I began coming to Jacob Riis Beach, in Far Rockaway NY, several times over the course of the summer season a few years ago. It was my gay group of girlfriends that introduced me to this local secret getaway. While there is a dominant gay community at Riis Beach, many New Yorkers and groups of families flock to this beach in the summer, looking for a faster, closer version of a Jones Beach day-trip or weekend getaway.
My first time was quite memorable. We sat in my still favorite section of the beach, a small reserved nook, for the more colorful patrons of the beach. An area just past the last exit off the boardwalk steps, when walking left from the former Jacob Riis Bathing Pavilion, and in front of what looks like an abandoned school, or scarier even, some kind of asylum. This area was the best in my opinion, due to the lesbian and gay couples and groups that literally bared their souls and their bodies to the sun. Some would set up their beautiful forts, others would dance and sing like jesters to entertain each other. Last year, there was Ms. Columbia. (featured in post image) A kind of local celebrity dragqueen, that wore the most fantastical and imaginative of outfits; which made me think that her real intention was to find her way to Burning Man but couldn’t afford it so hit up the Riis beach community instead! She told side-splitting jokes in Spanish, with her green parrot cohort, setting her audiences in uproars of laughter that could be heard hundreds of feet away. She was the opposite of most street merchant, entertainers; people felt lucky if she chose them as her regal audience. Two years later and Riis hasn’t changed. Except for the comic Spanish queen. She has yet to make her cameo this season; maybe she’s on her way to Burning Man this year!
I brought a friend with me this time, who has never been to Riis, and she keeps asking me, when can we go back?! So we went twice last week, and I’ve since planned 2 more days to go back next week. It’s a perfect day trip respite from the cities’ heat, and cramped spaces. Now, a state park, originally designed by Robert Moses, the same man who created Jones Beach to be a state park, and named after Jacob Riis, a well-known NYC photographer and journalist in the 30’s and 40’s, who documented the plight of poor and working class.
Laying on my towel, this past Thursday, I was seeded among (not crowded by) liberated New Yorkers. The landscape filled with occasional nudists, discretely indulging in smoking splifs, with frequent passing airway traffic, from the nearby JFK airport. Surreal, local and unusually far from a normal “day at the beach.”
Next time you feel the need to pause, pencil in some downtime and head over to Jacob Riis Beach. Drive, rent a zipcar like I did, or use public buses to uncover a local and freedom infused beach. It might not be Jamaica, the Caribbean island, but it’s near Jamaica Queens; and the motto is the same, Freedom Mon, One Love.
Tips & Good Know How:
Dress Code: Occasional Nudity
Food: Light beach snacks and beer available on the boardwalk. Bringing snacks is recommended.
Directions & Distance from the city:
Bus: Q35 from Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue at the corner of Nostrand Avenue, Kings Highway, Quentin Road, Avenue S or Avenue U (Kings Plaza). After the bridge, ask the driver to let you off at either Fort Tilden or Riis Park. Alternate: Q21 or Q53 to Beach 116th Street, then Q22 or Q35 to the park.
Subway and Bus: 2 (also 5 during weekdays) to Flatbush Avenue, then take the Q35 bus to the park. Alternate: A or S to Rockaway Park then Q35 or Q22 bus to the park.
Car: Take the Belt Parkway to Exit 11S, then Flatbush Avenue south across the Marine Parkway Bridge to the park. Alternate: Woodhaven Boulevard to Cross Bay Boulevard, then west on Beach Channel Drive to the park.Parking is $10 Aprox time in no traffic: 40 mins