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