Free things to do on Long Island
Some of the fun things on Long Island won’t cost you a cent. Spend the morning looking for seals, learning about guitar history or even make your own cider. Newsday staffers picked the very best free entertainment. Now it’s up to you to try them.
Strap on a guitar(Credit: T.C. McCarthy)
Learn about the history of the guitar at the American Guitar Museum, where you can see more than 70 antique six-strings hanging on the walls, including a guitar used during the filming of “The Godfather,” one of Les Paul’s very own Gibson guitars and an 11-foot, 6-inch guitar model right in the center of the room. The “Guitar Doctor,” Chris X. Ambadjes, runs a repair shop in the back of the 1920s farmhouse, where he restores and repairs guitars of all types. (10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Fridays; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays at 1810 New Hyde Park Rd.; 516-488-5000, americanguitarmuseum.com)
Spot a seal(Credit: Daniel Goodrich)
Harbor seals claim some Long Island shorelines as their own from late November through early spring. Organized walks and boat cruises abound to spot them, but DIYers can simply show up at Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton on a reasonably clear-weather day and take a walk along the shoreline in hopes of spotting seals swimming or sunning. You’ll want to bring binoculars or a telescope. (906 Dune Rd., Westhampton Beach; 631-852-8111)
Roam a sculpture park(Credit: Handout)
There’s an open secret on the grounds of the Nassau County Museum of Art — a large sculpture park (one of the largest of its kind in the Northeast). Set off on a trail — paved, if you choose — and you’ll see outsized works of art ranging from fixtures: 1965 bronze fixture “Girl on a Bicycle” and cheeky “Tom Otterness Free Money,” to contemporaries works on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (1 Museum Dr., Roslyn; 516-484-9337, nassaumuseum.org)
See (very) old cars(Credit: Newsday / Ann Silverberg)
From an early 1900s curved-dash Oldsmobile to 1930 Model A Fords and classic Studebakers, Garden City’s annual Easter Sunday vintage car parade is a journey through the automotive decades. A tradition for 60 years running, the procession treats spectators (some bedecked in bonnets and other holiday finery) to the sight of hundreds of old vehicles parading through the village. Spectators can get a closer look at the rides — from old Cadillacs to muscle and custom cars — in parking Field 9E as early as 10 a.m. (1 p.m. April 14 along Franklin Avenue and Seventh Street, Garden City; 516-746-7724, ext. 101, gardencitychamber.org)
Take a tour(Credit: Randee Daddona)
Greenport’s first floating museum has an impressive back story: It was a working FDNY fireboat until its retirement in 2010. These days, the ship is docked in the village and welcomes visitors aboard for free tours above and below decks, weather permitting. It’s a bit like stepping onto a vintage submarine. You may see the engine room, which can pump 5,000 gallons of water per minute, the “gold room” where brass parts are stored and the Bunk Room, where engineers slept while on round-the-clock duty. Call before you visit, as deep winter hours can vary. (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, weather permitting, at Railroad Dock, foot of 3rd Street, Greenport; 845-612-1950, fireboatfirefighter.org)
Make some cider(Credit: Jesse Newman)
One of Long Island’s oldest apple orchards, Richters still churns out seasonal homemade cider inside a mill on the circa 1900 farm in Northport — and you can watch the process. The cider, a blend of juices from five apple varieties is made with a traditional rack and cloth press inside a circa-1900 barn. (9 a.m.-noon Saturdays and Sundays, Pulaski Road, Northport; 631-261-1980, facebook.com)
Go to the movies -- or a show(Credit: Steven Silberstein)
From classic movie screenings to free staged performances, Landmark on Main’s Afternoon T.E.A. series delivers gratis entertainment for an arts-loving crowd in Port Washington. Programs are scheduled every other Wednesday and include light refreshments. (232 Main St., Port Washington; 516-767-1384, landmarkonmainstreet.org)
Run with the dogs(Credit: Aaron Zebrook)
It’s a long winter for the dogs, too. Good thing many of Long Island’s public dog parks remain open year-round . . . and drop admission fees/residency requirements in the offseason to boot. For example, Eisenhower Park’s crowd-pleasing dog run is a 1 1⁄2-acre space has designated areas for small and large dogs to play, complete with water fountains. For the people, there’s benches in a sheltered area — and waste disposal bags. (Salisbury Park Drive and Stewart Avenue, East Meadow; 516-572-0347)
Escape to the tropics(Credit: Barbara Alper)
You can forget — at least for a little while — that it’s winter with inside Planting Fields Arboretum’s stately glass greenhouses, where it never gets cold and there’s always something in bloom. The state park’s parking fee is waived after Nov. 18, but visitors are still welcome to stop in and get lost amid flowering cactuses and gorgeous succulents. There’s an impressive holiday-season display poinsettias followed by February’s annual fleeting bloom of the camellia trees housed in a separate historic enclosure. (10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay; 516-922-9200, plantingfields.org)
Grab your skis(Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)
It doesn’t take but a few inches of snow on the ground to make a fine excuse to try cross-country skiing. More than a dozen public parks welcome skiers to zip through winter trails — as do Suffolk County-run golf courses in Babylon, Great River, West Sayville and Riverhead, if you stay off the greens. In Smithtown, there are two options: Blydenburgh County Park (631-854-3713, suffolkcountyny.gov) and largely undeveloped Caleb Smith State Park (631-265-1054, nysparks.com).
Join the Polar Bears(Credit: Jennifer A. Uihlein)
Hardy stock — that’s what it takes to make a freezing plunge into the ocean in the middle of winter. Yet polar bear plunging has practically become a sport around Long Island, where groups make a fundraiser out of convincing people to take an icy dip. But it’s free to be a spectator and you need not do anything but show up and root on the madness. Among the most popular plunges: the Long Beach Super Bowl Sunday Splash. (1:30 p.m. Feb. 5, longbeachpolarbears.org)
Browse artists' work(Credit: Newsday / Anthony Barboza)
Greenport’s monthly art gallery hop is back, once again inviting visitors to roam among six galleries around the village’s Main Street area that beckon with artwork on view (in some cases, you’ll meet the artists), wine and light refreshments. (6-9 p.m. first Friday of the month; 631-477-1021, greenportvillage.com)
Visit the animals(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)
Animal lovers see the wild things at the Brookhaven Wildlife Center, where llamas, bald eagles, miniature horses, bobcats, hawks, wild mustangs and even bears live. There are stroller-friendly, handicapped-accessible paths to visit the animals in their outdoor enclosures. (9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays with seasonal weekend hours; 249 Buckley Rd., Holtsville; 631-758-9664, ext. 11, brookhavenwildlifecenter.org)
Hit first Friday(Credit: The Heckscher Museum of Art)
Huntington’s Heckscher Museum of Art stays open late the first Friday of every month and waives admission, sweetening the draw by offering a musical performance amid a chance to browse the museum’s current exhibits. (5-8:30 p.m. first Fridays; 2 Prime Ave., Huntington; 631-351-3250, heckscher.org)
View fresh art(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)
Suburban art is anything but boring, as evidenced by the edgy exhibits you’ll find in local galleries, which are free to browse. At Studio 5404 in Massapequa, “Art & Chaos” is through Feb. 24 with digital, abstraction and works of sculpture reflecting artists’ perspectives on climate change, world conflict or whatever else churns. (By appointment at 5404 Merrick Rd., Massapequa; 631-748-4196, studio5404artspace.com)
In Huntington, Ripe Art Gallery exists in a converted nursery-display shed on a working farm, there’s unusual original art with a side helping of special events ranging from artist chats to performance art. (1028 Park Ave., Huntington; 631-239-1805, ripeartgal.com)
Go stargazing(Credit: John Griffin / SBU Communications)
One Friday a month, Stony Brook University’s astronomy department invites the public to come view the night sky through a rooftop telescope. Professors lecture on a chosen topic before, weather permitting, visitors are ushered up to the observatory for a chance to make out the moon, planets and star activity. (7:30 p.m. Oct. 28, Dec. 2, Jan. 27, March 3, April 7 and May 5 at the Earth and Sciences Space Building, Stony Brook; 631-632-8100, astro.sunysb.edu)
HarborFrost(Credit: The Sag Harbor Express / Michael Heller)
Freezing temperatures are at the heart HarborFrost, an annual festival that prides itself on being cool. Sag Harbor is filled with activities such as an ice-carving demonstration, live music, fire juggling and children's activities, 2-5 p.m. Don't miss the nighttime fireworks show blasted over the harbor. WHEN | WHERE 2-6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, Sag Harbor INFO 631-725-0011, sagharborchamber.com ADMISSION Free
Peek behind-the-scenes(Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)
Get an early start and watch the thoroughbreds warm up for the day's races at Belmont Park racetrack in Elmont. Early morning visitors can see the horses training in paddock area, then take a tram ride through the stables and perhaps see a demonstration of how the starting gate works. 7-9:30 a.m. Saturdays-Sundays, weather permitting (516-488-6000, nyra.com).
Go into the wild(Credit: Gordon M. Grant)
Quogue Wildlife Refuge is home to a range of creatures that can't live in the wild -- a bobcat, pair of red fox, many owls, even a bald eagle. See the creatures, then set off on your choice of 7 miles of self-guided hiking trails. There's also a nature center with exhibits, reptiles and other animals. The site is open sunrise to sunset daily, with nature center hours 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursdays and weekends (631-653-4771, quoguewildliferefuge.org).
Photo-bomb the Big Duck(Credit: Ed Betz)
Perhaps Long Island's most beloved roadside attraction, The Big Duck in Flanders is a relic from the 1930s, when duck and potato farms flourished on the East End. These days, it's a gift shop (think duck-shaped ornaments and tote bags). Stretch your legs with a walk through the newly opened museum of duck farming memorabelia. It's open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. most days, closing at 3 p.m. Saturdays (631-852-3377, bigduck.org).
Visit the farm(Credit: Randee Daddona)
Shelter Island's Sylvester Manor offers a fascinating -- and sobering -- window into Long Island history. The 243-acre farm, now a public charity, dates back to the 1650s, when the Island's first European settlers arrived -- with their slaves. The manor house contains centuries' worth of family heirlooms and is open a few Saturdays each month. The grounds, which feature the remains of ancient Indian settlements and a slave burial ground, can be toured 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays (631-749-0626, sylvestermanor.org).
Admire East End art(Credit: Gordon M. Grant)
It could be the biggest bargain in the Hamptons: the newly built Parrish Art Museum offers free admission on Wednesdays. The sleek Water Mill space -- from the outside, it looks like a chic long and narrow barn -- houses a deep collection of works by famed East End artists William Merritt Chase, Jackson Pollock and Roy Lichtenstein as well as contemporary works from Chuck Close and Elizabeth Peyton (10 a.m.-5 p.m.; 631-283-2118, parrishart.org).
Take kids on a scavenger hunt(Credit: Marjorie Pillar)
Pick up a backpack and solve an art-themed mystery while exploring the outdoor sculpture collection at the Emily Lowe Gallery at the Hofstra University Museum in Hempstead. Kids can take on the quest, which involves looking for clues among the artwork, until 3 p.m. daily when the gallery's open (closed Mondays, 516-463-5672, hofstra.edu).