The Best South Shore Beaches on Long Island

Lifeguard chair on beach, Montauk, East Hampton, New York State, USA

PhotoAlto/Jerome Gorin / Getty Images

With miles of sprawling sands, Long Island's beaches are legendary. From the powder-fine, white sands of Long Beach to the pounding surf of Montauk, this island east of New York City has a variety of beautiful beaches on both its north and south shores. It's no surprise that one of the world's top coastal experts, Stephen Leatherman ("Dr. Beach"), has selected several Long Island beaches for his annual list of America's Top 10 Beaches, year after year. 

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Long Beach

Humpback Whale Lunge Feeding Against Long Beach, NY Background

Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images 

Long Beach's soft sand stretches over three miles on a barrier island on the South Shore. Nicknamed "The City By The Sea," what began as a beach community in the 1880s quickly transitioned to a residential area. 

While weekends are crowded with Manhattanites, the quiet nature of this town ensures that you will not see a major influx of people during the week and it's not a tourist destination. You can listen to the sounds of the pounding surf, watch seagulls glide overhead, take a dip in the ocean, sunbathe, or catch up on your reading, all in peace.

The beach area is called Ocean Beach Park; plan to stroll or take your bike across the two-mile boardwalk. The boardwalk was originally created as a publicity stunt, but fell into disrepair in the late 20th century, and was eventually destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, the city fully restored the boardwalk one year after the storm in 2013.

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Jones Beach State Park

Flag at Jones Beach Long Island NY

Chanilim714 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Located just 33 miles from Manhattan, Jones Beach State Park seems worlds away from the bustling city. With 6.5 miles of sprawling sand, a two-mile long boardwalk, and a world-class amphitheater, this beach swells with visitors from all corners of the tri-state area during the summer months.

In addition to swimming and playing in the sand, on the park's west end you can also surf, fish, and take in the pristine, untouched areas that are home to migratory birds and native sea plants.
Jones Beach is also known for its annual air show on Memorial Day, the Grucci Fourth of July fireworks show and the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater. Past concerts at this theater have included Chicago, Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon, Rod Stewart, ZZ Top, and more. 

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Main Beach

East Hampton NY

 Taber Andrew Bain / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Located in the village of East Hampton, one of the towns that make up the glamorous Hamptons, Main Beach frequently makes Dr. Beach's annual list, and there's no better place on Long Island for celebrity spotting. 

During the summer months, beach parking permits are required for residents and non-residents. However, there is a restricted amount of non-resident permits that are distributed, and they sell out long before Memorial Day weekend.

Main Beach is also known for its Labor Day weekend celebration that includes a spectacular fireworks show organized by the East Hampton Fire Department.

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Coopers Beach

coopers beach southampton

Peetlesnumber1 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0 

Take one look at this stunning stretch of sand and you'll understand why Dr. Beach has repeatedly placed it on his annual list of America's Top 10 Beaches; it took the number one spot as the best beach in 2010. Behind the beach's beautiful sand dunes, you will find stately mansions (fashion designer Calvin Klein owns a home here) lining the area. Southampton is also a part of the glitzy Hamptons, albeit a little less high end than East Hampton.  

The Southampton Cultural Center presents free outdoor concerts during the summer months, and many of them are held on Coopers Beach.

Residents can park at the beach for free, but non-residents must pay by the day or purchase a seasonal pass. However, like many of the great beaches in the Hamptons, parking and passes are limited, so even if you secure a pass, you may end up scrambling for a parking space.

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Beaches of Fire Island

Fire Island

Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images

Fire Island is a lovely barrier island parallel to the South Shore. No cars are allowed on this island, so when you board the ferry, you have no choice but to leave your vehicle and your cares behind. 

You have plenty of options of where to plant your beach chairs, but the lifeguard presence can vary. Saltaire, Dunewood, Fair Harbor, Point o' Woods, Ocean Beach, and Atlantique Town Beach all have lifeguards that are stationed on the Great South Bay as well as on the Atlantic Ocean. However, if you go to Kismet, Watch Hill, Fire Island Pines, Cherry Grove, Sailors Haven, or Ocean Bay Park, only the ocean side has lifeguards.

When you've had your fill of the beach, head to the boardwalk and visit the famous Fire Island lighthouse that was built in 1857.

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The Montauk Lighthouse, designed by John McComb at the eastern end of Long Island in New York state

 Ramin Talaie / Getty Images

Known as "The End," Montauk sits on the easternmost tip of the South Fork. Though it is part of the Hamptons, it is by far the most laid back and moderately affordable. Its wide, white beaches are breathtaking and known as surfing meccas, further enhancing the more relaxed vibe. Surfer Magazine named Montauk one of the ​10 best surf towns in America, and it continues to be a favorite among the East Coast surfing scene.

With over 20 marinas, dozens of hotels and motels and plenty of great seafood restaurants, Montauk's charms go beyond its stunning Atlantic beaches and have appealed to the millennial crowd in recent years.