Weekend Destination: Long Island

Long Island weekend composite Julie Madsen

By Julie Madsen

A lot of people from this area take a beach vacation in Cape Cod or at the Jersey Shore, passing by a prime beach area right in our home state of New York!

Long Island is a special place. It is the longest and largest island in the contiguous 48 states -- 118 miles long and 23 miles from north to south.

You can find Gatsby-level luxury on the north shore, laid back vibes of the south shore, and farmlands out east. Also: all of the bagels you can eat.

There are a bunch of towns and beaches to explore, with so many activities...

Getting to Long Island

There are two main options:

+ Follow I-87 south, across the New York City area, on to the island via the Whitestone or Throgs Neck Bridge.

+ Alternately, you can take I-90 east through the Berkshires and then head south on I-91 through Connecticut to the New London where you can take a ferry to Long Island. Here's the fare list.

+ Or, if you're up for something different and car-free: You could take Amtrak to NYC and then the LIRR out on the island.

Expect traffic, especially on weekends.

Pick a beach

Two beach spots that are about halfway out on the island, but on different shores...


Robert Moses State Park
The south shore of Long Island is known for its soft sand and clear water on the open Atlantic Ocean. Waves vary based on the day, from fun for jumping in to downright dangerous. At Robert Moses State Park walk a short distance away from the initial crowds to find five miles of natural wonderland. Frequent wildlife sightings include the endangered piping plover, osprey, foxes, deer, and sometimes falcons. It is not uncommon to see patches of velvety purple sand and when the sun is shining, turquoise water. Don't miss the boardwalk trail to the Fire Island Lighthouse and climbing up the 182 steps to the top of the tallest lighthouse on the island. Vehicle admission is $10 per day during the summer -- free with Empire Pass.


Sunken Meadow State Park
The north shore characteristically has towering bluffs and pebbly shores with the calm waters of the Long Island Sound, a family friendly place to swim. At Sunken Meadow State Park walk along the three miles of beach and you might come across the mouth of the Nissequogue River and its tidal flats. Many shore birds and fiddler crabs live in this environment along with the omnipresent osprey. Hiking in the forest with rolling hills is a popular activity, along with grilling at the enormous picnic facility. Vehicle admission/parking is $10 during the summer -- free with Empire Pass.

Pick a museum

Hamptons art museums


Longhouse Reserve
This small and immaculate garden holds 60 sculptures and is perfect for a special hour or two of your vacation. Glass cobalt reeds by Dale Chihuly and a giant monochromatic chessboard called "Play It By Trust" made by Yoko Ono are among the works in the park. Open Wednesday-Saturday, admission is $15 for adults.


Parrish Art Museum
Founded in 1897 the museum hosts quality contemporary art inspired by the rural setting of the East End. Exhibits are rotating. One I saw there called Photorealism 1969 to Today had an exquisite oil painting of the Miss Albany Diner. (Also: Duck Walk Vineyards winery is right next door.) Open Monday-Sunday, closed Tuesdays, admission is $12 for adults.

North Shore history

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Nicknamed the Summer White House, it was the home of Teddy Roosevelt. You can take a tour of the interior (fee for admission) or hike around the grounds of the estate (free). Tours are available Wednesday-Sunday, admission is $10 for adults and reservations are suggested.


Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor
Learn the local history and impact of the whaling industry on Long Island. This museum has great interactive exhibits for children and fascinating information for adults. It has a notable scrimshaw collection, folk art of whalers who engraved the bones and teeth of whales. Open daily, admission is $6 for adults.


Long Island Aquarium
The Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead has one of the largest living coral displays in the Western Hemisphere. Other xhibits include a "Best Buddies" clownfish and anemone and the megalodon display. There are indoor and outdoor components. Pet a ray in the touch tank. Have a penguin encounter. Kiss a sea lion. Opt in for the butterfly enclosure. Open daily, admission is $29.50 for adults.

Pick a garden


Bayard Cutting Arboretum
Swoon at the Tudor-style English country house of the Bayard Cutting Arboretum, a state park in Great River, and have Victorian tea at the Hidden Oak Café inside. Walk beside the Connetquot River and feel the breeze. Listen for the chirping of osprey - so many live on the grounds. The garden was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the moss path is a treasure, and the rhododendron area should not be missed in season! Parking fees are $8 during the summer -- free with Empire Pass.


Planting Fields Arboretum
At the end of the Gilded Age, the grounds of the Planting Fields Arboretum -- another state historic park -- were designed by the Olmstead Brothers for a railroad executive and his wife (herself the daughter of an oil tycoon). Today they are for the enjoyment of the public. Tour the Coe Hall Historic House Museum, check out the greenhouses, and don't miss the dahlia collection when in bloom. Parking fees are $8 during the summer -- free with Empire Pass.

Bailey Arboretum
Find redwood trees on Long Island? The Bailey Arboretum near Oyster Bay is filled with exotic trees and 15 champion trees (the largest of its kind in the continental United States) planted by renowned horticulturist Frank Bailey. One of those champions is a dawn redwood, planted as a seed from China in 1947. Don't miss the raptor rescue facility. Open daily, free admission.

Pick a restaurant

Just about any town you pass through will have its own bagel shop and diner, the quintessential cuisine of Long Island. You won't have any trouble finding those spots. Also: Being surrounded by water means seafood means fresh seafood.

Surf's Out Restaurant
Half the fun is getting there. Surf's Out Restaurant is in Kismet on Fire Island -- no cars allowed. You can take a walk or bike from Robert Moses State Park, hop on the ferry, call a water taxi, or bring your own boat and dock at the marina. Fish tacos, lobster rolls, and sushi are just some of the offerings. Indoor and outdoor seating available.

Claws Seafood Market
A local seafood market, Claws in West Sayville has extremely fresh products, including Long Island steamers, Montauk cod, and local clams. Outdoor seating beside the canal is casual and atmospheric.


Bigelow's is a fried seafood institution in Rockville Centre, closer to New York City. Only counter seating is available and it surrounds the island kitchen. Chowders are made fresh daily and the whole belly Ipswich clams are famous, they melt in your mouth. Cash only.

Exploring Montauk

The farthest east you can get on Long Island, Montauk is The End. The ultimate New York beach town boasts six state parks, miles of coastline with surfing, fishing, fresh seafood restaurants, and wineries.


Montauk Point Lighthouse
Walk the rocky beach, sit on the swinging benches, and take in the view of the Montauk Point Lighthouse. The construction of the oldest lighthouse in New York State was ordered by George Washington -- you can learn all about it by visiting the museum and climb up its 137 steps for an impeccable view. This place was a source of inspiration for Walt Whitman who wrote his poem "From Montauk Point" in awe of the urge and urge of waves seeking the shores forever. Admission for the lighthouse property is $11 adults / $8 seniors / $5 kids during the season. And parking fee at the state park is $8 during the summer -- free with Empire Pass.


Shadmoor State Park
Hike through the shadbush at Shadmoor State Park to abandoned WWII bunkers. Find wild grapes growing. Make your way down to the hoodoo bluffs and the beach, unlike anything you'd imagine in New York. Parking is free.

Gosman's Dock
Founded in 1943 as a chowder stand specializing in lobster rolls, Gosman's is the classic choice when visiting Montauk. Located on the water with a casual ambiance, it's wonderful to watch the boats coming in and out of the harbor.

Montauk Bake Shoppe
There is almost always a line out the door at the Montauk Bake Shoppe and it's because of the jelly croissants. I'm sure the other products are great and they are made from scratch on premises, but these are the pastries that put this bakery on the map. Flakey, perfectly sweet, and oozing with fruity jelly these are so delicious you might just prefer them to their donut cousins.

Where to stay?

There are lot of options, and wide range. Depending upon the kind of experience you are looking for, you can find a place such as Gurney's Montauk Resort with a seawater swimming pool, Finnish rock sauna, Russian steam room, and Roman bath -- or you can camp at Hither Hills State Park. Or anything in between.

Julie has got the travel-bug. Whether it's day trips, weekend getaways, or wandering around the world -- she's always up to something. Read more about her adventures at juliejourneys.com.

+ Beach trips from the Capital Region
+ Weekend Destination: Thousand Islands


You can also take a ferry from Bridgeport CT to Port Jefferson on Long Island.

yeah but you will spend half or more of your time in traffic

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