The Game Plan
What to do
It’s almost as if, with its hip bazaar and splashy programming, Jacob Riis Beach is a decoy to keep the masses out of Fort Tilden. But make it past the end of the Riis promenade, 10 minutes from the bazaar, and you’ll find a serene, scrubby beach minding its business.
Grasses, poking through the white sand, bend in the breeze. Terns and piping plovers roost in cordoned-off preservation areas. Craggy and gently winding, the coastline runs on, sparsely dotted by sunbathers, birders and leisure fishermen pulling in floppy skates and rays.
Yes, you are still in New York City.
But this nature area wasn’t always this peaceful. The fort, established in 1917 to protect New York Harbor from naval attacks, was armed, locked and loaded through both world wars and most of the Cold War.
If you enter the thicket behind the beach and whack your way through the overgrown trails (and poison ivy, watch out!), you’ll come across abandoned bunkers, derelict batteries, missile sites and munitions dumps, left to nature and to graffiti artists since the military base was decommissioned in the ’70s. The National Park Service has since taken over the base, which is now a stretch of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
Winding through the brush to find these forgotten sites feels a little illicit and very adventurous — like playing Robinson Crusoe as a kid or maybe like being in high school, on the hunt for a decent place to party. But you’re of age now and you’re just after a good sunset. So climb to the top of your favorite battery and open yourself to the sweeping, painted skies, set against a tiny profile of the distant Manhattan skyline.
Adulthood is where you left it, but you don’t have to think about that now: You’re at the beach.
To get here, you can take the 2 to a bus, but we encourage you to come on wheels. Luxe bike lanes line the route all the way from Prospect Park. Also, seclusion comes with a lack of infrastructure, but Riis has bathrooms.
Use our Google Map to get directions to Fort Tilden.
Food to pack
If you can pack a snack in advance and tuck it into a cooler, try this herby yogurt dip and take a whole bunch of tasty things to swipe through it: raw radishes, soft flatbread, washed lettuce leaves, blanched Romano beans, whole Persian cucumbers, salty chips, you name it.
A sweet, spicy side of chilled watermelon chaat will be absolutely perfect after you’ve taken in some sun and get hungry all over again.
Want to go all out? Make these fried chicken biscuits with hot honey butter, which you can wrap up individually in parchment paper. Bake or fry the components the day of, if you like, but give yourself an extra hour so the chicken and biscuits can cool all the way down before you sandwich them — steam will make things soggy.
Food to buy
Starting at 11 a.m., most of the vendors in the Riis Park Beach Bazaar open with ready-made snacks and drinks. Keep an eye out for:
• The messy Coney dogs piled high with meat and chopped onion from Ed & Bev’s, and the simple chicken tenders if you’re feeling a real wave of nostalgia.
• Excellent cheeseburgers in puffy sesame buns with crisp, perfectly salted French fries at Two Dudes (the restaurant plans to add a veggie burger to its menu this week).
• Rockaway Clam Bar’s obscenely buttery split-top rolls filled with fried clams and the lobster boils, which you can set up on the picnic tables on Fridays.
• The big plastic cups of frosé and frozen margaritas, churning away at various bars all along the bazaar.
See the restaurants on our Google Map.
What to do nearby
• Fort Tilden’s old administrative area at Breezy Point looks like a vintage postcard to us, but some buildings are still in use. Poke around the patchy soccer fields and working theater, and wonder what year it is after all.