Close to New York City, Jones Beach State Park is home to more than six miles of white-sand beaches and 2,400-acres of “maritime environment,” on Long Island’s South Shore, according to the Parks Department. Within the park is Zach’s Bay, a family alternative if you want to avoid big beach crowds and bring young children. And it’s got some cool views, too.
A Family-Friendly Beach
With Jones Beach being one of the most popular beach locations along the East Coast and hosting six to eight million visitors to the park each year, you can imagine that the beaches on this coastal barrier can get crowded. But located by “Field 5” (a euphemism for a large parking area), Zach’s Bay provides a tidal inlet beach, perfect for toddlers, younger children, weaker swimmers or those intimidated by high wave conditions. There is no surf. Adult swimmers have to go fairly far into the water for it to even hit waist high.
Easy Access to Nature
Depending on tidal conditions, the water at lower tides leaves small tidal-type pools (minus the rocks) filled with tiny fish and other marine life including snails (in their shells) and an occasional hermit crab. If you bring nets and containers, even young children will easily be able to make a “catch.” And even at high tide, the swimming area feels safe for non-swimmers. There are lifeguards during daytime hours.
Located on the far west end, is the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, which offers nature programs.
The South Shore Estuary Reserve Council recommends exploring the saltmarsh plants and looking around for animals that live in the South Shore Estuary. Those include flocks of shorebirds such as, “sanderling and dunlin,” according to the website. You can, “…look for scaups, buffleheads, brant geese and red-breasted mergansers.” While we were there, we saw cormorants, geese, seagulls, and what appeared to be a falcon. Bring binoculars if you want to see some things even closer.
Play On Land and On Sea
A playground at the beach provides an alternative source of fun for kids who need a change of scenery before going back in for a dip.
The area is also home to the Nikon-Jones Beach Ampitheater. Those who live in the area know that if they keep track of who is going to be performing and come out earlier in the day, they may be able to enjoy sound checks of many famous bands and musicians who perform there.
It’s a popular spot for boaters as well. Again, the locals know to throw down anchor when various groups are actually performing and enjoy the concerts by private boat. If you end up doing this, make sure to keep track of tides and understand there are no slips or posts to tie up on.
The bay area itself has self-contained facilities that include a snack/concession stand, beach showers, changing rooms, bathrooms and the ability to rent chairs and umbrellas if you didn’t bring your own.
If you want more and don’t mind some crowds, there are plenty of other beaches to hit up, a boardwalk to stroll, fishing areas, art deco buildings, an historic exhibit, a mini-golf course, a pool (seasonal) and more. But you’ll have to either walk, bike or drive to other parking lots and entrances to access these other activities.
You may decide public transportation is just as easy to use as it is to drive. The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) leaves from Penn Station in Manhattan or Atlantic Station in Brooklyn and you can take trains to Wantagh or Freeport where you can catch local buses or take a short taxi trip to your favorite spots. If you bring bicycles, skates or rollerblades with you, the Jones Beach Bikeway is a paved pedestrian path running from Cedar Creek Park — which offers its own set of activities including tennis, basketball, baseball, archery range and an aerodrome field for those who are into radio-controlled airplanes—along Wantagh Parkway from Seaford to the various Jones Beach park accesses. It ends at Tobay Beach.
It’s not too late to head out together and make some end of summer memories!