Long Island beaches, lakes and more: Fun ways to enjoy the water

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Long Island summers are made to be spent by the shore. Beyond the (many) gorgeous beaches and boating marinas, you’ll find waterside concerts, guided sails, family-friendly tours and plenty of destinations that stay alive after dark. Landlubbers can stick to dry land — watching an amazing sunset over the Long Island Sound or tucking into an alfresco lobster picnic from the docks. Here are the best ways to explore Long Island’s shores this summer.

Go crabbing in East Rockaway or Babylon

EAST ROCKAWAY Go crabbing
(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

Blue crab season unleashes a summer boon of fun along Long Island’s shores by people who know the open secret about crabbing: It’s easy and inexpensive. You don’t need a boat -- the action is just as good from a dock. Nor do you need much equipment — just a wire box trap and some bait (simple raw chicken or bunker works over and over), or a net and a bucket if you’re hunting with your eyes. Or a piece of strong string and a chicken leg. 
While you may not need a state license to do recreational crabbing, you should be aware of the minimum size and daily limits on catches.
Among the hot spots: Nassau County residents have Bay Park in East Rockaway, where you can try your luck from the bulkhead by the launch ramp (516-571-7245). In Suffolk, crabbers flock to the piers at Captree State Park in Babylon — just know that if you’re going at the most popular time — after dark — you’ll need a state-issued night fishing license to park (631-669-0449).

Hit the boardwalk in Long Beach

LONG BEACH Hit the boardwalk It's hardly just
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

It’s hardly just a place to stretch your legs — Long Beach’s famous 2.2-mile boardwalk has enough diversions to fill an afternoon. Residents and day-trippers alike can rent bikes from several kiosks ($8 an hour, sobilongbeach.com). Near the Riverside Boulevard entrance, adventurists can spend an hour trying to crack out of a mobile escape room game or get airborne with a flying trapeze lesson. Refuel with a pit stop at the Shoregasboard food truck court — more food options can be found at the newly built concessions at Pacific Boulevard.

Pick your own lobster in Island Park

ISLAND PARK Pick-your-own lobster The Island Park mainstay
(Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

A fresh lobster dinner is practically a rite of summer, perhaps no more so than at Jordan Lobster Farm in Island Park, where the seafood market has been a mainstay since 1938. Pick your pleasure, whether that’s a standard 1 1/4 pounder or a meatier 4-pound behemoth. It used to be that you took your dinner to-go or sat at a picnic table outdoors, but the newly expanded backyard bar deck makes the experience more fun with live music and prime views of the canal and the retro Ferris wheel from the old Nunley’s Amusement Park, which now resides on Barnum Island (516-806-6251, jordanlobsterfarms.com).

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Go to Jones Beach State Park — at night

JONES BEACH STATE PARK Go to the beach
(Credit: Linda Rosier)

Long Island’s most popular park draws 6 million to 8 million visitors a year. While most come for the rollicking summer beach scene, there’s a whole different vibe after dark.
Near the Central Mall, the boardwalk hums with nightly free summer entertainment in the bandshell — live music, outdoor movies and more (June 24-Labor Day weekend). Lighted game courts beckon couples and families to play a round of shuffleboard, paddleball or miniature golf ($2-$5). Across the way, Fields 4 and 5 get busy with the nighttime concert crowd there to see an alfresco show at the outdoor amphitheater (now called Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater). It’s not unusual to see tailgaters in lawn chairs on the grassy swatch near Zach’s Bay, picnicking within earshot of the marquee act (free parking after 6 p.m.; 516-785-1600, parks.ny.gov/parks/jonesbeach).

Spend happy hour on the Nautical Mile in Freeport

FREEPORT Spend happy hour on the Nautical Mile
(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

Freeport’s Woodcleft Avenue is a destination come summer, when the waterside stretch of bars and restaurants hum with patrons eager to sit outdoors and savor the weather. Sure, you can go for dinner — steak and seafood spots abound — but the Nautical Mile is also well done as a happy hour tour. Spots such as Hudson’s on the Mile (516-442-5569, hudsonsonthemile.net) have outdoor patios and live music, while the newly opened BrewSA brewery (516-377-2751) offers tasting flights and snacks in a garage-like space.
More involved are two-hour Wednesday night sunset cruises aboard the Captain Lou Fleet that include a cash bar and DJ (sails at 6 or 7 p.m. June 28-Sept. 6, $26 adults, $22 ages 4-12; 516-623-5823, captloufleet.com).

Take a sunset sail in Oyster Bay

OYSTER BAY Take a sunset sail The Waterfront
(Credit: Marisol Diaz)

Go sailing without having to do any of the hard work — unless you want to — aboard the 40-foot Cristeen at The Waterfront Center in Oyster Bay. Weeknight sunset sails are particularly relaxing, offered Tuesdays-Wednesdays at 6 p.m. ($30). For the 21-and-older crowd: Try the happy hour sailings on select Thursdays July-August, which include Oyster Bay Brewing Co. beer and light snacks from Christina’s Epicure ($55; 516-922-7245, thewaterfrontcenter.org).

Hail a water taxi in Port Washington

PORT WASHINGTON Hail a water taxi Take a
(Credit: Marisol Diaz)

Take a personal cruise around Manhasset Bay aboard the Port Washington Water Taxi’s 48-foot touring tug. Thirty-minute tours ($10 adults, $5 ages 12 and younger) are an easy way to get a taste of cruising on the water. More involved are 90-minute cruises that cover Stepping Stones Lighthouse, Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy and the Throgs Neck Bridge, or head east near Execution Rocks Lighthouse, where you can take in Joan’s Castle, once owned by publisher William Randolph Hearst, in Sands Point ($25 adults, $15 kids; 516-455-0411, portwatertaxi.com).

Swim with a club in Lloyd Harbor

LLOYD HARBOR Swim with a club West Neck
(Credit: Heather Walsh)

Give in to the lure of serious ocean swimming — in the safety of an organized group — with an open-water swim club. Groups meet weekly during the season to swim en masse, and some clubs host race days, too. The West Neck Pod meets weekend mornings at the Town of Huntington’s West Neck Beach, where newbies are paired with a more experienced member to get started (facebook.com/westneckpod).
The South Shore has its own club — Open Water Swim Long Island — that meets to swim in either the waters off the Fire Island Lighthouse or at Heckscher State Park in East Islip ($25 a session or $50-$75 private lesson; 516-356-5306, openwaterswimli.com).

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Rock the tower at the Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival

HUNTINGTON Rock the tower Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival
(Credit: Jin Lee)

Long Island’s only floating concert puts the bands right at the top of the old lighthouse. The all-day show just off Huntington’s Gold Star Battalion Beach has been a Labor Day weekend tradition for 10 years. Patrons — as many as 12,000 — come by private or partyboat, kayak, canoe or inflatable raft to hear bands play back-to-back from late morning until sunset. Roving bands of volunteer teen “pirates” troll the waters, collecting donations that fund the lighthouse’s ongoing restoration (lighthousemusicfest.com).

Take the kids to Cow Harbor Park in Northport

NORTHPORT Bring the kids Cow Harbor Park Northport
(Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

Northport has all the makings for a family-friendly day trip: a quaint, walkable village lined with shops and restaurants, children’s shows at the restored John W. Engeman Theater. But just try tearing young kids away from the waterside Cow Harbor Park, where there’s a large, gated playground with a soft sand bottom. Get a takeout lunch of Maroni’s oh-so-popular meatballs (they come in a lidded, enamelware pot) and dig in at one of the small tables in the park while you watch sailboats in the harbor. Then it’s off to Wolfies Frozen Custard (cash only) or Copenhagen Bakery across the street for buttery, storemade cookies and flaky pastries. 

Watch the sun set over Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai

MT. SINAI Watch the sun set Cedar Beach
(Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

On a clear summer night, nothing beats an idyllic sunset. For a great view in a beautiful setting, head to the Town of Brookhaven’s Cedar Beach. Set up on the sand or stake your claim early to a prime spot on the deck of the Cedar Beach Bar & Grill for a front-row view as the sun slips below the horizon (brookhavenny.gov).

Try flyboarding in Port Jefferson

PORT JEFFERSON Try flyboarding Any other ideas? There's
(Credit: Randee Daddona)

As far as water sports go, flyboarding is extreme, but accessible. The experience is a bit like wakeboarding or water skiing with moon boots — except you’re shooting up into the air over the water. Flyboard LI runs lessons and rentals in and around the waters of Port Jefferson Harbor (you can often see the sport demonstrated during the village’s nautical events (from $99; 631-901-2661, flyboardli.com). 

Go alfresco in Copiague

COPIAGUE Go al fresco Tanner Park's open-to-all waterside
(Credit: Johnny Milano)

Tanner Park’s open-to-all waterside bandshell is an ethereal setting for a summer show. There, with the Great South Bay as a backdrop, you can hear free live music as the sun goes down or perhaps see an outdoor movie. The showstopper is Lumiere Ballet’s annual summer production — “Les Sylphides” for 2017, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26-27 — the costumes, music and scenery are always transporting (631-893-2100, townofbabylon.com).

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Fish by day — or night — at Captree

CAPTREE Fish by day -- or night Reel
(Credit: James Carbone)

Reel one in any day of the week aboard fishing boats that make full- or half-day trips out to the Great South Bay from Captree State Park in Babylon. Trips start around $50 and include rods, bait, how-tos and even filleting of your catch. You’ll want a reservation for niche expeditions — like the Laura Lee’s 11 p.m.-3 a.m. fish-all-night — but, in most cases, you can just show up and walk aboard. 
What’s more, many of Captree Fleet’s vessels make sightseeing cruises, including trips to see the July Fourth fireworks at Jones Beach from the water (631-669-6464, captreefleet.com).

Let your dog swim at Gardiner Park in Bay Shore

BAY SHORE Watch the dogs swim Gardiner's Park
(Credit: 123rf.com)

Dog runs abound on Long Island, but it’s tricky to find a public place where Fido can take a dip in the ocean. Gardiner Park in Bay Shore caters to four-leggers with several paths for leashed walks. The most popular is a straight shot right down to the Great South Bay. There’s hardly a greater pleasure than watching dogs frolic in the calm, shallow waters. Word to the wise: Bring towels for the car ride home (631-854-0935).

Go behind the scenes at Fire Island Lighthouse

FIRE ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE Go behind-the-scenes Little-known fact: You
(Credit: National Park Service)

Little-known fact: You can take a deeper dive into the inner workings of the Fire Island Lighthouse on a behind-the-scenes tour. Held only a handful of times a year and limited to only 12 people, visitors make rounds with the lighthouse keeper for a bottom-to-top-of-the-tower experience that lasts more than two hours. Reservations required (9 a.m. June 10, Sept. 9, Oct. 14 and Dec. 9).
Also consider: The lighthouse stays open later for twilight climbs on Saturdays in July (tower closes at 7). It’s a less-crowded way to appreciate the lighthouse’s unusual vantage point — and sets the stage for a gorgeously lit mile-long walk back to your car afterward as the sun sets ($7 adults, $4 ages 12 and younger, $10 parking; 631-661-4876, fireislandlighthouse.com).

Watch the sunrise at Sunken Meadow State Park

SUNKEN MEADOW STATE PARK Watch the sunrise Take
(Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)

Take a slice of tranquility for yourself with an early-morning trek at this North Shore park. Head straight to the  3⁄4-mile boardwalk to do laps as the sun comes up, with company ranging from early-morning fisherman to open-water swimmers ($10 parking begins at 7 a.m. weekends and holidays, 8 a.m. weekdays May 28-Sept. 11; 631-269-4333, parks.ny.gov).

Make 'Sunday Funday' in Ocean Bay Park

OCEAN BAY PARK Make
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Ending the weekend on a good note is an all-day pursuit on Fire Island, where Sunday afternoons bring day boaters and ferry-goers who want nothing more than to hang out for hours. The biggest scene is at Flynn’s — a DJ and reggae band fuel a tropical summer beach party that starts at noon and is still going strong after dark. On holiday weekends, go early or spring for VIP treatment ($50 advance only) to avoid long lines (631-583-5000, flynnsfireislandny.com). 

Take a weekday day-cation at Ocean Beach

OCEAN BEACH Take a weekday day-cation If you've
(Credit: Heather Walsh)

If you’ve got a few hours, you can make a getaway — even on a weeknight — to Fire Island’s popular no-cars-allowed village. Take the short ferry ride from Bay Shore ($19 round trip, fireislandferries.com) and admire the corral of red wagons locked near the dock — the summer sharehouse crowd uses them to cart supplies to and from the ferry. Pick a walkway to make your way down to the beach. Then it’s time to browse the beachy shops before choosing a restaurant (many offer fixed-price menus during the week). If you get too comfortable, you’ll miss the last ferry back to the mainland and get a taste of the night life. 

Visit the Sunken Forest at Sailors Haven

SAILORS HAVEN See the Sunken Forest This is
(Credit: Linda Rosier)

This is a different side of Fire Island: quiet, remote and intriguing. It’s novel enough that a full forest of 40-foot holly trees has been growing for centuries, surrounded by the saltwater of the Atlantic and Great South Bay — but it’s an anomaly that this particular forest also has freshwater wetlands that grow mushrooms, ferns and flora.
You can walk the trails to explore the forest area on your own, but National Seashore rangers take visitors along the wooded boardwalk for a free hourlong tour to more fully explain the marvels that make the Sunken Forest one of only two such ecosystems in the world (631-597-6183, nps.gov/fiis).

Jam at the Great South Bay Music Festival

PATCHOGUE Jam by the shore Great South Bay
(Credit: Marisol Diaz)

July 13-16 is the biggest weekend of 2017 in Patchogue — that’s when the annual Great South Bay Music Festival rolls into town. And humble it’s not. More than 60 acts hold forth on four stages in Shorefront Park, surrounded by food trucks, craft vendors and a kids' zone with its own entertainment. Hometown favorites Taking Back Sunday headline opening night with indie band New Found Glory ($37.50-$175 a day; greatsouthbaymusicfestival.com).

Pictured: Umphrey’s McGee at the 2016 fest

Ride an oyster sloop in West Sayville

WEST SAYVILLE Ride an oyster sloop There's a
(Credit: Long Island Maritime Museum)

There’s a lot to learn about Long Island’s deep maritime history — from whaling and shipwrecks to shellfishing and boating. Explore it all in the waterside Long Island Maritime Museum’s nine outbuildings, where you can see a bayman’s cottage from the 1800s, a boat-building shop and even ride on the Priscilla, a restored 1888 oyster dredging sloop that makes two-hour cruises from its dock at the nearby Snapper Inn in Oakdale ($40 adults, $20 ages 12 and younger; 631-447-8679). Don’t miss the museum’s annual Pirate Festival, June 17-18. Regular museum admission is $8 adults, $6 younger than 12 (631-854-4974, limaritime.org).

Pilot a skiff in East Moriches

EAST MORICHES Drive a skiff boat Never captained
(Credit: Ed Betz)

Never captained a powerboat? You don’t need any experience to operate a skiff or dory. The small, shallow motorized boats are designed for puttering around bay waters to fish or clam. Holding four to six people and some gear (don’t forget lunch), they can be rented for the day at spots like Silly Lily Fishing Station, pictured ($140; 631-878-0247, sillylily.com).
  

Taste wine by the water in Southold

SOUTHOLD Taste wine by the water Old Field
(Credit: Randee Daddona)

Old Field Vineyard looks the part of a 100-year-old country farm, with its old barn/chicken coop tasting room and scenic backyard, sprinkled with picnic tables. Look further and you’ll see the real secret: It’s on waterfront. Come summer, book a bayside tasting and you’ll be set up at a table with a view of Peconic Bay and led through tastings of five sustainably grown wines with a cheese plate and $20 credit toward wine purchase. Reservations required (3 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 12:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, July-August, $50; 631-765-0004, theoldfield.com). 

Cruise by the lighthouses in Greenport

GREENPORT Cruise by the lighthouses There are many
(Credit: Dave Abatelli)

There are many standing lighthouses off Long Island’s shores — and each has its own story. Take “Bug” light — a two-story Victorian-style lighthouse atop a sandbar off Orient, pictured. It’s a replica of the original 1870 tower that was torched by arsonists in 1963. Or Little Gull, situated where Long Island and Block Island sounds meet.
The East End Seaport Museum organizes 2- to 3-hour touring cruises on weekends in summer and early fall that give visitors a glimpse of the beacons that can be seen only from the water ($39-$49 adults, $19-$29 ages 3-15; 631-477-2100, eastendseaport.org)

Find horseshoe crabs — by flashlight — at Pikes Beach in Westhampton

WESTHAMPTON Find horseshoe crabs -- by flashlight Pikes
(Credit: iStock)

Take the kids on a nighttime hunt for horseshoe crabs in an excursion that’s part science and part adventure. Volunteers help researchers count and tag the large, spider-like creatures found on sandy beaches in a state-led effort to monitor the species.
Since the counting is done at night during high tides, hours can vary from an 8 p.m. start to gatherings that get going in the wee hours of 1 or 2 a.m. Sessions typically last less than two hours. You don’t need any experience, just a pair of waterproof shoes and a flashlight (631-727-7850, nyhorseshoecrab.com). 

Rate the sand at Coopers Beach in Southampton

SOUTHAMPTON Rate the sand Coopers Beach Some say
(Credit: Randee Daddona)

Some say Coopers is the best beach on Long Island. Is it the pristine white sand? The gorgeous, white-capped waves lolling in, just so? The coastline view that seems to stretch for miles? You be the judge. But come early — parking costs $40 for the day, and the lot often fills by noon. You can rent beach umbrellas or chairs ($10-$15), and a large concession stand offers more than the requisite fries and hot dogs (631-283-0247). 

Slow down for a day on Shelter Island

SHELTER ISLAND Slow down -- for a day
(Credit: Randee Daddona)

The small island sandwiched in the bay between the North and South forks has a personality that’s all its own, and it offers much for day-trippers to explore. It’s best to take the short-hop car ferry from Greenport or Sag Harbor. Set off for Sylvester Manor, an educational farm that dates to 1652, where tours are open to the public on several days this summer ($25) or by appointments for $30 a person (for a minimum of five people; 631-749-0626). Stop at the Shelter Island Public Library to choose from its index of heirloom plant and vegetable seeds to take home to your garden. 

 

Visit 'The End'

MONTAUK Visit
(Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

Long Island’s easternmost point is a retro-cool surfer beach town and hipster tourist magnet. The village has a stretch of souvenir shops and come-as-you-are eateries, all within walking distance of beachside motels — to do it right, consider spending at least one night so you’ll have a place to park and more time to explore. Several outfitters offer paddleboard/kayak tours or surfing lessons on waves rollicking enough to draw riders from across the world. A few miles outside town, the picturesque Montauk Point Lighthouse is a must-see. If you skip the tower climb, don’t miss the short trail that leads down to a rocky beach, where you’ll have an even better vantage point for great photos (montauklighthouse.com). 

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