Life can be a beach, even if you live in New York City.
The city’s eight public beaches, which encompass 14 miles of shoreline, officially open for swimming and sunbathing this weekend.
There are no fees or beach passes to be had — just hop a train, bus, or catch a ride to the sandy retreats in Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn.
Hopes for a sun-drenched season are especially high in Rockaway, where a popular swath of beach was closed off last summer due to erosion.
The decision to close part of the beach last year disappointed both visitors and local residents, and cut deep into the earnings of seasonal food concessionaires on the boardwalk. But a $13 million beach replenishment project that deployed 348,000 cubic yards of sand was completed earlier this month, allowing the entire stretch from Beach 91st to 102nd Streets to reopen.
“It’s important for us to see the traffic again and to get people to come back out and support us,” said Justin Harter, owner of CITYSTICKS, which sells frozen ice pops and other treats at the Beach 97th Street concession. “We really need the help.”
New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said he also is relieved to see the beach reopened.
“I’m extremely happy,” he said. “That was a difficult message to deliver to the community last year.”
The additional sand, however, is only a stopgap measure; local residents are still waiting for long-term protection from erosion, such as more rock jetties.
Lifeguards will be on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day starting Saturday. Silver reminded New Yorkers that whether they are in the placid waters of Pelham Bay, at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, or braving the roaring Coney Island surf, they should never venture into the water unless a lifeguard is on duty.
“Our message is to have fun and enjoy the beach, but also be safe,” Silver said.
Part of that includes shielding visitors from the sun’s harmful rays. Silver pointed to free sunscreen that is available in dispensers at all of the city’s beaches, including Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn; Midland Beach, South Beach, Cedar Grove Beach, and Wolfe’s Pond Park Beach on Staten Island, as well as Orchard Beach, Coney Island and Rockaway.
If swimming and sunbathing is not your thing, fear not. City beaches also host fitness classes, outdoor movies, bike rentals, fireworks and other activities.
Daria Khaykin enjoyed the pre-Memorial Day Rockaway Boardwalk while on a recent stroll with her 5-month-old daughter Abigail, who was ready for summer in a cool pair of sunglasses.
“Everything is so clean and nice,” said Khaykin, who recently moved to Rockway from Brooklyn in February. “Even when there are clouds, it’s still very beautiful here.”
Silver said his agency is hoping to provide additional lifeguards for portions of the beach in Far Rockaway.
In recent years, the variety of food sold on the boardwalk in Rockaway has been as much of a draw for visitors as the sand and the waves. Along with the concession stands at Beach 86th Street, Beach 97th Street and Beach 106th Street, the Dredsurfer Grill on Beach 17th Street serves Caribbean-inspired sandwiches, barbecue and seafood platters.
In addition, designer Lola Star will offer mobile boutiques with Rockaway-themed merchandise, and beach rentals on Beach 65th, Beach 87th, Beach 102nd and Beach 108th streets.
Harter said he is looking forward to introducing new offerings to Rockaway crowds, such as homemade doughnut bites a la mode and wine pop, along with CITYSTICKS’ popular fruit-filled ice pops and specialties, including the Flaming S’mores Shake.
“We are working with Bedell Cellars … on the wine popsicles,” he said. The vine-variety treats feature such flavors as Sherry Daiquiri, Mango Mimosa and Passionfruit Wine.
Amy Tichenor owns Breezy’s BBQ, a grilled-out joint known for its pulled pork sandwiches and a brisket meal that sells out quickly on weekends.
“Last year there was barely any foot traffic because there was no beach to sit on,” she said. “We’re looking forward to being busy every single day of the week.”