I had been pretty down in NYC beaches up until this past weekend. Crowded, over commercialized, water foamy with who knows what… they seemed hardly worth the train ride.

Fort Tilden Beach

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But my friend Marcela put together a day trip for us to Fort Tilden Beach in Quens, and cool as she is, I decided to go. Turns out it’s the perfect beach for twenty somethings who know better than to buy into the Hamptons hype, and have other, more interesting plans each weekend that keeps them in Brooklyn.

Kelvin's Slush

First of all, it never got too crowded. Everyone around us was around our age, setting up their jamboxes to play music and camping tents for shade. We didn’t see hardly any families, or ornery “kids these days” types. It’s not a nude beach, but going topless is legal in New York City, if not common, and at least one body confident woman nearby let hers go free, with the help of some sunscreen. Yeah, screw those tan lines!

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The boardwalk only bordered the dunes, and was mercifully free of pizza shops and stores selling cheap, made-in-China, penis-shaped shot glasses. Instead, vendors like a fully stocked bar, vegan falafel ball stand, and Kelvin’s Slush set up shop, the latter offering to add a little liquor to your organic slushy for a few extra bucks. A live band played at the other end of the boardwalk, adding to the music festival vibe. And police monitored via horseback, instead of four wheeler.

We also lucked out in that it hadn’t rained in New York for a long while. You should never go in the water around the city after a heavy rainfall.

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The only sour note? The fact that I plucked a plastic bag out of the water, and disentangled several plastic balloon strings from seaweed. Please do not bring plastic bags to the beach, and quit releasing balloons into the air over NYC. We are right next the ocean, and that is where they will end up.

Beach blankets

My Nomadix towel and turkish striped towel, bottom two.

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I brought my Deux Mains sandals, which are fairly made in Haiti from upcycled tire soles and locally sourced leather.

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What to Pack

Like I mentioned above, the choices for food and drink to buy are fairly limited (Kelvin’s ran out by 3 pm!) so I suggest packing your own cooler.

I also strongly suggest you avoid bringing plastic to the beach however possible, because as you may already know, once it gets into the water, it will stay there, drifting to the Atlantic Garbage patch, and never quite fully breaking down. It will be ingested by fish, which you then ingest. So you may end up eating the plastic you let blow into the water someday. Straws are especially bad – lightweight, they blow into the water from tropical drinks and get painfully wedged up sea turtles’ noses.

Instead, go for reusable, biodegradable, and/or paper items. My suggestions:

  • Non-toxic sunscreen
  • A pack-small towel (like the one in this post)
  • A beach blanket (We love our super-packable Outlier linen towel, or you could get a chic Fair Seas striped towel)
  • A beach umbrella or parasol
  • A portable speaker
  • A reusable water bottle (I like S’well’s because it’s insulated)
  • A reusable cooler (For the love of God, no disposable polystyrene coolers. They break so easily, and foam/polystyrene is the most commonly found plastic in NYC waterways.)
  • Ice, or reusable ice packs if you have them
  • Local, craft, summer-style beer or shandy in cans (Try to avoid glass, since it can be really dangerous if it breaks. I recommend Brooklyn Brewery’s summer beer, since it’s tasty and Brooklyn Brewery is sustainable)
  • Reusable or paper cups (The officers periodically rode through and nicely told people to put away the open containers of beer)
  • Fresh fruit, cheese, jam, and bread from the farmers market, or sandwiches plus a knife for slicing cheese if you need it. (Bonus: the fruit and bread from the market often comes in paper.)
  • A recycling bag (I did not see any recycling, there, so you’ll have to pack cans and plastic bottles out)
  • Reusable bags to bring everything in!

Mounted police beach

Bikes Fort Tilden

Getting There

Biking is a popular option. (See above!) To bike from my apartment in Brooklyn takes about 1 hour, 20 minutes. I don’t recommend the municipal bus, which involves a transfer and takes longer than even a bike. But if you have too much stuff to haul on a bike (towels, chairs, cooler, etc.), you can hop on a shared private minibus for $6 each way. They pick up right next to the Bedford L stop in Williamsburg. Marcela rented a bus for our group, which had over a dozen people, and it got us there in less than an hour.

One final tip: Make sure you are specific with your friends about where to meet if they are arriving after you – there is hardly any cell phone service on the beach!

Do More

In keeping with my pledge to turn my and your focus outward to making widespread change, here are some ways you can make all beach days more sustainable for everyone:

  1. Take the No Plastic Straw pledge.
  2. Ask your favorite restaurant – or any beachside restaurant – to consider only giving a straw out if asked.
  3. Learn more about banning plastic bags.
  4. Participate in a beach cleanup in September.