This Lively New York City Beach Is Known As 'The Bronx Riviera'

When the prospect of a seaside day out in New York comes up, many of us will instantly think of Coney Island — home to one of America's most popular old-school boardwalks, hot dogs, and funfairs — or perhaps the sweeping stretches of sand on Long Island. Both destinations have their charms; Coney Island has been drawing vacationing crowds for well over a century. New York's more remote summer vacation spots like Montauk, the Hamptons, or Fire Island carry with them a sense of space and exclusivity for more discerning sun seekers. However, not all beach options are across the East River from Manhattan. There is also a lively option to the north at Orchard Beach in the Bronx.

One of New York's Five Boroughs, the Bronx is famous for many things. It is the birthplace of hip hop, as well as home to the Yankees and the Bronx Zoo, the largest metropolitan collection of animals in the United States. The district's tough period during the '60s and '70s gave rise to a notorious gang culture, with over 100 in South Bronx alone. In recent decades, it has bounced back, becoming a diverse neighborhood with a growing reputation as one of the friendliest in New York City. What it generally isn't so well-known for is as a beach lover's destination, but Orchard Beach has plenty to offer in that respect, too, earning the nickname the "Riviera of New York."

The history of Orchard Beach

Orchard Beach is around a 40-minute drive from downtown Manhattan, and it's incredible in its own right. It lies across the Hutchinson River on the eastern shore of Pelham Bay Park, an underrated tourist attraction you should add to your NYC itinerary. If you check it out on Google Maps, the 1.1 mile-long crescent of sandy beach looks conspicuously perfect. That's because it is manmade, authorized in the 1930s by Robert Moses, the ambitious New York Parks Commissioner who changed the face of the city. 

Never one to do anything by halves, Moses had white sand dredged from Sandy Hook in New Jersey and the Rockaways in Queens to replace the natural gray pebble earth. He then built a grand pavilion and bathhouse as a centerpiece to complete his passion project. Orchard Beach was an instant hit with the public, attracting around 50,000 people on its opening weekend in 1938, and it has been a popular spot ever since.

Nowadays, the beach attracts around 2 million visitors each year and regularly achieves top marks for water cleanliness. Sadly, Moses' landmark pavilion fell into disrepair over the decades, but the city pledged $87 million to restore it to its former '30s glory in 2022. Similarly, the area became rather insalubrious in the '70s and '80s, but it has bounced back to become a thriving summer destination that New Yorkers can be justly proud to call their own.

Things to do at Orchard Beach

Orchard Beach attracts people from all walks of life, and it gets pretty busy during the high season. It is perhaps not the best spot for idyllic relaxation or a contemplative stroll along the shore. However, what it lacks in peace and quiet, it makes up for with energy as crowds throng the sweeping promenade. People sit playing dominoes, noisy basketball games take place on the courts, and music blasts from portable stereos and pop-up stands. If you're feeling active, the basketball, tennis, and handball courts are all free to use — that is, if you can find one that's available.

The focal point of a trip here is the wide sandy beach itself. It's great for basking in the sun and making sandcastles, and the good water quality also makes for an ideal place to take a dip and cool off in the shallows. The designated barbecue areas are popular places for people to grill out (although you need a permit if your party exceeds 20), and the aroma of steaks and burgers cooking in the open mingles with the scent of treats like kebabs and fried chicken from concession stands.

Orchard Beach is a lively and fun place to visit, especially if you enjoy people watching. If the prospect of crowds is off-putting, consider visiting during the week when it is a far more laidback place to spend the day. Whatever you decide, you will have a memorable time at this Bronx beach.