Day Trip to Jones Beach State Park from New York City
Visit New York City and discover the magic and convenience of nearby ocean beach destinations and stunning state parks. Jones Beach State Park, located on a Long Island coastal barrier island, is especially inviting as it features activities for all ages and enough facilities to support them.
New York residents, especially those who live on Long Island, are very familiar with the park’s layout and write at length on the web about their happy memories of it.
Newcomers and tourists, however, often wonder what all the excitement is about. Yes, it is the most popular beach destination on the East Coast, but there are a lot of beaches along the coast. What makes this one so great?
Jones Beach State Park manages 6.5 miles of Atlantic Ocean beach, with approximately two miles of boardwalk fronting its main swimming areas. Around the perimeter of the park, coastal areas are designated for swimming, surfing, fishing, and boating.
Slightly inland is Zach’s Bay, which provides a stillwater beach (no pounding surf, which is great for toddlers). The Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, which offers many interesting nature programs, is located on the far, west end, and Captree State Park, a fisherman’s “heaven,” is adjacent to Jones Beach on the far eastern end.
Portions of the beach are closed, depending on the weather, season, maintenance, or other factors. For current information, visit its New York State Park Department site at nysparks.state.ny.us.
The park contains stunning 1930’s Art Deco buildings, all large enough to serve your dressing-room, eating, beach supply, beach clothing, beach equipment rental, and shelter needs. The West Bathhouse also contains huge pools for adults and children who may find the surf too challenging, or who simply like to swim. The surrounding landscape art and signs complement the overall Art Deco theme.
Before my first real “get wet” visit, my husband and I had trouble figuring out where to go in the park and what to expect. We briefly visited by car once before and were confused by signs along the Ocean Parkway (which runs through the center of Jones Beach State Park). We didn’t, for example, know what the word “Field” meant, but now know that in Long Island, a “field” is a parking lot. You may see Field 6 mentioned in Jones Beach articles as being very popular. This lot is conveniently located next to the beach by the East Bathhouse. Unfortunately, it is the smallest lot and fills quickly.
Starting Point By Car: We arrived at the park by traveling south on the Meadowbrook State Parkway, then turned left onto Ocean Parkway. No matter where you enter, however, a pass is needed before you can park. To buy a one, enter the sweeping driveway in front of the West Bathhouse and continue driving to a ticket hut at its far, east end. Pass in hand, drive to an open field and park.
If you take public transportation (Long Island Rail Road and bus), you will be dropped off by the East or West Bathhouse, or by the Central Mall.
Approaching the Central Mall
We parked in Field 4, one of two lots near the Central Mall. If the beach is busy, expect a long walk in the lot. Consider shading yourself with an umbrella because the pavement and the sun can combine into a very hot atmosphere. At the southeast end of Field 4 is a tunnel that’s topped with a sculpture of a large shark. Walk through it to the park’s main promenade. The park’s famous water tower will be to your back.
When you emerge from the cool tunnel, you enter a long stretch of garden.
A portion of the garden commemorates seven New York State Park Department employees who lost their lives on 9/11 (9/11/2001), when the World Trade Center in Manhattan was bombed.
At the entrance to the Central Mall is a 90-foot ship’s-mast flying marine signal flags that read “Jones Beach State Park” and “Keep Your Park Neat,” followed by the current year.
For souvenirs, take pictures of all the park’s signs. The one pictured here announces that you are at the Central Mall and it points to the East and the West Bathhouses.
The Central Mall and two bathhouses are commanded by large, Art Deco buildings, each area having a slightly different purpose. All building areas provide beach gear rentals and sales, clothing stores, snack shops, rest and changing rooms, picnic tables, and places to relax in the shade.
In this hot, sunny area, the State Park Department encourages you to rent an umbrella. Good idea!
From the Central Mall to the West Bathhouse
Jones Beach has very loose rules about eating on the beach. Some beaches, such as those on nearby Fire Island, are extremely restrictive. All beaches, however, insist that you clean up after yourself, with Jones Beach supplying a multitude of garbage cans. Those black specks you see in the photo above are garbage cans. (Pictured is a closed portion of the beach, but the cans are placed everywhere people roam.)
Note: As you can see by the boardwalk ramp, Jones Beach is highly accessible for people who are physically challenged.
Walking from the Central Mall to the West Bathhouse, you see the Jones Beach Bandshell, plus a game area that includes a volleyball court, a shuffle board area, miniature golf, a paddle tennis area, and the Saturn Playground.
The Saturn Playground, which is near the West Bathhouse, contains three kid’s gyms, perfect for toddlers and children who require more activity than digging in the sand.
Note: A smaller gymset is located in the Zach’s Bay area.
The West Bathhouse
Approaching the West Bathhouse from the Central Mall is a thrill because the building is beautifully imposing!
At the top of the West Bathhouse’s steps is Friendly’s, a huge ice cream parlor. Buy its crisp, cheese-covered, cottage fries, or creamy ice cream served in souvenir baseball hats.
If you linger in front of the parlor, turn to the right to see picnic tables, then walk to a low wall over which you’ll see two gigantic swimming pools.
In the picture above, the main swimming pool is deep greenish-blue, and the kid’s pool further back is light blue. Just want to watch? Rest on any of the lounges that surround the pools.
The pool area also provides entertainment! Visit the www.NYArts.com site for a list of entertainment at the West Pool Bandshell and at the Boardwalk Bandshell. This organization finds many of the bands that appear here at Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven. Also refer to www.jonesbeach.com for a complete list of Jones Beach venues.
From the Central Mall to the East Bathhouse
Between the Central Mall and the East Bathhouse is a short-range, putt golf course. Northeast of the course is the famous Nikon – Jones Beach Amphitheater.
The East Bathhouse is as imposing as its western sibling, however, its use is different. As you approach the building, you are greeted by a sign announcing the Jones Beach State Park Museum, exhibiting “Castles in the Sand – a Retrospective.” Here you’ll learn how, in the 1930s, the New York state parks located in Long Beach were created and see pictures of Jones Beach during its early years.
Bonus: The museum is highly air conditioned!
Next to the museum is a cute dress shop, and in the middle of the building is a refreshment stand and picnic tables. A pool housed in this building, however, is not open at this time. (2009)
The East Bathhouse also features a long, two-level porch where you can relax in the shade. The lower level supplies lounges, and the upper level, chairs.
Note: Some bird and small animal droppings are present as the porch is completely open and wildlife is free to visit. Although the porch is regularly cleaned, bring a towel to sit on.
Outdoor showers are available along the boardwalk. The one pictured above is by the East Bathhouse.
From the East Bathhouse to Zach’s Bay
Behind the East Bathhouse is a tunnel that leads to the Nikon – Jones Beach Amphitheater, Zach’s Bay, and a children’s play area.
Pictured above is the entrance to Zach’s Bay, a tide-sensitive, stillwater inlet. Unlike the ocean beach, the sand surrounding Zach’s Bay is damp and the area smells slightly damp, too. The bay’s ample facilities provide everything that you could need, including rest rooms, beach rentals, and a snack shop.
This area is safe for small children who cannot play in strong ocean tides and they enjoy their freedom here.
Across from the beach is the famous Nikon – Jones Beach Amphitheater, which features big-name events. Check www.Jonesbeach.com to see a complete list of all events. Access amphitheater parking through Field 5, but if you want a space in that lot, arrive very early!.
Traffic to all of the New York State Parks along Ocean Parkway and the parkways leading to it become jammed on hot weekends and during special events. Try to arrive very early to avoid frustration, or pack plenty of snacks and relax in your car as it crawls along. You will eventually arrive at your destination, so chill.
To use public transportation, take the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) from Pennsylvania Station in New York (between 31st and 33rd Streets) to Freeport, Long Island. From there, catch a bus to Jones State Park. Make sure you check for special deals before buying your ticket.
- LIRR: www.mta.nyc.ny.us/lirr/html/ttn/freeport.htm
- Freeport: www.longislandexchange.com/towns/freeport.html
- The MTA bus route in Freeport is N88. Its schedule is linked to the LIRR page as well as on the MTA’s Long Island Bus Route page.
Fees change from year to year, as do special discounts. Always check with the park for exact amounts, including seniors’ rates. A short list of this year’s fees are: Pool – adults $3, kids $1. Paddle Tennis and Shuffleboard – $2 per equipment. Mini Golf – $5 per 18 holes. Pitch Put Green – $7 green’s fee, $2 club rental, plus small deposits.
Entertainment fees also differ. Check websites for ticket prices:
Ask Karen at Karen@littleviews.com. Article and photos by Karen Little. Originally published in 2009, but up-to-date as of summer 2017. All rights reserved by Littleviews.