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Locals Surf School
Locals Surf School

Who needs the tropics when you’ve got “Rockapulco” right in your own backyard?! That’s right, New Yorkers – you needn’t leave the city limits to step out of the concrete jungle and onto sandy shores, with the rise of the Rockaways beckoning for some seaside fun-in-the-sun. Whether you hitch a ride to “Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach,” or make way via the A train, the Queens beach scene is really heating up this summer. So, put on your swimsuit, but leave any pretense behind, as this “anti-Hamptons” caters more to laid-back crowds of surfers than to scenesters and glitterati.

Of course, there’s ample opportunity for basking on the miles of beaches and boardwalk, and indulging at foodie-friendly pop-ups and outdoor bars, but the slender Rockaways peninsula comes brimming with some wonderfully unexpected surprises, too. From surf lessons to whale-watching – and plenty more diversions in between – we’ve rounded up these five incredible reasons why you need to make way for the Queens coast-with-the-most this summer!

  1. Surf’s Up

Locals Surf School

Locals Surf School

Surfing?! In NYC?! You betchya. Indeed, you needn’t venture out of the big city to hang 10, since the Rockaways propose the city’s only legal surfing beaches, which come tucked between the Atlantic-facing shores from Beach 68th to Beach 71st Streets, and from Beach 87th to Beach 92nd Streets. Need a little help racking up some surfer-dude cred? A trio of reputable surf schools operate private or group lessons for beginners to intermediates, as well as summer surf camps for kids: Locals Surf School, New York Surf School and Skudin Surf.

Gotta gear up first? Get your board, wet suit, wax, and all the rest of it at local surf shops like Boarders Surf Shop (they also offer locker and surfboard rentals). Refuel after a day of paddling about at laid-back local hangout and surfers’ haven Rockaway Beach Surf Club – in addition to a buzzing bar doling out frozen margaritas (and more) and excellent fish tacos from Tacoway Beach, the hip and beachy space hosts a variety of art shows, film fests and special cultural events throughout the year.

  1. Riis Park Beach Bazaar

Dylan Johnson at Riis Park Beach Bazaar

Dylan Johnson at Riis Park Beach Bazaar

If day-old hot dogs from dusty beach concession stands just won’t do, your inner (suntan-craving) foodie has a cause to celebrate. Head straight to the beachfront Jacob Riis Park this summer, where, since last year, the Riis Park Beach Bazaar has served to completely reimagine the park’s old Art Deco concessions into a culinary wonderland. Cater to your culinary whims with options from some dozen local food purveyors like Fletcher’s Brooklyn BBQ, Bolivian Llama Party and Ample Hills Creamery. Our very favorite? Tuck into one of the made-to-order pizza pies served up at Slice O’ Whit (an outpost of the buzzy Whit’s End eatery) – we’re still drooling over their inventive “Bianca” pie, baked to perfection with goat cheese, zucchini, fior di latte cheese and mint leaves. Plus, the bazaar claims several bars, a slate of special summer events, chair-and-umbrella rentals, and, oh yeah – did we mention that there’s that gorgeous stretch of sandy beach here, too?!

  1. Whale- & Dolphin-Watching Cruises

Christopher Spagnoli for Gotham Whale

Christopher Spagnoli for Gotham Whale

Forget Cape Cod – for the ultimate whale of a tale (about the tail of whale) to tell, set out to the Rockaways, where Gotham Whale has been running 4-hour-long whale- and dolphin-watching boat trips from Riis Landing, aboard the 150-passenger boat called The American Princess, since 2011. The operation, which is the brainchild of a former curator for the New England and New York aquariums (he now serves as one of the onboard naturalists and commentators), brings guests out onto the Atlantic to look for the beloved maritime duo between May and October (note that peak season for humpback-spotting is in summer). You might also come upon bottlenose or common dolphins; and seabirds, sea turtles and rays are also known to make an appearance.

  1. Jet Skis & More Water Sports

Rockaway Jet Ski

Rockaway Jet Ski

The Rockaways is an aquatic playground where you can name your own sea-spray-in-your-face game. Get out on the water with the adrenaline-loving folks behind Rockaway Jet Ski (based out of the popular waterfront Thai eatery Thai Rock), who rent out jet skis for private runs in Jamaica Bay. Or, opt in for one of their guided 1- to 4-hour jet ski tours – they run further afield to New York Harbor or Coney Island, or you can try an eco-tour right on the bay, where you’re sure to spot some of the 70 species of birds that frequent the area – as well as planes from nearby JFK – just overhead. Don’t have such a need for speed? Sign up for a guided tandem kayak tour or stand up paddleboard (SUP) rental and lesson in the calm of the bay instead. Alternatively, check in with the husband-and-wife team behind A-Team Paddleboarding for all your SUP needs – their Rockaways offerings run the gamut from rentals to lessons, and from SUP-based yoga and pilates classes to kids camps.

  1. Farm-Fresh Fare

John Garay at Edgemere Farm

John Garay at Edgemere Farm

Urban farming doesn’t have to be an oxymoron – just look to the Rockaways’ half-acre Edgemere Farm, which transformed an abandoned lot into a verdant farm – brimming with vegetables, herbs and flowers – back in 2013. Swing by on Saturdays (9 a.m.– 1 p.m.) to pick up fresh-from-the-farm fare (as well as some regional imports) via their public farm stand. Edgemere also offers a free yoga class on Wednesday mornings, and is open to volunteers then, too; they also host occasional special events like farm dinners. More green thumbs have found refuge in the Rockaways, too: Look for other urban farm initiatives with special programs in place for local youth (some offer public farm stands, too), like Culinary Kids Farm, Rockaway Youth Task Force Farm and Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger’s Healing Garden at Far Rock Farm.

Elissa Garay is a Queens-born, Brooklyn-based travel writer, whose work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, Travel + Leisure, and more. She’s also the co-founder of BQE Tours: The Brooklyn Queens Experience, which offers culturally immersive small-group walking tours in Long Island City, DUMBO and beyond. Follow her at @TravelSpiritNYC and @BQEtours.

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