Brighton Beach
August 22, 2012

Brighton Beach (for future) Memoirs

Five months after our son Riley was born we moved to Warsaw for a year. We had already traveled as a couple throughout the former Soviet Union, and now took the opportunity to visit a few more places we’d missed, such as Latvia and Estonia.

Given that our baggage included a Pack ’n Play as well as a healthy supply of diapers, and that his sleep schedule was unpredictable to say the least, it was not like travel in our more carefree years. But as memory and continued desire to travel with our kids attest, it was an amazing adventure.


All of this was on our minds as we took in the environs of Brighton Beach—as close as you can get to Eastern Europe just east of Coney Island. Our trip was motivated not only by nostalgia for travels with Riley, but it was also to satisfy our daughter Halina’s desire to immerse herself in water. Earlier in the week—in the midst of a much-needed New York City downpour—Halina sloshed her way straight to the geysers at the center of the fountain in Washington Square Park like a mermaid liberated from dry land. Seeing her then splash around like a goldfish in a shallow bowl in the water below made it clear she needed a beach sooner rather than later.


Arrival at Brighton Beach Avenue and On to the Beach

Arriving on the Q train (you can also take the B but it doesn’t run on weekends) you descend onto Brighton Beach Avenue. The avenue runs parallel one block north from the beach and is worth spending some time on. Most of the conversations you overhear will probably be in Russian or Ukrainian, as well as the occasional Polish, Czech, or Albanian. If you’re planning a picnic on the beach, which you should, this is a great place to shop. Not only will you find amazing Russian delicacies, but the produce prices are at least half of what you’ll pay at the cheapest markets in Manhattan.

Once you arrive at the beach, you can change in a bathhouse toward the southern end of the boardwalk. The boardwalk is very wide and 2.5 miles long starting at Coney Island to west, so you will have no trouble finding it. The bathhouse also includes body and foot showers for washing off whatever parts of you are sandy at the end of the day.  

The beach itself is idyllic. On the horizon you will see the Breezy Point Tip of the Rockaways as well as the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Cargo and cruise ships slip by on the horizon and the occasional airplane glides just above, dragging its advertisement for something you probably don’t want behind it. To the west you will observe Coney Island which, even at this distance, appears far more bustling.


It was impossible to pull Halina from the water but Riley was game to go on an adventure exploring the rock outcroppings farther east of us. There are two before the beach is interrupted by a chain link fence, and if you hit the farther one you will have gone close to a mile roundtrip. It is possible to walk out onto the rocks a bit, but if you wish to do so you should have sandals or shoes. Another, unfortunate, factor to keep in mind is that you may find yourself stepping past the occasional plastic bag or empty soda bottle. We hope that as the beauty of Brighton Beach gains greater appreciation this problem will go away; for now, it is the only price you will pay for discovering it.


The trip out to Brighton Beach from our apartment in Morningside Heights was about (with subway delays) an hour and a half. Given our hunger and the prospect of a long trip back we could not resist the small selection of restaurants on the boardwalk. We ultimately settled on Volna because the word in Polish (“Wolny”) means “free.” Of course it was not, but the food was amazing and a great deal.

The sun sank lower on the horizon, the people-watching parade on the boardwalk just kept getting better, and we found ourselves asking: “Are we really still in New York City?” Luckily a flier protesting Mayor Bloomberg’s over-16 oz. soda ban reminded us that we were.

So Brighton Beach is idyllic and undiscovered. Any more suggestions?





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