Skip the Weekend Traffic: 7 Beaches You Can Get to by Train

Three cities, countless routes: Why you don’t need a car to hit the sand.

Brighton Beach (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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Only one month of summer remains (at least in the Northeast), so you should go to the beach as soon as you can — probably right now. Of course, there’s a substantial downside to oceanside trips: sitting in traffic there and back. Good thing that, if you live in Philadelphia, Boston or New York, you don’t need a car for a seaside sojourn. “You could … pick up Amtrak and take it down to Newport News then transfer to Amtrak’s jitney for a 90-minute trip to Virginia Beach,” a friend of mine recently noted on Facebook. “The bus drops you off two blocks from the boardwalk. I did that from Philadelphia in April. It was pretty amazing.” There are plenty of options for much logistically simpler trips, and while the following isn’t exhaustive — Amtrak’s Silver Meteor will spirit you from Philly to West Palm Beach in roughly 24 hours — read on for some great rail routes to saltwater destinations.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia is pretty far inland, so options are limited. But rest assured that NJ Transit has you half-heartedly covered.

The Atlantic City line schedule is uneven in the extreme, with frequency issues that mean a wait time of up to an hour and a half if you miss a train. (Pro tip: Don’t do that.) While the transit authority has steadfastly refused to do anything to improve its service, the actual ride itself is nice and cheap. Unlike the route through the sprawl and industrial squalor that makes up the Philly-to-NYC train ride, the Atlantic City line mostly cuts through woods (you can also easily access the Pine Barrens, preferably with a bike, from the Egg Harbor City or Hammonton stops).

The beach in Atlantic City (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The cost is $10 for the 90-minute ride from 30th Street, which terminates at Atlantic City’s rail station and convention hall about a 10-minute walk from the beach (and five minutes to the best Mexican food in town). There are usually a lot of jitneys and taxis when the train pulls in, and the latter can take you downbeach to Ventnor and points south if you prefer to do your sunbathing away from the casino strip.

New York

New York City is, by dint of geography, the best place in America to take public transit to the ocean. The whole thing is basically surrounded by water and residents enjoy the most expansive transit network we’ve got. The possibilities are too many to name in a single post, so here are a couple of the cheapest, easiest to access and most diverse. All the rides are $2.50 one way, at most, unless otherwise noted. Try to grab an express train, because most of these destinations are near the end of their lines.

Brighton Beach: The B and Q lines terminate in, and stop through, this wonderfully weird Brooklyn neighborhood. You’ll know you are getting close when you start hearing your fellow riders speaking in Russian. Is there anywhere else in America where you can order borscht by the beach? About 45 minutes from downtown Brooklyn.

Coney Island: Probably the best people-watching in New York, which is saying something. A wonderfully ill-making wooden roller coaster that feels as though it could shudder apart at any moment. And, at night, standing in the ocean and looking back at the beach and the flashing amusements highlighted by a backdrop of high-rise apartments. It’s breathtaking. (Beyoncé knows what I’m talking about.) Take the D, Q, F, or N. About 50 minutes from downtown Brooklyn.

Rockaway Beach: Neither Brighton or Coney Island have good waves. If you want to go surfing without a car, you must go to the Rockaways. The Ramones are rarely wrong about this kind of thing. Take the A. From Penn Station to Rockaway Beach is a one-hour trip.

Boston

New York gets all the credit, but Boston is actually the second-best city for public transit to the beach. Again I can’t list all of the routes, for they are legion. A few highlights below.

They’ve got the Cape Flyer, which is far more popular than the average regional train in that it takes you to Cape Cod and not work. On the weekends, when it gives up all pretensions as a commuter service, there are stops in Wareham Village (over an hour from the metrop) and Hyannis (two and a quarter hours out). Roundtrip tickets are discounted at $8, $35 and $40 respectively. The Newburyport/Rockport line will also take you to less famous, and presumably less populated, shores. The best stops are, arguably, on the Rockport branch: Gloucester, and Manchester, which is closest to Boston and has a quaint downtown (free parking is only for residents in the summertime).

Sand sculptures at Revere Beach (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

For a shorter and cheaper trip, take the Blue Line out to the last stop at Revere Beach. It’s like Coney Island but with an abandoned greyhound racing track as seen, like so much of Boston, in Good Will Hunting (although it was still populated with pooches at that point). I’ve also heard, on good authority that it’s a great place to find sea glass in its natural habitat. You should also patronize Kelly’s Roast Beef. “Roast beef on the beach,” in the words of a knowledgeable source, is “Real Boston.” For the real long haul, Amtrak runs the Downeaster from Boston to Brunswick, with stops in beachside retreats like Dover and Old Orchard Beach. Good for a weekend getaway.

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Jake Blumgart is a senior staff writer at Governing.

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Tags: trainsbeaches

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