Long Island’s Best Beaches for Launching Ocean Adventures

Whether it’s paddling miles in Great South Bay, surfing winter swells, or hiking wild coastline, Long Island has no shortage of beach destinations for shoreside activities.

Long Island has 1,600 miles of coastline, which means it has an awful lot of beaches. Some are on the storied Long Island Sound. Some face the NYC skyline. Others are adjacent to the rolling swells of the Atlantic Ocean. But no matter where you are on Long Island, there’s a beach nearby just waiting for you to launch your ocean adventure. 

Obviously, when you think of beaches, you think of summer, but those beaches are still there after the lifeguards have left for the season. There are plenty of pleasant days before Memorial Day and after Labor Day, especially the latter, as September and October can offer incredible days at the beach, not to mention opportunities for paddlers, beach wanderers and wave riders alike. 

And some local elbow-nudge advice: Exploring during the offseason is also much cheaper. Not only do the prices of rentals and accommodations drop, but New York has some steep fees for non-resident beach use and parking (to the tune of $30-$40 a day or $400 a season.) But then there are the free beaches close to the city—each with a unique quality all its own, endearing it to visitors for sustained, year-round use—from the People’s Beach at Jacob Riis Park, Rockaway Beach (of the Ramones’ fame), Coney Island and Brighton Beach, just miles from the bustle of Midtown Manhattan.

Best Beaches for Paddling

When launching a standup paddleboard or sea kayak, you’re going to want to keep the daily conditions in mind. For instance, you don’t want to launch in the ocean when there’s some kind of Atlantic swell. And you always want to paddle prepared, geared up properly (most notably with a fitting lifejacket and outerwear to sustain submersion in the water) and always aware of tidal currents, especially if you want to explore the East River. But when conditions are right, there are literally hundreds of places worth experiencing on a saltwater paddling tour.

Ponquogue Beach

Ponquogue is a fun-and-sun beach in the town of Hampton Bays just west of Shinnecock Inlet. Starting a paddling excursion here sets you right off into the open waters for the Atlantic—always an adventure. So, look to launch on a calm day with small swell and either very light or north (offshore) winds, push your way through the breaking waves and then get to paddling. Keep those eyes peeled for dolphins. There is parking (not cheap in the summer), but that affords you access to the new sustainably built pavilion complex, restrooms, outdoor showers and concession.  

Cedar Beach

For a serene salt-air experience, try the relatively flatwater paddling of Mount Sinai Harbor from Cedar Beach in the town of Brookhaven on Long Island’s North Shore. Provided there’s no wind, it’s a fantastic spot to either learn to paddle or really explore the harbor. This protected body of water also has a marina, fishing, boat ramp and concessions. While you’re there, you can learn all about the local ecology at the Mount Sinai Marine Environmental Stewardship Center.

Manorhaven Beach Park

Here’s a nice option for Nassau County, especially if you’re a beginner. This is a full park complex with a pool, picnic area, waterslides, sports fields, boat ramp and other facilities. Bring your own paddleboard or kayak or rent one from Kostal Paddle, right in this Hempstead Township Park. They do rentals, lessons and tours on Manhasset Bay. 

A morning view of Cedar beach, Mt Sinai, NY,   in the morning with iconic stone wall and wood light tower.

Best Beaches for Surfing 

The Mid-Atlantic is one of the most overlooked surf zones in the United States. It certainly does get cold in the winter, but hard-core surfers have been climbing into thick wetsuits for decades to get bigger winter swells. The summer is a great time to learn how to surf with warmer water and smaller waves. The fall tends to be a fantastic combination of consistent swell and warm(ish) temps. The best part is that there are waves from Queens to Montauk. Keep in mind that there is a lot of surfable coastline on Long Island, it can just be a challenge to access it amid all the private property. Start at these go-to public beaches to simplify your search. 

Long Beach

Long Beach is a city with a very long surfing history. This city, beach and boardwalk has hosted the New York Quiksilver Pro, a stop on the 2011 World Surf League’s World Tour. Long Beach also benefits from southern and easterly swells and offers clean, offshore winds when much of the East Coast is choppy. There are big jetties here to set up sandbars. And with several surf cams here to check the conditions, inexperienced surfers can assess the ocean state before paddling out—always a good idea as Long Beach has powerful waves and an established lineup of surfers. But on small summer days, it’s a good time in the suds.

Ditch Plains

A gem of New York surfing that has become loved (maybe too loved given its popularity) by visitors from the city, Ditch Plains is an iconic East Hampton Beach close to Montauk that gets swell from nearly every direction and favors a northwesterly wind. It is a sand and rock bottom break that can produce long peeling lefts. This spot has a tendency to get very crowded and any new surfer to the area should be aware and respectful. But it’s crowded for a reason. Ditch Plains is a pleasant and fun place to hang out. You can watch the surf action while enjoying coffee, breakfast, poke bowls, or a burrito from the Ditch Witch, the area’s famous food truck.

Best Beach for Wild Coastal Adventure: Fire Island 

Fire Island is a fascinating part of the Long Island coast as a barrier island that faces south to the Atlantic Ocean, separated from the rest of Suffolk County by the Great South Bay. Part of the reason this island is so interesting is because there are certain public sites you can drive to, like Fire Island Lighthouse, but most of the beaches, villages and back bay are only accessible by ferries and water taxis out of Patchogue, Mastic Beach, Sayville or Bay Shore. This barrier island remains an unspoiled place of natural coastal wonder with pretty beaches and the Sunken Forest—a lush, wooded area right next to the beach.

The villages are quirky with hotels, restaurants and nightclubs, a longtime favorite retreat for Manhattan’s entertainment crowd. They are designed to walk around—though local bicycle rentals help you cover more ground. If you’re looking for a real adventure, get out and hike the undeveloped stretches of Fire Island National Seashore to the north and south of the communities. The Fire Island Beach Walk is a 21-mile coastal out-and-back great for a challenging day-long adventure.

Best Beach for Easy Access: Rockaway Beach

Rockaway is not just one of the most interesting beaches in New York, it’s one of the most interesting beaches in the world. Easily accessible via MTA’s A Train from Brooklyn, it attracts diverse beachgoers and influence from all over the globe as well as the different areas of New York, with their own versions of beach culture. Where else might you be surfing a September swell and hear folks speaking Portuguese, Japanese and Spanish between waves? Rockaway’s 7 miles of beaches are completely free, even in the summer. Paddle a SUP on a flat day or surf one of the jetties.

A thriving urban beach culture has formed here in the last 20 years as well with events and the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, a lively and colorful bar, eatery and event space, favored by the Brooklyn crowd.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.