Why visit Brighton Beach, Brooklyn’s famous Russian neighborhood?
This may be the only place in New York City where you can get fresh potato dumplings, $1.99 t-shirts and a Russian-language copy of 50 Shades of Grey — all within a 5 minute walk of the beach.
Despite spending the bulk of my life in the New York City metro, I hadn’t visited this oceanfront neighborhood known as “Little Odessa” until last week. That’s when the prospect of spending a sunny day tied to my laptop in a cramped Manhattan apartment compelled me to search for easy day trips from Manhattan.
Brighton Beach, it turns out, is an ideal weekend escape. It costs as little as $4.50– the price of a round-trip MetroCard– to spend a day window shopping and enjoying the free public beach. Of course, with a high concentration of shops and restaurants near Brighton Beach Avenue, you’re wise to bring a bit more cash with you.
The only downside to visiting Brighton Beach is the time it takes to get here; it’s up to an hour on the Q train from Union Square.
Hitting the beach
In contrast to neighboring Coney Island, the sandy shore at Brighton Beach is refreshingly deserted.
The waves are smaller than at Jones Beach, but signs warn swimmers about rip tides.
Lifeguards stand watch over the shoreline, fully covered in bright orange sweatsuits. They are hard to miss!
I didn’t go in the water during this visit but will be sure to wear my swimsuit next time. If you find yourself in the neighborhood without a bathing suit, don’t despair– you can pick up an early 1990s-style for $25, just one block from the beach.
Cruising the Boardwalk
The Brighton Beach boardwalk isn’t exactly bustling with activity, but it is a fun place to people watch. Grannies sit on benches with kerchiefs tied to their heads, teens cruise by on skateboards and young Russian couples stroll with their babies. (Interestingly, every new mom and pregnant woman seemed to be a super-fit size 4).
We stopped at Cafe Restaurant Volna for a light meal. This Brighton Beach staple offers a variety of Russian dishes and beers.
We enjoyed the potato dumplings (pierogis), which came 20 to an order. That sounds like a lot, but we quickly devoured the bowl! The steamed dumplings were covered with fried onions that added just the right amount of tang and chewiness. We also ordered a Greek Salad, but unless you are looking for a radish-heavy twist on this Mediterranean classic, you are better off getting something a bit more Slavic.
Getting your book on
Craving obscure DVDs of black and white films from the Soviet era? Or just want a Russian language version of Shrek 4? Whetever your needs, the Saint Petersburg Bookstore likely has something for you. This massive shop sells such diverse fare as books, silk muumuus, hand-painted ceramics and electronica CDs.
Always current, the St. Petersburg book shop even sells copies of the erotic bestseller 50 Shades of Grey in Russian. (Presumably so your unacculturated grandmother won’t miss out on the latest trend).
I had never heard of any of the recording artists with CDs for sale, but was tempted to buy a few albums due to the cover art.
Meats and sweets
After reading glowing online reviews, we sought out Vintage Food Corp, an upscale grocery with a wide range of nuts and dried fruits for sale by the pound.
Half of the shelf space was devoted to candy, most of which is sold by weight. I was tempted to pick up a pound of Russian treats, but settled for 5 Turkish-made chocolate bars selling for the bargain price of $2. We also picked up a $1.50 “premium” giant chocolate bar at check out. This store is dangerous for a shopper with a sweet tooth!
If you are craving American staples, Vintage Food Corp also stocks ketchup– although with a different spelling.
I laughed when I came across a bag of nuts and dried fruit with cartoon characters. The almond looked just like Downtown Traveler co-founder Jake!
If you are craving savory, not sweet, then head a few feet down Brighton Beach Avenue to Golden Label International Food. With a huge selection of fresh sausages and mysterious canned meats (such as the “beef with juices” pictured above), Golden Label is a cross between a local deli and a discount supermarket chain.
As a vegetarian, I don’t know the going rate for kielbasa links, but I’m guessing $6.99/lb is pretty cheap for evreyskaya osobaya.
Fish lovers will also rejoice at Golden Label’s seafood offerings, which tend to have price tags around $1-$3 a pound.
If you are looking for an easy, inexpensive day trip in New York City, make sure to visit Brighton Beach. It’s like no where else in New York City– and is much cheaper than booking a holiday in Russia.
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