Summertime marks the ultimate release: A release from crappy weather, a release from frumpy clothes, and if you’re really lucky, a release from normal working hours. But New York City, while usually the optimal playground for anyone looking to escape the confines of their crappy apartment, becomes a hot, congested, smelly mess once the temperatures start to rise. Wearing open-toed shoes in the city streets presents a risk only the truly brave can assume, due to the high chance of catching something unsavory and possibly infection-yielding on your feet. So for those of us who want to use this upcoming long weekend as an opportunity to escape the chaotic (smelly) tumult of city life, here are 13 easy getaways, all no more than a couple hours travel time from Brooklyn.
Fort Tilden Beach: With its secluded and soft, sandy shores, this beach is a far-cry from the typically crowded, plastic cup-wielding atmosphere you’re likely to encounter at Rockaway Beach. You can get here via public transportation, the closest subway stop being 116th street on the A train, but I’d recommend driving if you have access to a car, because Tilden sits in one of the most far-flung corners of Rockaway Peninsula. This is the kind of place where you can relax indefinitely. You’re likely to encounter as few people as you’re used to seeing within New York City limits. Oh, and there’s things to do there! You can walk sandy trails and go bird watching and even bring your fishing pole, if you were lucky enough to have been given one by Grandpa all those years ago.
Accessible by Marine Parkway via Flatbush Avenue, or the Q35 Bus via Flatbush/Utiva Avenue
Breezy Point Tip: Did you know there’s a huge confluence of birds in New York City? There is! If you have binoculars, or grew up watching the Wild Thornberrys, this other hidden stretch of land will certainly test your knowledge of rare avian creatures. The entire Jamaica Bay Complex was designated as an Important Bird Area of Global Significance in 1997, which makes this a supreme location to observe some serious nature. According to the New York City Audubon Society, there’s also a great fishing jetty, which provides one of the best arenas for your bait and tackle in NYC limits. And, if you’ve got kids who’d rather sit inside and play checkers than watch you fish, there’s always the Breezy Point Surf Club, which is pretty much like Club Med right out on outskirts of Queens.
Accessible by Marine Parkway via Flatbush Avenue, or the Q35 Bus via Flatbush/Utica Avenue
Sandy Hook Lighthouse: New Yorkers love lighthouses, or, they should, because everybody should, right? The Sandy Hook Lighthouse at Fort Hancock, New Jersey is older than America itself, and a visit centered around this icon will result in an ideal getaway. While the lighthouse is available for tours that are sure to be teeming with interesting factoids, you might get bored and want to partake in some more traditional 4th of July festivities, like going to the beach. This is easily accessible as a day trip via some convenient ferries, including the Sea Streak, which take off daily from E. 35th Street or Wall Street in Manhattan.
Accessible via Sea Streak or State Route 36 S in New Jersey or by way too many forms of other transportation.
Montauk: Montauk is replete with lighthouses that sit on rolling green bluffs and whitened sandy shores lined with stones and pebbles. Since it’s kind of far away (about a three hour drive from the city), you might prefer this as a weekend trip, and there’s more than enough at your disposal for that amount of time. There’s beaches for literally everything you could ever want to do on the beach (within the confines of the law, mind you), including surfing, bonfires, grilling and bringing your dog to frolic (although certain regulations prohibit this during various times of year). There’s also bed-and-breakfasts like the Sunrise Guest House or the Montauk Hill House where you can rest your jaded New York City head and forget about the city. The town is also home to a some dining experiences you’re likely never to enjoy within in New York, like eating at Navy Beach, where you can literally park your boat and claim a table.
Accessible via NY-27 East or by the Long Island Railroad via Jamaica Center
Fireworks Along the Hudson: The quiet little river towns on the Hudson River just north of New York City are such a short distance away, it’s almost as if they appear out of nowhere, with the snap of a finger (or the purchase of a MetroNorth ticket). While there’s a bunch of great places to eat in Sleepy Hollow, like the Bridge View Tavern (burgers so decadent, Guy Fieri has been there), there’s also really nice, community-oriented fireworks displays lighting up the sky on the 4th all over the region. If you want to make the trek up on Metro North, you can catch the shows firing off in the towns of Katonah, Larchmont, New Rochelle, Peekskill, Portchester and pretty much everywhere else where there’s people, cotton candy and BBQ.
Accessible via Metro North from Grand Central Station
Manhattan Beach Park: Eureka! A getaway that’s actually still within borough-limits! This is probably one of the more picnic friendly beaches in New York City and the amenities definitely beckon you to grill like a maniac. This beach is fairly accessible through the B train at Brighton Beach, but if you live in the northern wilds of Brooklyn, it might be recommended that you take a Car2Go or borrow your mom’s keys. Once you’re there, you’ll have all the time in the world to do things like play pretty much any sport that involves a court, net, and your two hands, because there’s basketball, volleyball and handball courts at your disposal. When you’re all done getting sweaty and nasty, feel free to take a plunge in the mighty ocean. There’s lifeguards on duty from 10am to 6pm daily.
Accessible via the Belt Pkwy/Shore Pkwy or by the B train at Brighton Beach
Fresh Kills Park: Fresh Kills just might be the place in all of New York City that most enables you to get a bang for your outdoor buck. What I’m trying to say is: There’s kayaking! You can sign up for an immersive kayaking tour of the park and all of its varied wildlife that will take you into the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge. And: There’s hiking! You can stroll the relatively moderate paths of the park and observe all of the greenery on foot. If you’re interested in the history and future of the park and what exactly goes on there, you can sign up for a guided tour, which will teach you about the diverse ecosystem that exists here. Who knew there were migratory bats and big, lumbering pond turtles on Staten Island
Accessible via I-278 West via NY 440 S or by the S62 Bus
Soundview Park: This is one of the better kept-secrets of New York City parks. It’s sprawling, and immaculately well-mainained and it’s flanked by fitness paths on all sides. Soundview is also an ideal point for launching kayaking trips where you can see much of New York’s cluttered mass of skyscrapers from the choppy waters of the Hudson. While there’s no BBQ’ing allowed (which probably accounts for its very well-kempt status), its location in the Bronx should make a nice—if distant—vantage point for taking in vibrant fireworks erupting all across the city, but particularly those at nearby (and also very nice for a day-trip) Orchard Beach.
Accessible via I-278 East or by the 6 train
Cold Spring: Cold Spring is one of those historic villages just fifty miles north of Manhattan that feels like another world entirely. It’s nestled in heavily wooded mountains and the historic country homes exude feelings of comfort and tranquility. If you’re looking to stay the night, there’s a wealth of bed-and-breakfasts to choose from, like the historic Cromwell Manor Inn, where the stately architecture and red brick finish will make you feel fortified. And, oh yeah, there’s literally a castle near Cold Spring: The Bannerman Castle sits on the edge of the Hudson and looks like a transplant from medieval times. When you’re done fighting mystical beasts at the castle, you might want to try some of the cozy restaurants, like Hudson House (classy Italian) or Brasserie Le Bouchon (French, duh).
Accessible via Metro North from Grand Central Station
Cape May: If you have any interest in relaxation (um, of course you do), and feeling like you’re light-years away from New York, this might be your best bet. There’s a lot to do here, so here’s a few highlights. There’s lots of breweries here, but make sure to check out Cape May Brewing Company for a local taste of the craft scene. There’s also golf courses if you’re feeling more active than boozy, so if you want to hit the links you can check out Avalon Golf Club or trek to the nearby town of Erma to play a round at Cape May National Golf Club. Restaurants abound too in this breezy town, so you can do everything from eat Cuban at the Cabanas Beach Bar and Grill or slurp down oysters at the Beach Creek Oyster Bar and Grille. Because Cape May is pretty far from the city, we suggest booking a room at one of its many hotels.
Accessible via the bus out of Port Authority Bus Terminal
Fire Island: Fire Island is a well-known retreat, but it’s got so much to offer it certainly bears repeating: Go! Beyond the quiet beach life, there’s also a nightlife scene here, so if you’re craving something lively, check out Houser’s, a funky little shack that prides itself on letting loose. Albatross is a solid seafood joint where deep-fried calamari and thick pints of beer will certainly serve you well. Maguire’s is another place that’s ideal for dancing and a nightcap before you head back to your hotel, because after all, you’re definitely not trekking back into the city after the 4th of July out here.
Accessible via the LIRR and the Fire Island Ferry
The Palisades, NJ: The Palisades are an ideal place for bonding and sleeping in tents underneath the stars. There’s a plethora of things to do here in a very family-oriented vein, so bring your board shorts and life vest for kayaking and a bunch of burgers, dogs and steaks for grilling in one of many picnic areas. There’s a bunch of historic sites to take in too while traipsing around the park grounds, like the Women’s Federation Monument, which honors the role the New Jersey State Federation of Women played in preserving the Palisades Park during the 1920s.
Accessible via the bus out of Port Authority Terminal