You don’t have to spend lots of money to enjoy Long Island. From free movies, concerts, and plays to museums without admission fees, there’s plenty to see and do on Long Island without digging deep into your wallet. Need to entertain kids, too? Many of these activities are perfectly kid-friendly and ideal for taking your kids, young relatives, or friends on the island without spending a cent.
Watch the Sun Go Down on the Beach
In season, you may have to pay to go to some of those lovely Long Island beaches (especially if you’re not a resident of the town or village). But before Memorial Day and after Labor Day, and usually after 5 or 6 p.m., you can sit on the sand for free at places like Long Beach and watch the sun sink below the horizon. You can also sit on the waterfront at places like Port Washington and Cold Spring Harbor to view spectacular sunsets.
Visit Long Island Wine Country
Visit some of the many vineyards and wineries on the North Fork, and a few on the South Fork. Although most charge a nominal fee for wine tastings, many wineries have free music and special events. Check out The Wine Stand at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack where they have live music on Fridays and Saturdays during the warmer months.
Long Island is home to a number of hiking trails like the ones in Garvies Point Preserve, which lead down to a quiet beach, and some incredible wildlife refuges like the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Nature Conservancy’s Uplands Farm features a double-loop trail surrounded by red cedar, oak, hickory, and other tall trees. Butterflies and birds, as well as wood frogs and salamanders, frolic in the area’s pools in season.
You can also enjoy walking through shaded trails in Long Island gardens like the Bailey Arboretum and Clark Botanic Garden, which have no admission charge, although Clark Botanic Garden greatly appreciates donations.
Visit the Big Duck
Long Island's big bird was built in the 1930s by duck farmers to attract passersby to their duck emporium. The famous building is free to visit, but you might want to spend some money inside on the "duck-a-bilia" that's for sale. There's an annual holiday lighting of the Big Duck on the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving. The Big Duck is located on Route 24, outside of Flanders.
Long Island is home to many free concerts. The Steinway & Sons Piano Gallery of Long Island in Melville is a showroom for the legendary instruments, and they also offer free concerts in their recital space. The Jones Beach Boardwalk Bandshell is also a popular location for free concerts.
Stroll Through An Outdoor Sculpture Park
The Nassau County Museum of Art's Sculpture Park features over 50 sculptures by artistic luminaries like Botero, Calder and more, all displayed outdoors on the museum's sprawling property.
The museum's 145 acres also include marked nature trails through the woods, so you can take a leisurely hike through the greenery. (On weekends, you’ll have to pay a minimal charge to park in their lot. There is also a fee for entering the museum building.)
Visit Grumman Memorial Park
Grumman Memorial Park, located in Calverton, celebrates the many years that the Grumman Corporation, now known as the Northrop Grumman Corporation, had a Long Island presence. You can see actual warplanes like the F-14A Tomcat and the A-6E Intruder, all for free.
Attend a Free Festival
Long Island has a vibrant festival scene, and many of these celebrations are free. There are a variety of admission-free events with entertainment, music and more, from the annual Oyster Bay Festival to the Cow Harbor Festival in Northport and Suffolk County Community College’s annual Long Island Shakespeare Festival in the summer, usually in June and July.
Visit a Museum
Enjoy a day of culture at a number of free museums on Long Island. The American Guitar Museum, located in a former farmhouse in New Hyde Park, houses treasures like the John D’Angelico guitar played in the wedding scene of The Godfather, one of Les Paul’s original Gibson guitars and an 1840 La Cote guitar.
The African American Museum of Nassau County in Hempstead highlights the many cultural contributions of the African American community. The permanent collection features Eubie Blake’s piano, and there are special events and changing exhibits.
If you have a Bank of America ATM, credit or check card, you can take advantage of the Museums on Us® program. On the first full weekend of every month, just show your card for free general admission to over 100 museums across the country. On Long Island, this includes the Long Island Children's Museum, Old Westbury Gardens, the Hecksher Museum of Art, and the Long Island Museum.
Visit Art Galleries
It’s always free to browse art galleries, and it’s as much fun as viewing paintings in a museum. Visit galleries throughout Long Island, and don't forget that some colleges here also have art galleries that are free and open to the public. Adelphi University has its Adele and Herbert J. Klapper Center for Fine Arts Gallery, the University Center Gallery and the Swirbul Library Gallery in Garden City. Suffolk County Community College’s Lyceum Gallery at the Eastern Campus in Riverhead and the Gallery East on the Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood both offer free exhibits during the academic year, and there are artists’ receptions that are open to the public.
Catch an Outdoor Movie
During the summer, view outdoor films at the Lakeside Theater at Eisenhower Park in Nassau County. They usually show weekly movies on a giant screen, including family favorites and classics. All movies are free and begin at dusk. There is no formal seating in the theater, so be sure to bring a chair or blanket.
Learn About DNA
Interested in learning about genes? Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Dolan DNA Learning Center offers some free programs to the public.
Here, you can meet Ötzi the Iceman, a 3D replica of the Ötzi mummy, which was preserved from Neolithic times and used to study his body, clothing, and equipment to learn more about humans during that time. Alternatively, learn about DNA barcoding through the "Bold the Barcode of Life" exhibit, presented by Seattle-based artist Joseph Rossano in the front and side halls at the DNALC.
In addition to these free programs, there are other programs with an admission fee at the center.
After you've seen the Big Duck, watch real bobolinks, ospreys, kestrels, hawks and more out in the wild. Some of the island's best bird watching can be found at Garvies Point in Glen Cove and Uplands Farm Nature Sanctuary.