This is our go-to city beach when we don't have a whole day or weekend to spare to fight the traffic out of town. It is very convenient by car to most of Brooklyn and Queens, with $10 all-day parking. I've never been there by public transportation but it sees like a long ride. It is much less crowded than any of the Brooklyn beaches, probably because it doesn't have all the amusement park stuff, and very clean. The end by the picnic area and playground is much more crowded than the Ft. Tilden end (the far end of the parking lot). As other posters have noted, there are not a lot of boardwalk amenities, so people come here solely to enjoy the beach, which is totally pleasant.
1. Sandy trashed the snack bar at the Ft. Tilden end, it has been temporarily replaced by food trucks. There is also a pop-up bike rental which seems popular.
2. Take note of the red flags at the Ft. Tilden end - the lifeguarded area stops considerably before the end of the beach. Families with kids should especially be aware of that.
3. If you plan on actually swimming (rather than splashing at the shoreline), make sure you know how to escape a rip tide, they are common in the Rockaways!
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