A Tale of Two Beaches
by Christine Leahy
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.