Skip to content
CityLab
Transportation

Why Can’t I Take Public Transit to the Beach?

In the U.S., getting to the beach usually means driving. But some sandy shores can still be reached by train, subway, and bus.
The L.A. Metro Expo Line extension opened in 2016, connecting downtown to the beach for the first time in 63 years.
The L.A. Metro Expo Line extension opened in 2016, connecting downtown to the beach for the first time in 63 years.Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

“[G]oing to the beach is not what it once was,” wrote the late David Brower, an environmental planner at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who, in a 1980 federal study on coastal access, reminisced about lying in the sun, peaceful picnics, and “isolated” walks along the shoreline. Now, he wrote, “[it] often involves long lines of hot station wagons filled with grouchy parents, sullen children, and soggy sandwiches trying to get to a crowded beach filled with bodies, beer cans, styrofoam, and stereos.”

When did the urban exodus to the ocean become such a car-centric exercise? For coastal city-dwellers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, nearby beaches were usually pretty easy to get to: In New York City, railroads connected (mostly wealthy) urbanites to Coney Island and Rockaway Beach. In Baltimore, transit companies built waterfront amusement parks along the Chesapeake Bay to promote the use of the city’s once-robust streetcar network. Los Angeles of the 1920s had one of the world’s most extensive streetcar systems, which brought Angelenos right to Santa Monica Beach. In the cities of the Midwest, railways and ferries shuttled families to the sandy shores of the Great Lakes.