By Ernest Barteldes
Summer is a busy time for Renata and me – there are countless live concerts around the five boroughs (though I have slowed down considerably from previous years, picking and choosing certain shows instead of attending every single one I can), events and outings with friends and many other things the season includes – even if we are both working fulltime hours instead of going with the “lazy, hazy” thing.
Even with limited time in our hands, we do try to head to the beach as much as possible – during the 2016 season, we were kind of slow since the temperatures took quite a while to get right, since June was a bit on the colder side, while many days in July seemed to be quite unbearably high – and the outdoor concerts were just too good to miss both at Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn. As of this writing, we have only ventured to the sand five times (it rained once – bummer!) , but Labor Day Weekend is still ahead of us, which means an extended visit to some of our favorite spots on Fire Island, the popular barrier reef just off the south of Long Island.
Our most usual spots are Staten Island’s South Beach, which is really close to us – a 20-minute bus ride or a 35-minute bike ride. Once a major resort area early in the 1920s with beach bungalows, theaters and other attractions, the area fell in decline following The Great Depression and still hasn’t regained its once-grand reputation.
Today the 2-mile stretch of beach attracts mostly locals and a few adventurous visitors. Right by the entrance (“the dolphins”) is The South Fin Grill, a full-service restaurant open all year round that serves a more upscale crowd. Just down the boardwalk is a moderately priced sandwich joint that serves hot dogs, wraps and other fast-food items. The choices, however, are not limited to these two places, since there are Turkish, Chinese and other ethnic eateries within walking distance.
The beach itself is nice enough. There aren’t many waves since the beach area right at the end of the harbor, with Sandy Hook and Coney Island visible at a distance. The crowd tends to be quieter than, say, Coney Island – there are few Bluetooth speakers, and those you hear keep the music at an acceptable volume.
The beach itself is relatively clean and hospitable. Just under the boardwalk artificial dunes were built following Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the area and destroyed several homes in the area. We enjoy going there due to is proximity and convenience – I mean, we can spend a few hours under the sun and still make it home for an early dinner.
Another favorite locale is Fire Island, which is arguably the cleanest and nicest beach area we have ever experienced in New York (no, we have never been to the Rockaways). The access is not easy – the island is virtually car-free, and only residents with a special permit can take their cars beyond Robert Moses Park.
The best way to get there is to simply use the LIRR to either Bay Shore or Sayville and then take a ferry to one of its various communities. We usually go Kismet, Cherry Grove or the Fire Island Pines, our favorites after we visited most of the ones reached by the ferries.
Kismet is definitely the best bet for first-time visitors since it is the site of the Fire Island Lighthouse, which is pretty much the postcard for the island. Built in the 19th Century, it is now deactivated but maintained as a museum of maritime history, with facts about the area and its lighthouses. The best part, however, is to climb up its steps to the light, where you can see breathtaking views of the island and its surroundings – and it’s also one heck of a workout.
Cherry Grove and The Pines are also favorites – we love how laid-back the crowd is but at the same time everyone is respectful of each others’ space, no matter how crowded it might be. Sure, as my late friend Jack Nichols pointed out over four decades ago, nudism is common and completely tolerated – so if you see anyone naked on the sand, just do what others do – be tolerant and have a good time.