Community Board 14.
What makes you remain living here?
It’s very diverse and everyone is very friendly. It’s very open unlike some other communities, which can be a little more exclusive.
Are there any drawbacks or things you’d like to see changed?
There are a lot of things we need in the community to continue to grow — transportation especially. The ferry service needs to continue. We need better trains. And more retail — we want a midsize or big-box store, while most neighborhoods don’t want that. It’ll give a place for people to shop and access to jobs.
What do you project for Rockaway Beach going forward?
I think it will become a stronger community. The people moving in now look at this as the place where they will live for a long time. They’re not transient; they’re more grounded.