Is 2011 going to be the summer that downtown Riverhead takes off?
Take a walk through downtown, newly rebranded as "The District," and you'll see new stores and restaurants, a revamped Grangebel Park along the river -- and a few bulldozers wrapping up other projects. The area's big attractions also have added features just in time for the season. It's all part of a communitywide effort to make Riverhead a full-fledged destination for residents and visitors.
Atlantis Marine World already has established itself as an anchor in downtown Riverhead. "Butterflies" -- an exhibit that showcases more than 1,000 exotic and domestic butterflies and nearly 100 exotic birds -- adds to its appeal at the newly constructed Long Island Exhibition Center, which opens along with the Hyatt Place Hotel July 1. Visitors can expect to meander through pathways studded with plants, trees and flowers and between stone walls to feed the birds or hold butterflies that flutter about freely ($12.50 adults, $10.50 ages 17 and younger; 631-208-9200, atlantismarineworld.com).
Retailers such as The Red Collection -- an eclectic consignment shop that sells antiques, fine furniture and housewares in 12,000 square feet, and OMG! How Cute -- a gift shop that sells items such as costume jewelry, kites and locally crocheted hats and booties for newborns -- also have gotten in on the action.
Grangebel Park, which last year debuted a fish passage and scenic bridges over the Peconic River, will begin hosting Friday night concerts on a brick stage in June, says Chris Kempner, the town's director of community development.
Outside downtown, Splish Splash will debut a new attraction Saturday -- Kahuna Bay, a body-boarding pool that has 4-foot waves and new VIP cabanas. All visitors pay the senior and shorter-than-48 inches admission of $28.99 during the long opening weekend (631-727-3600, splishsplashlongisland.com).
Among the more novel concepts for this season -- Hotel Indigo has introduced a summer share option for guests who would like to spend more time on the East End this summer. It features two-, four- and eight-weekend packages of three-night stays for up to four people, starting Memorial Day weekend through Sept. 5. The shares -- ranging from $1,500 a room for two (three-night) weekends to $4,000 a room for eight (three-night) weekends -- come with various perks, such as a free daily shuttle to Hamptons beaches.
The East End Arts Council's 15th Annual Riverhead Community Mosaic Street Painting Festival hits Main Street Sunday, a daylong fair where families can see 100 squares of work by artists and purchase their own to paint ($20, including materials). Two new performances, an interactive poetry and visual art piece and chamber music, add to this year's free extravaganza, which includes live music, African drumming and storytelling, hoop and poi dancing and artist exhibits (631-727-0900, eastendarts.org).
Among the town's other free events: Classic Cruise nights, 5-8:30 p.m. Thursdays through October, when spectators can view more than 100 classic cars on the Peconic Riverfront while a DJ spins oldies and children get their faces painted. The second installment of the Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race on June 26 is expected to draw hundreds of participants. Teams build boats out of cardboard, duct tape and latex paint and race them on the river (631-727-0048, riverheadbid.com).
"Every day we come up with something," says Ray Pickersgill, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District, which organizes the cruise nights and boat race. "We're just going to keep making it better."