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What’s new at NYC beaches this summer

What to do at Coney Island and the Rockaways this season

A sandy beach. There are beach tents, beachgoers, and colorful umbrellas on the beach.
The beach at Jacob Riis Park.
Max Touhey

We may not see the sun much over Memorial Day weekend, but a look at the calendar is undeniable: Summer is right around and the corner, which means it’s time to hit the beach.

All of New York City’s public beaches offer plenty of sand and surf (along with free sunscreen and wi-fi), but the crown jewels of New York City summer—Coney Island and the Rockaway peninsula—offer a few new twists for you this year as well. Here’s what to expect from those summer hot spots.

Coney Island

Have you really had a summer in the city if you haven’t at some point lost a bunch of money to a crane game or one of those throw-the-dart-at-a-balloon games on the Coney Island boardwalk?

But beyond carny-driven frustration, this summer will see a couple of new thrill rides joining classics like the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, or the looping coaster the Thunderbolt.

The Astro Tower, taking the name of the ride that ended service in 2008—and was taken down in 2013 after a bit too much swaying—will rise in Luna Park, albeit not as high as the original 270-foot tower. The ride, which will take riders up 137 feet in the air before dropping and bouncing them back down, will also be illuminated by over 5,000 LED lights.

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In addition to the big thrill of the Astro Tower, Luna Park will be rolling out a combination virtual reality/interactive video game called the Cozmo Jet, along with the Coney Clipper, a swinging pirate ship ride giving 75-degree views of Luna Park.

If you somehow get bored of all the lights and rides, stroll along the newly-landmarked Boardwalk to the New York Aquarium, which is breaking out its new shark exhibit starting June 30th. Selachimorphaphiles can check out sandbar sharks, sand tiger sharks, white tip reef sharks, and 15 other species that call the New York region home, as well as rays and sea turtles doing their thing in a 57,000 square foot space holding 500,000 gallons of water.

The years-in-the-making exhibit will also feature an artificial coral reef, a replica of the USS San Diego shipwreck, which sank off of the coast of Fire Island in 1918, and a recreation of the Hudson Canyon, the biggest ocean canyon on the East Coast.

Round out your Coney journey with a baseball game, courtesy of the single-A Brooklyn Cyclones. Not only can you occasionally see the future of Mets baseball (current Mets Robert Gsellman and Amed Rosario played in Brooklyn), but you can also grab some fun swag during MCU Park’s giveaway days—even if you don’t care about baseball. This year’s highlights include a Noah Syndergaard emoji pillow (ergonomic!), Brooklyn Bridge socks (useful!) and a Keith Hernandez talking alarm clock (wake up with good fundies!).

Jacob Riis Park

We’ll have to wait until 2020 for Jacob Riis Park’s iconic bathhouse to be fully renovated and powered up, but the Riis Park Bazaar is welcoming a few new food vendors to the bustling beach park this summer.

Pizza Moto will be slinging neapolitan pizzas in the former Whit’s End spot at Bay 9, while you can pick up Pad Thai and Thai-style barbecue from Warung Roadside on the westernmost area of Riis at Bay 14.

On the east side of the park, San Francisco burrito spot Super Burrito, Playa Del Riis will be set up near the clock on the boardwalk, while burgers, fries and wings joint Two Dudes will be doing its thing out of a retrofitted cargo container.

Rockaway Beach

There are plenty of ways to hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach this year, whether on a fancy air conditioned bus, the A train, or your own bike.

But without a doubt, the most in-demand way to get down to the beach will be the NYC Ferry. Questions about who the ferry benefits most aside, it’s nice being on a boat and the city’s added an express ferry out of Wall Street/Pier 11 in recognition of that fact. The express boat will get you from Manhattan to Beach 108th Street in about an hour for $2.75; once you’re there a free shuttle runs to the east and west sides of the peninsula every hour.

Once you arrive, head to the perennially popular Rockaway Beach Surf Club, which is still slinging drinks and tacos out of its spot on Beach 87th Street. If you’re looking for Fourth of July weekend plans, you can hit up the surf club’s Festival of Color on July 7th, which celebrates summer in a Holi-like tradition of revelers tossing color powder bombs at each other.

But it’s not all good news in the Rockaways: In an announcement that came at the worst possible time (that is, five days before the beaches were supposed to actually open), the city revealed that the stretch from Beach 91st Street to Beach 102nd Street would be closed indefinitely because of erosion. The response, understandably, has not been positive from beachgoers and business owners in the Rockaways.