Orchard Beach & City Island, Bronx, NY

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It was hot and all we wanted to do was go to the beach.  Thing is, this idea was spontaneous, and anyone who has children knows that “spontaneity” is not easy to pull off.  But anyone who knows me also knows that I am always up for a challenge, especially when it comes to figuring out ways to keep my family entertained and active.

Because it was already later in the morning than it should be to travel out to a beach further way from the city (because that would mean getting stuck in traffic for half the day), I decided to take my family to the Bronx and head to Orchard Beach, one of the NY public beaches, and the closest to Upper Manhattan.

The drive from our apartment was less than 30 minutes, and when we got there the sprawling parking lot only had a few cars in it.  Now, when it comes to beaches, Orchard Beach is not necessarily one of my favorites.  As a matter of fact, it had been years since I visited the beach…long before children, even longer before marrying my husband.  Because of its proximity to Manhattan, and the fact that it is a public Beach (only $8.00 for parking on weekends, per vehicle), it can get very, very, crowded, and very, very loud.  For some New Yorkers, that’s what going to the beach is all about: boom boxes playing their favorite music, BBQ grills fired up and smoky on the grassy lawns, tents up, and kids playing while the adults chat it up.  But not so much for me.  For me it’s about an escape, and solace (ok, well not completely since I has kids), but definitely no loud music and no BBQing on the patch of grass nearby.

However, even a popular spot like Orchard Beach can offer a few hours of peace and quiet, if you are willing and able to get there early.  This idea suits a family like mine perfectly because it enables us to spend a few early hours at the beach, go home, nap, and move on to another activity later in the day.  Luckily, it might have been too late to venture to a beach further away, but not too late to find some tranquility along the shores of Orchard Beach. Once we arrived and parked, we found a spot close to the water, and the boys immediately jumped in to play.

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img_6212The water, though cold, was bearable.  It’s a rocky beach, but there aren’t any huge waves and it’s quite shallow. Perfect for little ones to play in. And that they did.  They spent most of the afternoon splashing around, and crawling in the water, picking up rocks and shells, and throwing them back in.  We even saw a horseshoe crab lay still in the shallow water, before finally crawling away causing all the kids to scream with delight and fear all at the same time.

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It’s amazing the amount of time one can spend at the beach without even noticing the hours passing by. But when the beach started getting crowded, it was time for us to go.  We couldn’t leave, however, without first stopping in the playground area, which not only managed to use up the last bit of energy the boys had in them, but also, with the help of the sprinklers, managed to wash off the sand.  The boardwalk has rest room and shower facilities, but it was just easier to have them wash off while still playing and running around.

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img_6344As we started to make our way out of the now crowded parking lot, we were hit with a craving for ice cream. We then decided it would be a great time to head over to City Island, the nearby nautical town, in search of a local creamery.

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We made our way down the busy City Island Ave, past the many seafood restaurants, bars, and cafes (but mostly seafood restaurants) and past the quieter side streets with the lovely homes and private beaches and arrived to a cute ice cream parlor called Lickety Split.  It looked inviting and fun. Patrons sat outside laughing and chatting it up with the owner, and kids played and ate ice cream.

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The inside is small, as well as the ice cream selection, which is not homemade, but the staff is friendly, the portions are generous, and the service is quick, no lines, no hassle.  I wishes that I had a picture of one of the ice creams I bought for my boys, but while I made conversation with the owner, the boys inhaled their ice cream before I got my camera out. It was a really sweet place to stop in, in more ways then one, and definitely one I would stop in again when in the area.

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img_6373As mentioned, City Island has a huge selection of seafood restaurants, and it seemed for those visiting from the beach, the place to stop are the two fried fish food places at the end of the main avenue.  However, I would really recommend taking the time to stop by and visit the many other fabulous places to eat there.  In the past I have tried both the Original Crab Shanty, as well as Tito Puente’s Restaurant, and had a good experience in both locales.

As we drove away from the small town, and towards the bigger city, the rain drops started to hit our car. The boys, eyes heavy with sleep, were fighting it as they talked about the beach, the rocks, and the crab that came out of the water.  In the meantime, I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of accomplishment that even with all the challenges before us, spontaneity and adventure is still a wonderful possibility in our lives.

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For a complete list of NYC Beaches, rates,schedules, and available facilities, check out the NYC Department of Parks and Recreations’ list here.


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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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8 Responses to Orchard Beach & City Island, Bronx, NY

  1. Lisa says:

    You know, i really thought you were joking about gong to Orchard. You beat me to a post on city island too, lol. My kids have been dying to go but wasn't sure on which restaurant to go to. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Evelyn says:

    QUE LOCO! That thing in the water is HUGE! Awesome!

  3. oh! great beach review. i'm loving the fact there's a shallow section so i don't have to worry if i visit with young kids…plus i can't swim. ha

  4. jani says:

    what a touching and genuinly lovely little tribute to our gems. this is the first thing i've ever read by you and i am smitten. one of my best friends, bonafide rojas, has a poem called "love letter to the bronx", in which there is the line, "thank you orchard beach for trying to be a beach." you described the rugged charm of our little oasis. my family loves lickety split; i was reminded of all of the fun times sitting at the little tables outside. shooing bees, dribbling ice cream.

    most of all, i was touched by the photos. your children are lovely, God bless you and your family.

    it was wonderful meeting you at LatISM

    • Carol says:

      Aw, thanks Jani! Thanks for stopping by and the sweet comment. I'm glad I was able to help bring back some happy memories. For a writer…and photographer, hearing/reading that is the best thing ever!

      So great meeting you as well, hope to see you again soon. : )

  5. bob says:

    I was stationed at the Nike Base on Hart Island, as short ferry ride to city island on the prison ferry from 1955 to 1958. Many fond memories of City Island, I have never been back but plan to do so later this year. In the 50's it was pretty isolated, not the rrasturants like in the photos, but lots of very pretty girls.

  6. Sarah E Smyth says:

    Was the water a lot cleaner in City Island?

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