Larchmont living has a fantastic perk we tend to ignore: that the Atlantic Ocean is nearer (and much more affordable) to us than a Broadway show.
In under an hour you can kick off sandals and savor the clear blue water at Jones Beach State Park. With an $8 vehicle use fee, there’s no greater bargain.
Choose from six beaches, each with its distinctive atmosphere and amenities. Here’s a quick guide:
Jones Beach State Park
Wantagh, New York 11793
When the dramatic water tower comes into view, you’re here: 6.5 miles of ocean front and soft, clean white sand, a half mile of bay beach, two miles of boardwalk, and an Olympic-size swimming pool.
Living the Great Life
The 1929 masterpiece of Long Island State Park Commissioner Robert Moses thrives, replicating all the amenities and activities of a private beach club. This is a well-run, clean, attentive, gorgeously designed and massive park. Changing rooms, hot showers and foot showers are all in perfect order.
Sure, there’s shuffleboard, basketball, golf, a bike path, and more. But it’s about one thing: the beach. And before that, it’s just the one thing: parking, which can make or break your day in the sun.
Rise and Drive
We tested four road trips, pulling out of the driveway twice at 7 am, twice at 9. Roads were clear: I-95 S to: the Throgs Neck Bridge; I-295; Cross Island Parkway South; Southern State Parkway East; Meadowbrook Parkway South; to Ocean Parkway. To put it to the test, one trip was July 4th, with 253,000 attendance.
Travel light: every walk back feels like crossing the Sahara. Bring cash, for the vehicle use fee, for ice cream and incidentals. Extra sunscreen. Water bottle. Fruit. Food stations have breakfast sandwiches, burgers, fried shrimp, clams and fish.
Stay Between the Green
There’s a reason Jones Beach Lifeguards are some of the best in the world: rip tides and undertows are powerful here. Swim only between the green flags.
By 2 pm, Ocean Parkway West is a parking lot for miles making you smile big as you sail the opposite direction. July 12th, exiting at 3 pm. we had a two-and-a-half-hour return.
Which Beach For You?
Remember: Beaches are called fields and start with Field 2 running east to Field 6. (Field 1 is closed due to budget cuts.) You’ll only want to park once, so use this field guide to make your pick.
Time and Parking: The fastest drive from Larchmont, 40 minutes. “It’s the second field to fill up, with 1,316 spaces right on the beach,” provides Susan Precker of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Con: 1/4-mile hike to the water. Driving home you must first circle east in piled-up traffic.
Who: Families with young children.
Atmosphere: Tame and serene. Dunes and beach grasses.
Lifeguard POV: “Years ago it was the quiet beach,” says 12-year lifeguard Cary Epstein, 29, who during the year is a high school teacher, swim coach, and EMT. “It’s re-emerging as the beach for families who don’t want to be packed like sardines at Field 6.”
Time and Parking: 50 minutes. Only open on busy days (1,660 spaces) so use Parking Field 4.
Con: It’s a trek to the main mall.
Who: Diverse groups of extended families who prefer some zip to their people watching. More crowded than Field 2.
Atmosphere: Higher energy, a little more crowded than Field 2. Soft radio playing allowed.
Lifeguard POV: Favorite with camp and school trips.
Sand to Surf: At one part, a two-foot high ledge separates the water base from the sand. Looks interesting until a wave slams a boogie board onto it — no room to coast.
Amenities: Use West Bathhouse.
Time and Parking: 45 minutes. Biggest: 4,212 spaces north of Ocean Parkway. This is the trek everyone talks about: through the tunnel to the Central Mall flag pole.
Con: If you get stuck with a remote space, you’ll wish you had a canteen and burro, so pack light.
Who: Groups of groups. Public trans drops together the young of NYC and LI.
Scene: Known as Central Mall, Muscle Beach. Bikini Beach. If you don’t own one, honey don’t even bother. Mother of all melting pots. That’s not a peninsula: that’s hundreds of bodies screaming side by side in crashing, zinging waves. Yo, this is Mr. Epstein’s beach.
Lifeguard POV: “It’s the hot, single, young crazy beach!” says Mr. Epstein of the surfdom he protects. “We get everyone mostly from ages from 14 to 35 strutting their stuff. It’s the closest thing you get to MTV spring break. That’s why I love it here.” His crew made 96 rescues July 12th, “all due to rip currents.”
Atmosphere: Like the L.I.E., bodies bumper to bumper. Ladies room has three FAA-qualified attendants. On deck, promoters can barely squeeze a booth in to hand out skinny frisbees. Somehow everything flows easily.
Time and Parking: 50 minutes. North of Ocean Parkway, 3,867 spaces.
Con: East Bathhouse and its swimming pool are closed due to budget cuts.
Who: Overflow from Field 6. Families.
Atmosphere: A little edgier than Field 2, less than Field 3, with volleyball nets. A little looser than Field 6 since soft radio playing is allowed.
Lifeguard POV: Laid-back families.
Sand to Surf: a slight drop from sand to water, with an ok entry to the water.
Field and Parking: 50 minutes. Parking Fields 5 or 6.
Where: North of Ocean Highway, East of Parking Field 5
Lifeguard POV: still-water bay ideal for toddlers and anyone who doesn’t want waves. Many public transit NYC families.
Atmosphere: Weekends, stay-all-day festival. Families bring portable barbecue pits, soccer balls, tables, and music. Around-the-world food fest.
Sand to Surf: Step off the grass and you’re pretty much standing on it.
Amenities: Use Central Mall.
Field and Parking: 50 minutes. The smallest, with 1,308 spaces, “It’s the first field to fill up,” says Mr. Precker. Right on the beach, it’s the easiest walk with a pavement to surf boardwalk.
Con: By 9 am, sleepy head, fuhgeddaboudit.
Who: Families from Long Island, Westchester and north with every imaginable type of gear and beach tent. Couples and solo beach goers fold in.
Atmosphere: “No radio playing” says it all. Easy reading. Eastern-most, big swaths of space between groups seems surreal. Kite flying. Surf casting for blues and stripers.
Lifeguard POV: Lots of “Sandinistas”- those who stay on the sand all day with coolers of fresh food, activities, and books.
West Bathhouse (west of the Central Mall), has a wading pool and an Olympic-size pool with two open-to-the-public diving boards minus much bounce but still a nostalgic thrill. For a child to stay all day? $1. Showers, changing rooms, lockers. M-F 10-6. Weekend and Holidays, 10-8.
Katherine Ann Samon lives in Larchmont . Her work has appeared in Travel & Leisure and New York Magazine.