Our four-part series takes a look at Rockaway Beach and how it gave New Yorkers an escape from the city — without ever leaving the city — during the first summer of the Coronavirus pandemic. All photos were shot during two bike-based, long weekend visits.

New Food

A lot is being written about Rockaway Beach food these days. I’ll cut to the chase and show you the pictures.

Sorry if I left out your favorite new place; I/we can only eat so much. Tacoway Beach was always filled to capacity, and we didn’t have a chance to order a Last Dragon Pizza for delivery. I also wanted to try the jerk from that place with a drum smoker over by the strip mall Popeye’s.

The last two sentences contain enough calories for two days. See the problem?

Old Food

There are plenty of vestiges of Old Noo Yawk in Rockaway Beach. Many are architectural, but the best ones are edible. My go-to deli, right by the ferry landing, is Board Walk Bagel. It’s a classic NYC deli that has its own rotary oven for bagel-baking. They serve great bagels and deli sandwiches, including elusively authentic Buffalo Chicken, which is rare in NYC. Just ignore the other ferry people grabbing cases of White Claw at 9 a.m.

I’m also throwing in some photos of New Park Pizza, even though it’s in Howard Beach. That’s two bridges and two neighborhoods away in “mainland” Queens. It’s a great stop when you are biking to or from the beach.

When the A-team is working behind the counter, the bottom of your slice will look like this:

Ask Not What Rockaway Beach Can Do For You… Just Go There, Now.

Rockaway Beach was essentially ignored by the rest of the City for decades, and then it was almost extinguished by Superstorm Sandy. Ironically, the storm opened up new funding sources for the beach to bounce back better than ever. The locals have seen the ongoing pandemic as just another challenge to overcome.

The result is a community that welcomes outsiders from all over the borough, all boroughs, and probably beyond.

From surfers riding waves at the break of dawn, to indie musicians playing outdoor dining spaces, to the cops and firefighters and artists who live there year-round, to recently arrived immigrants from anywhere else on Earth, you will find every conceivable type of New Yorker at Rockaway Beach. And that community welcomed pandemic-weary New Yorkers to its shores, whether we arrived by boat or train or bike or car. We got a brief respite, amazing food, and beach days that could rival those spent hundreds or thousands of miles to the south.

Does this sound like a cool place to check out? Then the best thing you could do is go there and spend money. Do a day trip on the ferry or subway, or do as we did: bike down and stay for the weekend at one of the weird and overpriced lodging places. Buy a nutcracker from a nutcracker guy. Get a fancy meal, and also get the orange beef at Xing Xing.

Notes on Bikes and Cameras

They say the best camera is the one you have on you. I used a Pixel 3 phone to shoot this series — a Manic American first!

I say the best bike is the one you are on. I rode my old 2008 Gary Fisher Artemis on both trips. (I also used this bike for our Philly Sandwich Tour.) My fiancee used her equally old Specialized hybrid on our first trip, then a much nicer Gazelle Easyflow on the second trip.

Perhaps one day I’ll finish writing about the intricacies of prepping the bikes and planning, then improving, our route. But I’d rather be riding back to Rockaway Beach than writing about it.

Check out the other pieces in our Rockaway Beach series:


Words & photos by Rob Bellinger
Published: 9/10/2021
Rockaway Beach visits: July 3-5 and September 4-7, 2020