8 City Beaches to Spend the Day At

The U.S. has no shortage of fantastic islands and coastlines to travel to—the Florida Keys, Montauk, Hawaii. But it’s easy to forget that there are some beloved patches of sand right on our own doorsteps, from the weird and wonderful boardwalk of New York’s Coney Island to the relative quiet of Baker Beach, San Francisco. So, for those of us who can’t get away this Memorial Day weekend (or find themselves eager to escape, say, Manhattan in August) consider this your essential guide to the best urban beaches, all easily accessible by public transport.

Coney Island, New York (© Getty)

Coney Island, New York

Sure, Coney Island is a kitschy tourist trap, but its old-time Americana charm (and all-out weirdness) is impossible not to fall for. No trip is complete without riding the infamous 91-year-old Cyclone (get ready for some permanent neck damage), taking a spin on the candy-colored Wonder Wheel, or indulging in an ice cream cone along the boardwalk. Plan to stay there through the evening? Make sure to catch some minor league baseball at a Cyclones game—theme nights have included everything from Seinfeld to Harry Potter.

How to Get There
Even New Yorkers forget that you can take the subway to the ocean. Hop on the Q, N, D, or F trains all the way to Stillwell Avenue (it’s the last stop) and from there, it’s just a few minutes on foot to the promenade.

The Crowd
You’ll find locals and tourists alike sprawled out on the beach, eating hot dogs, or waiting patiently for rides. And if you happen to be there on June 16, prepare yourself for the Mermaid Parade, an annual occasion where New Yorkers dress up in a myriad of eccentric, ocean-themed costumes to kick off the start of summer. Expect plenty of glitter.

Grab a Bite
Choose from summer food pop-ups, which have included Brooklyn faves like Red Hook Lobster Pound, Queen Cobra Thai, and El Gato Nacho in the past, before making your way over to Coney Island Brewery for a Mermaid Pilsner or Hard Cherry Cream Ale. That said, it would be a crime not to have at least one Nathan’s Hot Dog from the original 1916 stand—and if you can stomach it, enter the July 4 hot dog-eating contest while you’re at it.

North Avenue Beach, Chicago (© RSfotography)

North Avenue Beach, Chicago

Chicago’s unofficial party beach is a crowded—but great—attraction in Lincoln Park. It pretty much has everything you could want in an urban beach: an on-site bar and grill, brisk waters for humid days, free Wi-Fi (yes, really), and arguably the best views of the Hancock Building looming above the city.

How to Get There
The beach is located on North Lake Shore Drive in Lincoln Park. Public transportation is your best bet, as the paid parking lot fills up quickly. The Brown Line will get you as far as North Sedgwick Street, which is about 25 minutes west of North Avenue Beach on foot. Alternatively, take the 151 bus to LaSalle/Stockton, which is about a ten-minute walk from the beach.

The Crowd
The beach gets packed during the summer, and especially on holidays, but it’s worth braving the swells of people to find your own patch of sand for the day. You’ll find everyone from beach volleyball enthusiasts, to yoga instructors, to bachelorette parties taking stand-up paddleboard lessons (company Chicago SUP sets up shop on the beach).

Grab a Bite
Head directly to the beachside bar and grill Castaways—and whatever you do, don’t miss the burger or shrimp ceviche.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles (© Getty)

Venice Beach, Los Angeles

A little like San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, only on the ocean, Venice Beach is still home to dreamers, burners, skaters, and surfers with more gratitude (and tattoos) than ambition. These days, however, those apartment rentals with cottage cheese ceilings and aluminum sliders plastered with Quicksilver board stickers sit cheek-by-jowl with $10 million sleek modern houses.

How to Get There
We recommend directing your Uber driver from LAX to Abbot Kinney (Gjusta is a good destination if you land in the morning), or if you take the C to the R3 to the 33 buses and walk, you’d be the first person in Los Angeles to do so. Once you are there, we say rent a bike at any number of rental shops along the boardwalk (such as Ride! Venice) and ride to Santa Monica.

The Crowd
Ombre dye jobs are so convincing these days that it’s hard to tell the OG hippie surfer chicks with their Indonesian batik tops from the ones who paid seven times the price for the Isabel Marant version.

Grab a Bite
Great California surfer food, like the omnipresent aroma of marijuana, is a God-given right in these parts. Start, middle or end your day on Abbot Kinney. Sit on a bench with a gorgeous pastry and a coffee at Gjusta or go for the now legendary thin-crusted pizzas, anchovy toast, and indescribably satisfying veg-centric dishes that will have you swearing you could become a vegetarian at Gjelina, which is worth the (very long) wait. (Tip: if you go at noon during the week you can score a table). Tocaya Organica, as its name suggests, serves clean Mexican (tacos and watermelon salads) to surfers and Lululemon yogis alike in a Bondi Beach, life is good looking, setting. Tasting Kitchen and Felix are more upscale and best for dinner. For an old, pre-Quinoa Venice burger and a beer, go to beachside Hinano.

Lummus Park Beach, Miami Beach (© Getty)

Lummus Park Beach, Miami Beach

The backdrop of the Deco District, Lummus Park Beach will be familiar to almost anyone who’s ever seen Miami Beach on the silver screen in the past few decades. With palm-tree-lined promenades, volleyball courts, beige sand, and cerulean water, it’s one of the city’s most beloved beaches for a reason.

How to Get There
Lummus Park Beach is popular in part because of its proximity to Ocean Drive: it’s within walking distance to the hip restaurants, stores, and sidewalk cafes that populate the area, and runs parallel to OD from about 5th to 15th Street. As with most of South Beach, parking can be a pain, so walk, bike, or even grab an Uber here to avoid the stress. The stretch near 12th street is marked by rainbow flags near the lifeguard station, signaling the beginning of what is a predominantly male, gay beach.

The Crowd
You’ll find South Beach stereotypes—teeny-weenie bikinis, supermodels, shirtless rollerbladers, and the like—come to life.

Grab a Bite
Head north to 14th to grab a sandwich from La Sandwicherie and make it a picnic on the beach (we’re partial to the avocado sandwich). If you want to dust yourself off and get (a bit) gussied up for dinner, head to Spiga, which opens at 6 p.m. and plates up Northern Italian fare in the Impala Hotel. For libations, head west to the Miami outpost of Employees Only, where the vibe is “Art Deco elegance meets Manhattan chic.”

Baker Beach, San Francisco (© Getty)

Baker Beach, San Francisco

A mile-long beach with panoramic views of Lands End and Marin Headlands, this is also one of the best places to take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s unsafe for swimming due to large waves, a strong undertow, and rip currents, but it’s excellent for walking, hiking, picnicking, and taking in those views.

How to Get There
Baker Beach is a ways from downtown San Francisco in the tony Sea Cliff neighborhood easily accessed by the city’s Geary Boulevard bus lines (and a short, scenic walk down 25th Avenue), or you can take a bus to Presidio, then hop on the free, local PresidiGo bus, which drops you off about a block from the beach’s entrance.

The Crowd
In-the-know tourists and San Franciscans looking for a little outdoor exercise—or a place they can dare to bare. At the northernmost end of the beach, you’ll find clothing-optional sunbathers.

Grab a Bite
Because of its remote location in the Presidio, Baker Beach is best for a picnic; we like to grab sandwiches and pasta salad at Angelina’s Deli Cafe south of the park in the Richmond district. Alcohol and glass containers aren’t allowed on the beach, so once you’re done for the day, make for High Treason for a glass of wine or Richmond Republic Draught House, home to a well-stocked list of craft beers.

Coronado Beach, San Diego (© Getty)

Coronado Beach, San Diego

Children kayaking, couples paddleboarding, and a 16-mile bike path hugging the beach all contribute to the small-town feel Coronado Island manages to maintain. Just ten minutes from the heart of San Diego, the beach town also occupies a special place in American history: the Navy trained there for decades, and the iconic beach-front Hotel Del Coronado (featured in Some Like It Hot) is believed to have inspired the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.

How to Get There
If you don’t have a car, the San Diego–Coronado Ferry runs every 30 minutes. If you do, or just love your Lyft account, it’s a ten minute drive from downtown across the curving Coronado Bridge that connects the island to San Diego.

The Crowd
The crowds around the hotel skew older and more affluent, but you’ll still find surfers hanging out at The Shores Beach. But more than anything, Coronado is a place beloved by families: bring the kids, bring grandma, bring sunblock, bring snorkels.

Grab a Bite
Claytons is the go-to hole in the wall for good, cheap burritos on the beach (and also has a diner next door.) Another unlikely take-out spot is Park Place Liquor and Deli—a liquor store with a serious sandwich counter that locals truly love. For a seated meal or drink by the water however, you can’t go wrong with Tartine for lunch and Peohe’s seafood for dinner, set against the San Diego skyline. And don’t forget to hit Moo Time Creamery afterwards for a massive scoop (or two) of butter pecan or Mexican chocolate ice cream.

Alki Beach Park, Seattle (© Alamy)

Alki Beach Park, Seattle

Starting from the Alki Point Lighthouse, this lively urban beach runs for two-and-a-half miles north to Duwamish Head on Elliott Bay, with knockout views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. The beach is surprisingly wild, being so close to the city, and is often strewn with giant driftwood. By the turn of the twentieth-century, Alki Beach Park had become so popular that an electric street car was extended from downtown. (A raucous amusement park, completed in 1907 and modeled after Luna Park in Coney Island, had a brief life before burning to the ground in 1931.) Alki was the very first municipal saltwater beach on the west coast, and its c.1911 Bathhouse was the first of its kind. Don’t miss the beach’s very own riff on New York’s Statue of Liberty—at only six-feet-tall, it was commissioned by the Boy Scouts in the early 1950s.

How to Get There
From downtown Seattle it’s a ten-minute water taxi across the sound to Seacrest Park, followed by an easy stroll or bike ride to reach the beach, shops and restaurants. Alternatively, hop on a free minibus shuttle to get there faster (look for #775 which loops south through the Admiral District of West Seattle before reaching the lighthouse and turning north along the entire length of the beach).

The Crowd
Alki attracts all sorts—from tide pool-scavenging families with young kids, to energetic cyclists, runners, skateboarders and rollerbladers. On warm summer weekends you’ll often find music concerts, beach volleyball competitions, and the occasional historic car show (the Coast Guard also runs free tours of the lighthouse). Many come just to chill at a waterside café, sunbathers flock here on rare and precious sunny days, others rent stand-up paddleboards or kayaks. With the laid-back vibe of California’s Venice Beach married to the honky-tonk amusements of an East Coast classic, Alki really does deliver in spades (and buckets).

Grab a Bite
There’s an astonishingly varied assortment of excellent places to eat at Alki. Don’t miss a morning treat from Top Pot Doughnuts, a classic British lunch at Spud Fish & Chips, an afternoon bowl of soup from Duke’s Seafood & Chowder, a craft beer or two at the West Seattle Brewing Company, or maybe an early evening supper at Salty’s or Hawaiian-inspired sundowner at Marination Ma Kai, both near the Seacrest water taxi landing. If visiting on a Sunday, check out the West Seattle Farmers Market (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for a bounty of DIY local picnic fare.

Race Point Beach, Provincetown (© Getty)

Race Point Beach, Provincetown

Located on the northernmost tip of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Race Point is a big, sprawling beach with miles of soft sand, bike paths, and cold, rough waters. Aside from some spectacular landscape, the site is known for its eponymous lighthouse and Old Harbor Life Saving Station (open from 2-4 p.m.). The seasonal restrooms and showers don’t hurt either when you’re out there in the sun all day.

How to Get There
Okay, so it’s not quite an urban beach, but Bostonians will attest that the two-hour ferry ride from Boston Harbor is well worth it for the whale-watching alone (bonus: there’s a bar on board).

The Crowd
During the summer, the area is catered to more athletic beachgoers: swimmers who can handle the strong currents, surfers venturing past the protected areas, and cyclists taking advantage of the dune-side bike paths. But you’ll also find hardcore sunbathers here, as the beach’s northern-facing location gives way to day-long sunshine. Avoid the crowds during the spring months, when lucky visitors can get unobstructed views of breaching whales.

Grab a Bite
You won’t find any restaurants on the beach itself, but there is a slew of spots along the southern stretch of Route 6 (about three miles away from the beach). Try Fanizzi’s Restaurant or Mac’s Fish House for seafood, then The Squealing Pig for some late-night beers.