Long Island is so much more than just the Hamptons (although that area is certainly worth a visit). Vacationland for many Manhattanites and Brooklyners as well as those further afield, Long Island makes a perfect weekend getaway or longer summer vacation, whether in the Hamptons, North Fork, or further inland. If you’re looking to spend some time on the beach, visit museums and historic sites, taste wine and beer directly from the source, or just go for a hike, Long Island delivers all that and more. Here are the top things to do on a visit to Long Island.
Relax on the Beach
Long Island has miles of coastline, and its beaches are legendary—powdery sand, picturesque dunes, and sizable waves mean fun for every kind of beach goer. Between the north and south shores, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but some popular beaches include Long Beach, Jones Beach State Park, Crab Meadow Beach, Main Beach in East Hampton, Coopers Beach in Southampton, Orient Beach State Park, and the beaches in Montauk in Fire Island.
Check Out the Lighthouses
Long Island has about 25 lighthouses dotting its shores, thanks to its long maritime history. Most of them are beautiful, several contain museums with various artifacts, and some allow you to climb up to the top. Montauk Point Lighthouse, New York State’s oldest lighthouse, is a classic, with its red-and-white striped lighthouse inside Montauk Point State Park. The black-and-white striped Fire Island Lighthouse is 168 feet tall and has 192 steps. Stepping Stones Lighthouse has a unique Victorian design, while the Huntington Harbor Lighthouse is in the Beaux Arts style.
Taste Some Wine
There are vineyards and wineries galore on Long Island, thanks to the right kind of climate and soil for grape growing. While most wineries are concentrated on the North Fork, there are few, like Wölffer Estate, which is on the South Fork. Pindar Vineyards is a family-owned and operated winery that helped launch the winemaking industry on the North Fork, and other North Fork favorites include Jamesport Vineyards, Martha Clara Vineyards, and Pellegrini Vineyards, to name a few. Most have tasting rooms (be sure to check the hours) and if you want to go all out (and not drive), book a tour of the wineries in the area.
Have a Beer
Not a wine drinker? Luckily, Long Island has its fair share of breweries as well—dozens of ’em. Blue Point, which has been in Patchogue since 1998, has a tasty selection of drafts, many of which incorporate interesting local ingredients like seaweed, oysters, and beach plums. Jamesport Farm Brewery in Riverhead grows its own barley and hops, and on summer and fall weekends there’s often a food truck and live music. Montauk Brewing Co. makes a crisp pilsner, light summer ale, and fruit-tinged IPAs. On the North Fork, there’s Sand City and Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and even Shelter Island has its own craft brewery, Shelter Island Craft Brewery.
Scream Your Head Off at Amusement Parks
If you and your family—or maybe it’s just you—like to hurtle through roller coasters, ride Ferris wheels, and play carnival games, you’re in luck. Long Island has several classic amusement parks, including Adventureland Park in Farmingdale, which has been offering rides, games, and attractions since 1962; Splish Splash Waterpark, which has a lazy river, tons of slides, wave pools, and kiddie rides; and Wildplay Adventure Park at Jones Beach State Park, which offers more nature-based thrills like rope, bridge, and tunnel courses, a 700-foot-long zip-line and a 40-foot perch jump while attached to a bungee.
Admire Elaborate Mansions and Estates
Long Island has been the playground of the wealthy for decades, and it shows in the opulent mansions that dot Suffolk and Nassau Counties, with estates previously belonging to luminaries like the Vanderbilts and Roosevelts. Luckily, many of these lavish properties have turned into museums open to visitors. Sagamore Hill National Historic Site is the former home of President Theodore Roosevelt and his family, and it was known as the summer White House while he was in office. The Eagle’s Nest estate of William K. Vanderbilt II on the Gold Coast is today known as the Vanderbilt Mansion, Museum, and Planetarium and visitors can ogle art, artifacts, antiques, and more. Old Westbury Gardens is the former home of John and Margarita Phipps and their children. The mansion, which was completed in 1906, is nestled amid 200 acres of formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, and ponds, and both are open to visitors. Otto Hermann Kahn built the massive French-style chateau Oheka Castle in the 1920s on the highest point on Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor. It is the second-largest private residence ever built in America. Today it is a hotel but day-trippers can book a tour of the mansion and gardens.
Visit the Museums
Some of the greatest art collectors in the world have homes on Long Island and it’s not uncommon to see sculptures by the likes of artist Richard Serra perched on a front lawn in the Hamptons. The region also has several art museums worth visiting. The Parrish Art Museum in the Hamptons has a robust collection of works by artists including Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, William Merrit Chase, and Fairfield Porter, who lived in Southampton. The Nassau County Museum of Art is on the 145-acre former estate of Henry Clay Frick on the Gold Coast. The museum’s collection, which includes a sculpture garden, spans American and European art of the 19th and 20th centuries, and includes works by Auguste Rodin, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Alex Katz. In East Hampton, abstract art enthusiasts can visit the former home and studio of Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner, which is now a National Historic Landmark site and contains research material on 20th-century American art.
Hit the Water
Long Island’s fishing and maritime history is stretches back centuries, and today sailing, fishing, and boating remain favorite activities. Fish for tuna, marlin, mahi-mahi, ﬂounder, ﬂuke, porgy, bluefish, and striped bass with charters Double D Charters, Alyssa Ann Sportfishing, and Viking Fleet, or if you want to go sailing, head to Sag Harbor to go out with Sag Harbor Sailing. Shelter Island is great for kayaking and has an extensive protected area to paddle through in the Coecles Harbor Marine Water Trail.
Eat Lots of Seafood
All of that water means one thing: seafood! Lobster, clam, flounder, and more pop up on menus all across Long Island. Gosman’s and Oakland’s Restaurant & Marina in Montauk are legendary and Orient by the Sea on the North Fork has plenty of outdoor deck seating. E.B. Elliott’s in Freeport makes an excellent fish and chips, Mill Pond House is a fine dining spot in Freeport, and the historic Louie’s Oyster Bar and Grille has been serving seafood since 1905.
Go for a Hike
Long Island has incredible nature beyond the beach, and there are several solid hiking trails. Cold Spring Harbor State Park is a good but short uphill trek with beautiful views. For something more spacious, Caleb Smith State Park is one of only two state nature preserves on Long Island and is made up of 543 acres. Sands Point Preserve on the Gold Coast has six trails, including one for kids with dinosaur prints.