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A Tale of Two Beaches
by Christine Leahy

August often brings the worst out of the city - subway stations can bake cakes and sidewalks can fry garbage. Which means there are still plenty of opportunities to take the day off, escape the stinky urban heat and head for the beach.

Where to? Jones Beach is the old standby, but who wants to deal with the traffic and the crowds and the meat-market-y scene? The Hamptons might be nice, but if you don't have a second house there, aren't so easily accessible. There are, however, plenty of alternatives, and I'd like to introduce you to two lesser-known public beaches within easy day-trip reach of the city: Jennings Beach, in Fairfield, Connecticut, and Manhattan Beach, in our very own Brooklyn.

Jennings Beach

This is your destination via 1) Metro North + bike, 2) Metro North + your feet, or 3) car. It'll take you an hour and change to get there, if you drive you'll pay $12 to park, and if you arrive on bike or foot you'll pay nothing.

You'll have a small but not too small beach on the Long Island Sound, with lots of space to spread out your beach towels and coolers. The sand is a little pebbly and the waves are tame (sorry, surfers). The atmosphere is family-oriented and suburban, and not too crowded, even on weekends. As you're applying sunscreen and sipping iced tea, you'll notice sailboats from the adjacent marina floating cheerfully past and you might hear local teenagers gossiping about who's cheating on who. On one hazy day in July, a voice over the intercom system requested that two lost boys report themselves to one of the lifeguards in Baywatch-red suits.

After a day in the sun, you can change and shower in clean facilities, and if you don't take advantage of the hot dogs and popsicles at the snack bar, grab something to eat or a few drinks before catching your train, at one of many options near the station. Try a crepe at Le Petit Soleil (1790 Post road), or a sandwich, a crab cake, or some gelato a few doors down at Mercurio (1506 Post road). There's also Archie Moore's Bar & Restaurant (48 Sanford Street), offering burgers, wraps, grilled chicken and $2 Miller specials.

Manhattan Beach

Don't let the name fool you. Lauded as Brooklyn's best, Manhattan Beach is the smaller, much cleaner, more secluded neighbor of Brighton Beach and Coney Island. A short trip away on the Q train, Manhattan Beach Park is located on the eastern edge of Lower New York Harbor. The water is calm and deep blue, sandwiched between jetties, and, as pointed out by beachgoer Brian Thompson, "there are no sharks."

On a recent day in July, Maisha Samuel, a native of Trinidad, lamented that, "a lot of times when I go to a beach in the U.S., I'm settling." But despite high standards, on her first visit to Manhattan Beach she was so impressed that she planned to return the next day. In addition to its impressive waterfront, Manhattan Beach Park offers basketball courts, a small baseball diamond, a parking lot, a playground, and plenty of tables and benches from which to enjoy the view. There are bathrooms (the condition of which is what you'd expect in a city park), as well as vending machines, concession stands, and even a game room. You'll hear a lot of Russian spoken as you test your feet in the water, and towards the evening you'll smell barbeques coming from the picnic tables.

While its crowds aren't big, Manhattan Beach's fans are devoted. Dawn Paniccioli and her daughter Christina, of Sheepshead Bay, make the short trek daily, bringing a reflector to catch extra rays. Ms. Panniccioli noted the safety of the location, citing the presence of cops and lifeguards. "Brighton has a lot of riff-raff," she added. Ziwa Ashukova comes twice a week, driving an hour from South Amboy, NJ with her three children, and Brian Thompson, of Canarsie, also visits about twice a week, "not to sunbathe but to look at the ocean."

In fact the sight of the Rockaways and New Jersey in the near distance is surprisingly scenic and green. But lest the pretty views and clear water fool you, tall buildings behind the park, pigeons mingling with the seagulls, and the occasional barge floating out to sea will remind you that you're not too far from home.

"The only thing that's bad is the hours," asserts Pablo Castro, from under his beach umbrella; Manhattan Beach closes at 9pm.

Getting to Manhattan Beach:

By subway: take the Q train (express or local) towards Coney Island. Get off at the Brighton Beach stop and head east on Brighton Beach avenue, which turns into Oriental boulevard. When you reach Ocean avenue, you will see Manhattan Beach Park on your right.

Getting to Jennings Beach:

By train: take Metro North from Grand Central to Fairfield, CT. Jennings Beach is 1.5 miles from the station - a good walk or an easy bike down pleasant, mostly residential streets. When you come out of the station, go down Sanford street and make a left onto Post road; take a right onto Old Post road - careful to turn left shortly thereafter to stay on Old Post road; make a right onto South Benson road, and follow the signs for Jennings Beach.

By car: take I95 north, and get off at Connecticut exit #22 towards Round Hill road; go straight, then take a slight right onto Walls Drive; turn right onto North Benson road; North Benson road becomes South Benson road; stay on South Benson and follow the signs to Jennings Beach.

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