After working late at a bank in Jackson Heights, Queens, Johanna Monroy, 31, took a detour on her way home on a recent weeknight.
She hopped on a bus to Rockaway Beach, walked out on the darkened, empty beach and climbed up on a lifeguard stand, giving her a front-row seat to the heavens.
“Look at this — you can actually see stars,” she said.
“It’s very soothing, nothing like the beach in the daytime — you can actually appreciate nature,” said Ms. Monroy, who said she grew up a “beach kid” in the Rockaways but now lives landlocked in Jamaica, Queens.
A quarter mile west of her, a group of five young people romped in ankle-deep water.
“At night here, you have your own space and time to think, or just look at the moon,” said the oldest of them, Alberto Venezaz, 20, who, along with his fiancée, Caroline Romero, 19, and his sister and two cousins, took the train from East New York, Brooklyn, around noon and spent the entire afternoon at the beach. After a meal break at a pizza shop, they returned to catch the beach’s nighttime performance.
“Why should we go home where there’s nothing to do?” said Mr. Venezaz, a student at Kingsborough Community College. “Summer is only two months, so you have to make the most of it.”
The beach seems to exhale after the lifeguards stand up in unison at their 6 p.m. quitting time and whistle bathers out of the water. Most beachgoers — spent, salted and sun-roasted — head for a subway, bus or car, and scrap-seeking sea gulls raid the overflowing trash cans.
As the sun dips below the oceanfront high-rises, the beach becomes the brief early-evening domain of stragglers from the daytime, along with can collectors, fishermen, surfers, volleyballers and the treasure hunters armed with metal detectors. Most of them finally head out when darkness moves in.
That was precisely when Jordan Dickerson, 20, from Brooklyn, arrived with two of his cousins. They spread out sheets on the sand and tossed their sneakers on the corners to hold them down from the wind.
“We came down to escape the city life and try to get some of that beach life,” said Mr. Dickerson, who is 7 feet tall and said he was savoring his last week in New York City before heading off on a full basketball scholarship to Southern Methodist University. “Daytime at the beach, the sun is out and it’s hot and crowded and high-energy. It’s such a different mood now, and you know, the mood sets the tone for your evening.”
It certainly set a mellow tone for one couple relaxing in the sand near Beach 98th Street. These two, Frank Schaub, 25, and Yoshiko Suzuki, 27, were letting the beach inspire their artistic sides.
Ms. Suzuki, a freelance photographer from Astoria, knelt on a blanket shooting pictures, and Mr. Schaub, who lives in Bushwick and drives a moving van, strummed a ukulele next to her.
“We’re just enjoying the waves and relaxing,” Mr. Schaub said, nearly in tune and rhythm with his strumming. “It’s been so hot lately, it’s great to just come down here and cool down.” Ms. Suzuki was shooting a picture of a group of teenagers silhouetted under the flood of Boardwalk lights. “It feels nicer when it’s desolate,” she said.
This desolation includes the increased prominence of sounds, like the constant soft roar of the surf and the jets leaving Kennedy International Airport with a sky-tearing whooshing whistle as they appear at regular intervals, rising over the building lines and arcing off into the dark blue sky, headed out over the Atlantic.
David Pazah, 19, and Shirley Segarra, 18, both from Queens, watched the planes, sitting together in the sand near Beach 90th Street.
Both are students at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and both were in a soul-sharing conversation, staring out at the dark ocean, consumed with uncertainty about the next steps in their lives. Everything seemed so wide open to them, and this was precisely the problem: to be young with your whole life ahead of you — how daunting, they said.
“We’re talking about how scary our lives feel right now,” Ms. Segarra said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do next. And this feels like the perfect place to talk about that.”
And, Mr. Pazah added, “the beach gets so crowded in the daytime that you can’t get a spot near the water, and you have a baby crying to the left of you, and a boom box blasting to the right.”
On the Boardwalk, things were bustling with joggers, walkers and local residents riding beach-cruiser bicycles with fat, knobby tires and longhorn handlebars. At a Boardwalk food stand at Beach 108th Street, a D.J. was spinning remixes for a crowd enjoying $7 arepas and $5 draft beers.
Down on the beach, near there, was Alberto Francisquini, 19 of Howard Beach, sitting on a lifeguard chair with a young woman from Rockaway who did not give her name. “I work during the day,” said Mr. Francisquini, who delivers pizza and hopes to make the Kingsborough Community College baseball team, “so I can only come down here at night.”