The wealthiest families of yore didn’t summer in Ibiza or Lake Como – they vacationed in Long Island. Not so long ago, Long Island was the refuge of the Bouviers, Jacqueline Kennedy’s family, at the famous Grey Gardens estate on Lily Pond Lane. Afterward, that same street became the picturesque home base of Martha Stewart. Also part of the island in southeastern New York State, The Hamptons remains a playground of the upper echelon. It is just one of the many places on the island to gawk at the upper crust. Long Island is more inviting today: Jazz Age mansions still sit scattered across the area, but most are now open to the public as museums.
If weekend getaways and summer retreats were an Olympic event, Long Island would surely medal. Even today, historic hotels on Shelter Island and boutique properties on Fire Island or Montauk can be fully booked weeks to months in advance. Summer is definitely the best time to visit Long Island and take part in all there is to do, from art museums and aquariums to wine and oysters. Looking to occupy a day, a weekend, or more in Long Island, New York? Read on to discover the 23 top things to do in Long Island, New York – golf enthusiasts and excitable toddlers included.
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
(Courtesy of Discover Long Island)
Today, it’s not unusual for the rich and famous to maintain summer homes on Long Island; seasonal residents have included Beyonce and Jay Z. But the original Long Island summer escape was owned by President Teddy Roosevelt from 1885 until he died in 1919. He referred to Sagamore Hill as his “Summer White House” during his time in office. Set on 83 acres in Oyster Bay, Sagamore Hill was beloved by the Roosevelts for its stunning natural setting, which includes woodlands and fields alongside beaches and salt marshes. Visitors today can take a ranger-lead tour of the estate for $10 per adult (just $1 for children 16 and younger); access to the grounds is free. Another residence, dubbed Old Orchard, is also located on the grounds and was the home of President Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., and his wife (also Eleanor) from 1938 until their respective deaths in 1944 and 1960.
Address: 20 Sagamore Hill Road, Oyster Bay, NY 11771
Vanderbilt Museum, Mansion and Planetarium
(Courtesy of Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum)
The Vanderbilts are known as one of the wealthiest and most powerful families to ever live in the United States, as demonstrated by their beyond lavish and world-famous summer homes such as The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island or Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. Long Island is no exception to architectural displays of Vanderbilt wealth, which the public can now enjoy at the Eagle’s Nest mansion and museum in Suffolk County. Built by William K. Vanderbilt II – a descendent of Cornelius Vanderbilt – in 1910, it was used as a summer residence until 1936. Not typical of these Jazz Age mansions is the on-site Reichert Planetarium, which began welcoming the public in 1971. The building also still houses thousands of artifacts from his many overseas expeditions. Tour admission is $10 for adults, with reduced rates for seniors, children and military personnel. The public can access shows at the planetarium year-round and the rooftop observatory on Friday nights.
Address: 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport, NY 11721
Nassau County Museum of Art
Nassau County Museum of Art (NSMA) sits inside a mansion built by Henry Clay Frick, an American industrialist. The museum brings the many movements and mediums of the art world to Nassau County, Long Island. In addition to the permanent galleries at the NCMA, rotating exhibits invite museum-goers to explore impressionism pieces or canvases inspired by the supernatural. Also on the grounds are a sculpture garden, with over 40 pieces from 30 artists across 145 acres; the formal gardens of the William Cullen Bryant Preserve; and an arboretum, which offers walking trails on what was once Manhasset Indian territory. An outdoor adventure map and guide for children is available from the museum to engage kids in the sculptures. General admission tickets to the exhibits inside the mansion start at $15 per adult. Access to the grounds, including the gardens, is free. Art classes and workshops are offered on-site (and virtually), as are family events. Pricing varies for classes and workshops.
Address: One Museum Drive, Roslyn Harbor, NY 11576
Long Island Children’s Museum
Bring the kids to Garden City to jump inside a giant bubble, meet a member of the Mesozoic Era or stop in at the Animal Diner. These are just some of the many interactive exhibits available at the Long Island Children’s Museum. Visitors to the museum note that it’s easy to pass three to four hours here, especially on a rainy day. Fans of the museum say there is plenty to do for children ages 1 to 10. Though the museum’s dedicated area for toddlers does get crowded, so it’s best to reserve a spot in the toddler area as soon as you arrive to maximize playtime. General admission to the museum is $15 for adults and children, though those under 1 year old are free. The Long Island Children’s Museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
Address: 11 Davis Ave., Garden City, NY 11530
Long Island Aquarium
(Courtesy of Long Island Aquarium)
The Lost City of Atlantis is actually in Riverhead, New York – at least it’s the name of the shark exhibit at the Long Island Aquarium. Porcupines, owls and coati are just a few of the unexpected inhabitants of this multifaceted aquarium along the Peconic River. In addition to the water-dwelling creatures like jellyfish, crabs and otters, the Long Island Aquarium is also home to one of the largest living insect exhibitions in North America; if your kid likes creepy-crawlies, this is your spot. Children ages 3 to 12 pay $29.99 for aquarium access, while those 13 to 61 pay $42.99, and anyone over 62 pays $31.99. A very cool perk is that if you’re visiting Long Island around your birthday, the aquarium offers one free admission during your birthday week. The Long Island Aquarium is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and until 5 p.m. on weekends, holidays and school breaks.
Address: 431 East Main St., Riverhead, NY 11901
Off Bay Shore, Long Island, across the Great South Bay, Fire Island is a not-so-great distance of about 10 miles, which takes 30 minutes by ferry. This car-free island, popular with Manhattanites, has the unique dichotomy of a reputation for partying alongside some incredible natural wonders. Fire Island’s sunken forest is a rare ecological marvel of a maritime holly forest that’s formed behind its massive sand dunes along the Atlantic coast. The Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1826 and stands tall today, welcoming visitors. At 74 feet, the octagonal structure was sometimes the first sight of America for European immigrants.
Fire Island is also a well-known summer destination for LGBTQ travelers. On Independence Day in 1976, a man dressed in drag was turned away from a restaurant in Fire Island Pines, and upon hearing the news, his friends – also dressed in drag – came to the rescue by water taxi. The exuberant act of solidarity has spawned an annual tradition known as “Invasion of the Pines” that now welcomes hundreds of drag queens to the island each Fourth of July.
Jones Beach State Park
Themed after an ocean liner, Jones Beach is a family beach haven located less than 20 miles from New York City in Wantagh, New York. Swimming and sunbathing are the main activities here, and 6.5 miles of white-sand shoreline accommodates them well. If you need a little exercise, cycling on the boardwalk is welcome year-round and stretches for miles. The bird-watching is excellent, and so is the people-watching, with plenty of concessions and events, such as fireworks and concerts. Apart from fun in the sun, the Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center is a free educational institution that offers conservation programming to the public.
Address: 150 Bay Parkway, Wantagh, NY 11793
Cradle of Aviation Museum
(Courtesy of Cradle of Aviation Museum)
Geographically, Long Island is a perfect airfield, and it proved to be an ideal testing ground for early flight during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the departure point for Charles Lindbergh’s flight to Paris in 1927. More than a century of aerospace history awaits at Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. The Hubble Space Telescope exhibit is just one of many, including numerous hands-on activities across 150,000 square feet of exhibit space. You can climb into the cockpit of a half-dozen air and spacecraft from the museum’s collection of more than 70, which includes a hot air balloon and a lunar space module. The Cradle of Aviation Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting at $16 per person; combo tickets that also offer access to its planetarium are available for $5 more.
Address: Charles Lindbergh Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530
Drive to the island’s end in Montauk
An old fishing village at the very end of Long Island, Montauk is the easternmost point in New York. The city attracts loyal summer crowds for its stunning beaches and family-friendly downtown. Immortalized in song by The Rolling Stones in the ’70s, Memory Motel still stands and welcomes revelers along the Montauk Highway. Tourism in the Hamptons hasn’t slowed since, but much of Montauk remains the same. The Montauk Point Light is also a must, though it gets crowded during the middle of the day. It’s not the only place for views, though – far from it. We recommend a drive down Montauk Highway or a hike at Camp Hero State Park, where the vista along its cliffs feels a bit like a baby Big Sur. Hikers will eventually come across the abandoned Cold War-era radar tower that was once part of Camp Hero, a spooky destination that evokes conspiracy theories. For something a bit less eerie, head to Deep Hollow Ranch, where beginners and experienced riders can enjoy the horses at the self-proclaimed oldest working ranch in the United States.
Have a rose day at Wolffer Estate Vineyard
(Courtesy of Wolffer Estate Vineyard)
If you’re shopping at any market or grocery store in the Hamptons, you’ll be sure to come across the pretty pink bottles of Wolffer Estate rose. The popular varietal is produced at the label’s vineyard in Sagaponack, New York. What better way to spend an afternoon than a tour and tasting at this bucolic wine estate? Access to the Wolffer Estate Tasting Room is by reservation only, and groups can be two to eight people. A cellar tour and tasting provides a 45-minute guided tour of the tasting room and cellar by an expert sommelier for $60 per person (for up to six people). Friday nights, in season, the winery hosts live music and wine by candlelight. Visitors note that flights here can be pricy, but it’s worth a splurge for the quality and ambiance. Wolffer also produces spirits in the form of gin or brandy, as well as nonalcoholic options.
Address: 139 Sagg Road, Sagaponack, NY 11962
Go shopping in Sag Harbor
(Courtesy of Discover Long Island)
The cute-as-a-designer-button village of Sag Harbor has all the quintessential Hamptons boutiques and clothiers. Home decor, clothing and interior design shops with names like Bloom and AYR are sprinkled throughout town among the vibrant hydrangeas. Perhaps the most famous resident boutique is Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand goop, found on Bay Street and open Thursday through Sunday. Sylvester & Co. Modern General has everything from lanterns and linens to watches and spices in a well-curated storefront. Once you’ve broken your budget, consider checking out a bit about Sag Harbor’s history as a whaling town at The Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum, housed in an old Masonic lodge. Refuel at Grindstone Coffee and Donuts on Main Street.
Taste the ultimate chocolate-chip cookie in Southampton
(Courtesy of Tate’s Bake Shop)
If you’ve tasted a Tate’s Bake Shop cookie, then you know. The buttery, crunchy baked goods are sold at grocery stores nationwide, but it started in 1980 in Southampton with a 21-year-old Kathleen King and her original recipes. The flagship, pastel-green Tate’s Bake Shop is open to the public, and this adorable space sells pies, cakes, and other pastries in addition to its phenomenal cookies. Of course, the original chocolate chip is a classic, but you’ll find oatmeal raisin, lemon, coconut and more varieties, as well as gluten-free and vegan options. Visitors can also snag branded mugs, cookie jars and even a candle that smells like cookies – more of a tease than a souvenir.
Address: 43 North Sea Road, Southampton, NY 11968
Shelter Island is a short ferry ride from Sag Harbor and a secluded summer refuge. The admirers of Shelter Island prefer its more low-key vibe to the posh Hamptons, though there are still plenty of yachts. Shelter Island is all about getting outside, whether it’s biking around town (cars require a permit to park); hiking Mashomack Preserve, which covers one-third of the island; golfing at the Shelter Island Country Club; or simply sunning at one of its many beaches, such as Wades, Crescent or Sunset. No trip to Shelter Island is complete without an alfresco meal. There are chockablock charming bistros, but the real dining scene is at the island’s hotels. Try The Pridwin Hotel; their restaurant looks out over a grand lawn. Sunset Beach hotel is another fantastic Shore Road hotspot, with “froze” (frozen rose) on tap. A local favorite is the Shipwreck Bar at the SALT Waterfront Bar & Grill. Just keep in mind that many hotels and restaurants on Shelter Island only welcome visitors seasonally.
Make it an interesting evening with a Long Island iced tea
(Courtesy of Mercato Kitchen & Cocktails)
It seems as if the origin of the Long Island iced tea would be obvious, but it’s up for debate. Tennessee, of all places, claims the drink was invented in Kingsport on its own Long Island during the Prohibition-era 1920s. The director of communications for Discover Long Island has been quoted otherwise, saying Robert “Rosebud” Butt invented the drink as part of a contest at the Oak Beach Inn on Long Island in the 1970s. Unfortunately, Oak Beach Inn no longer welcomes guests. Still, Rosebud’s legacy lives on with a punchy combination of equal parts gin, rum, vodka, tequila and triple sec, plus cola and sweetener mixed with lemon or lime juice. The Long Island iced tea is widely available beyond Long Island, but why not try one (and probably only one) in its birthplace? Locals recommend Mercato Kitchen & Cocktails in Merrick as the place to sip the strong drink.
Try Long Island’s oysters – and snails
(Courtesy of Salt & Barrel Oyster & Craft Cocktail Bar)
The Great South Bay provided Long Islanders with various shellfish and assortments of oysters for decades. Most famously, the area is ideal for the coveted Blue Point oysters – yes, the band Blue Oyster Cult was founded in Long Island in the ’60s. But storms and pollution tamped the popularity of oysters in the early 20th century until a resurgence in the 1990s. A parasitic infection caused even more problems, which took until 2006 to resolve. Luckily, today’s residents and visitors have access to numerous oyster farms, some with stands open to the public. Of course, you can also order them off almost any menu in the area; Long Islanders agree Salt & Barrel in Bay Shore slings some of the best oysters around. If you’re looking for something different, Peconic Escargot is one of the only snail outfits in North America, offering fresh snails from their farm in Cutchogue in North Fork, calling their variety “the bay scallops of the snail world.”
Tour the Jazz Age mansions that inspired “The Great Gatsby”
There are so many Jazz Age estates on Long Island that you can tour them along what is dubbed the Gold Coast of Long Island. Start with Old Westbury Gardens of the Phipps fortune. Henry Phipps was Carnegie’s business partner, and the trust he created for his family has made them modern-day billionaires. The estate is now a museum with stellar landscaping. Don’t miss the Sands Point Preserve, which features the famed Hempstead House. Robber baron Jay Gould built both mansions for his wife, who was later accused of having an affair with Buffalo Bill (yes, that Buffalo Bill). After the divorce, it was sold to a gentleman named Daniel Guggenheim (yes, that Guggenheim). Finally, OHEKA Castle, resembling a French chateau, is to this day the second-largest private residence built in the United States. Today, the property is part of the Historic Hotels of America. Visitors might recognize the OHEKA Castle from “Citizen Kane,” “Succession,” or the “Blank Space” Taylor Swift music video. The property is also likely an inspiration for the Gatsby mansion from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”
Visit the Big Duck of Flanders
(Courtesy of Discover Long Island)
Is any family vacation complete without an oddball roadside attraction? The Big Duck of Flanders, New York, certainly fits the bill. Built in 1931 by farmer Martin Maurer as a gamey advertisement for the poultry shop indoors, the duck housed real ducks and eggs for sale, and it was a success. The duck was moved several times throughout its life, but today visitors can find the Big Duck in a park on Flanders Road in Flanders, near the Great Peconic Bay. If you look closely, you’ll see that its eyes are the headlights of a Ford Model T.
Address: Flanders Road, Flanders, NY 11901
Inhale the smell of spring at Lavender by the Bay
(Courtesy of Lavender by the Bay)
The start of summer in late June is a prime time to be in East Marion, right as the lavender is blooming. This 17-acre lavender farm is a Long Island taste of France’s Provence region, with 80,000 lavender plants. Lavender by the Bay farm opens for weekends beginning in April. The English lavender blooms first, followed by French lavender in July. If you don’t make it out during the busy summer months, a second small bloom of English lavender can be expected in late summer or early fall. Starting in June, Lavender by the Bay farm is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Timed tickets are required to walk through the field and give visitors 90 minutes to roam. The farm shop lets you bring the stress-melting scent back home with oils, dried bundles, sachets, soaps, eye masks and more.
Address: 7540 Main Road, East Marion, NY 11939
Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park
(Courtesy of Discover Long Island)
Planting Fields are the grounds at Coe Hall, yet another moneyed Long Island estate and now a 409-acre park. When the co-architect behind the Planting Fields landscape design passed in 1918, the Coe family hired the Olmstead Brothers to complete the project, and they shaped the property over the next decade. Planting Fields are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; an $8 parking fee is collected from May through Labor Day and on weekends and holidays in April. Coe Hall is open for tours Wednesdays through Sundays for a $10 admission (discounted rates for children and seniors). But the real focus is outside, where something is blooming year-round, and an entire greenhouse is dedicated to the delicate camellia flower.
Address: 1395 Planting Fields Road, Oyster Bay, NY 11771
Belmont Park Racetrack
(Courtesy of Discover Long Island)
Belmont Park Racetrack is home to the Belmont Stakes, the final horse race in the prestigious American Triple Crown. The Belmont Park spring/summer meet typically lasts from late April until June, when the Belmont Stakes occur, with additional races through July. During that time, Belmont Park Racetrack holds nearly 60 races, and general admission tickets are available to the public for just $5. Box seats come with a better view as well as a higher price tag and a more refined dress code. Belmont Park is easily accessible for visitors taking the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) by boarding an eastbound train to Jamaica Station and transferring to a train bound for Belmont Park Station. Belmont Park is located in Elmont, New York.
Address: 2150 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont, NY 11003
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site
(Courtesy of Walt Whitman Birthplace Association)
In the wise words of Walt Whitman, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine, and shadows will fall behind you.” In 1819, the accomplished American poet was born one of nine children on Long Island in Huntingdon Station, New York. Whitman’s birthplace remains today, 200 years later, as a New York State Historic Site. The home, which has original flooring on the second floor and more than 350 artifacts intact, is open for tours. The site is open year-round, but hours vary depending on the season. Tickets are $8 per adult, with discounts for seniors, kids and the military. Guests of the museum say that it’s small and a tad hard to find, but that the tours are informative and a voice recording of Whitman reading his poetry, made with the assistance of Thomas Edison, is magical. The gift shop is a must for any fan of poetry looking to browse or buy a fresh copy of “Leaves of Grass.”
Address: 246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746
Carriage Museum at Long Island Museum
Grace Darling greets guests at an entrance to the Long Island Museum. No, she’s not the curator; Grace is the name of a large, highly decorated omnibus. Welcome to the Carriage Museum, an exhibit of eight galleries that charts transportation prior to the automobile. The museum features an authentic 19th-century carriage shop, reassembled from its original home in Massachusetts, as well as some of the finest carriages that traversed the magnificent estates of Long Island’s Gold Coast mansions. The carriage collection began in 1952, but the dedicated building where it is now was built in 1987 on the former site of the Stony Brook Hotel. The Long Island Museum is located in Stony Brook, New York, and is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. The $10 admission gains you access to all of the Long Island Museum’s exhibits, including the Carriage Museum.
Address: 1200 NY-25A, Stony Brook, NY 11790
Tee Off at Bethpage Black
Long Island has a number of golf courses open to the public, but the Bethpage Black course at Bethpage State Park – known as “the Black” – is a prime pick. The longest public golf course on the island, the Black is located in Farmingdale, New York, and is frequently praised by golf publications. Host to the U.S. Open, the Ryder Cup and other PGA events, Bethpage Black is a difficult course only recommended for skilled golfers. But if you are a golf enthusiast, this is the place to be.
Address: 99 Quaker Meeting House Road, Farmingdale, NY 11735