By Carol Cain, on July 1, 2014

Best boardwalks in New York

When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, summers were golden. My fondest memories are of my sitting on the stoop of my grandparents’ brownstone, enjoying a Mr. Softee soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone (with chocolate sprinkles, of course) and admiring the new jelly sandals I had been waiting all winter to wear. I remember sounds of 2 Live Crew and Grandmaster Flash blaring from boom boxes, and the moments when someone graciously (and illegally) opened the block’s fire hydrant so all we could cool off. I remember spending time with friends and family alike on some of the city’s best beach boardwalks.

A lot has changed from those days in New York City, except for the heat that often feels like it’s going to swallow you whole. And though you won’t see me (or my kids, poor things) jumping into the blasting cold waters of a hydrant, one tradition remains the same: We still go to the beach. And we still hang out on boardwalks. Here are some of my faves in Brooklyn and beyond.

Coney Island

You can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but she always will return to Coney Island. Go there now and you will see a transformation of sorts, with the huge (and somewhat pricey) Luna Park amusement area. Old favorites, including the Coney Island Side Show, the Mermaid Parade, and the beloved Cyclone, a New York City landmark that has been a part of the Coney Island experience since 1927, remain.

Long Beach

If you visit, you’re going to have to eat a Nathan’s Famous hot dog and a ton of cheese fries. It’s just how things are done. And if you’re thinking of going swimming, be warned: Water temperature is toe-numbing freezing, and the quality of the water is somewhat questionable. Not that these issues ever really have stopped me from jumping in.

Long Beach

Once I grew up and started making a little money, Long Beach, in Nassau County on Long Island, became a regular hangout for me. Because it costs about US$12 to access the beach (by train), the crowds aren’t as plentiful as those you often find in Brooklyn. There’s a direct Long Island Rail Road service from Penn Station to Long Beach; from the train station it’s a short walk to the boardwalk for a total of about an hour’s commute.

There are no games or rides on this beach, no parades or shows. Instead, it’s just beach—the perfect spot to come, spend some quiet time and enjoy the sun. If you plan to eat while you visit, check out the food trucks that serve everything from meatball sandwiches to dim sum. The boardwalk itself is an inspiration; parts of it were destroyed during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but the city has rebuilt the attraction and made it better and sturdier than ever.

Viewfinder Tip: Driving to the beach from New York City in the summer can be an ordeal. Leave early. Or take the train instead.

Morey’s Piers

No, Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Waterparks isn’t in New York; the beach actually is located in Wildwood, New Jersey. And I know suggesting that you bridge-and-tunnel your way to the beach is not very New York of me. But trust me, this place is worth the trip.

Wildwood has everything: amusement parks, games, food, and parking. It is a full-on beach resort destination, and, as a mom with three kids, I like Wildwood as a place to escape for a more extended beach experience. I especially love the boardwalk at night, when the whole town seems to beam from the neon lights. Another favorite: The Lazy River at Morey’s, on which my husband could float all day long.

Though I no longer have the stoop and my indulgence in Mr. Softee is rare, there are still two things on which I always can count: Melting hot New York City summers and weekends at the beach. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What sorts of things do you like to do at the beach when you travel?