Hurry, Hurry, Take the Ferry to Rockaway
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
By: Deborah Baldwin
If living in Midtown these days can feel like an uphill struggle for air and light, here’s one development that gives hope. The ferries that ply the East River, delivering passengers to destinations like Dumbo and Williamsburg, have a new operator, called Hornblower, and a new name, NYC Ferry. Even better, service is expanding up and down the river, from Astoria all the way to Jamaica Bay. For Murray Hillers longing for a day at the beach, this means being able to jump on board at East 34th Street, make a quick transfer at Wall Street, and disembark about an hour and 40 minutes later at Rockaway, steps from rolling waves and a sleek new boardwalk peppered with rest stops and interesting food and drink.
The new ferry service makes getting there at least half the fun. Just be sure to pack a sun hat or umbrella. The new boats lack shade on the upper deck, which is where you want to be, feeling the wind and watching the city glide by as if revealing itself for the first time.
Rockaway has a long, colorful history as a summer destination. Rockaway Beach sits midway on a skinny barrier peninsula that juts west into the Atlantic, with Jamaica Bay on one side, the ocean on the other and Breezy Point at its western tip, facing Brighton Beach. Rockaway, which is actually farther west than Far Rockaway, fields traffic from two causeways that cross the bay and its wildlife refuge, one of the causeways bearing the A train. Their end points frame a worn thatch of streets and a jumble of bars, restaurants, surf shop and bungalows—one owned by Patti Smith, who writes wonderfully of Rockaway in her latest memoir—mixed in among bleak high rises, creaking seagulls, jets tearing out of nearby JFK Airport and the swaying el.
The urban skyline is dispiriting, but you can keep your eyes on the ocean—once you are oriented. The ferry pulls up on the bayside, near Beach 108th Street, dispensing passengers to a free shuttle that runs east-west on Beach Channel Drive. Skip it and walk just a few blocks south on Beach 108th, and you’ll find not only the boundless sea but also that seemingly endless boardwalk. A broad, concrete swath, rippling with hipster food-and-drink spots, it replaces the wood planks blown apart five years ago by superstorm Sandy. The easiest way to size up lunch options may be to rent a bike and make a loop.
The beach is part of the city’s park system and boasts an encouraging number of lifeguards, not to mention a 21-block stretch between Beach 45th and Beach 56th Streets that is off limits from April through September during piping-plover nesting season. (Where besides New York would nesting areas be measured in blocks?) The water is not crystal clear, but bacteria counts were well below EPA alert levels when last checked, in late July, according to a city tally. You can always cool your heels by strolling along the water, enjoying the crunch of shells while picking your way around occasional plastic flotsam.
Fares and schedules
The sprawling dock at 34th Street has ticket vending machines, or you can download the NYC Ferry Service app. Bikes pay a $1 surcharge.
The trip costs just $2.75. No, they don’t cut that in half for seniors, and you can’t use your Metro card. The $2.75 cost of a ticket doesn’t cover the cost of carrying you across miles of open water. The city throws in another $7 or so per passenger, according to The New York Times.
The Rockaway ferry departs from Wall Street hourly, starting at 7:30 a.m. on weekends and at 9:15 weekday mornings. To make the connection from Midtown, you simply board a different ferry at 34th Street about 40 minutes earlier and pick up a transfer at the snack bar on board. The two ferries dock side by side at Wall Street, making the transfer pretty painless.
The Rockaway ferry has only one other stop, Sunset Park, in Brooklyn. (Find schedules and information on connecting buses at ferry.nyc.) Line up early on perfect beach days, especially if you want a seat on the upper deck.
Get on board while you can, and certainly before there’s a change in the weather. You may not find a Caribbean paradise with pristine, snowy sands, but if you squint you’ll see the beach, and coming from Midtown that’s no small thing.