Shelter Island is a great place to do nothing; the island teems with shady porches and scenic waterside vistas. But for visitors seeking a more active itinerary, here are some ideas:
It's never going to compete with the Hamptons as a retail mecca, but Shelter Island is home to a number of notable stores. Walking distance from the North Ferry, the Heights is the closest thing Shelter Island has to a downtown, and most of the nicer shops are located here. New this year is Shelter Ego, a home-furnishings and gift store with a vibe that's subtly nautical, but not kitschy. Textiles, tableware, glassware, ceramics, original art and vintage prints are beautifully displayed along with a handful of linen tunics and casual jewelry. The palette is neutral with splashes of orange, turquoise and indigo; the prices are very reasonable.
shelterego.com. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Labor Day, then on weekends only.
Conveniently located just across the street is Shelter Ego's exact opposite, the venerable Bliss Department Store. Since 1927, Bliss has been selling . . . nearly everything. Colored felt and chocolate fudge, T-shirts and sweatshirts, sun dresses and sun hats and sunglasses, picture hooks and coloring books, candles and light bulbs, beach chairs and beach balls and basketballs, softballs, Wiffle balls, golf balls, Ping-Pong balls. Hey, do you need a new butter dish?
INFO Bliss Department Store is at Bridge St., Shelter Island Heights, 631-749-0041. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. After Halloween until May, weekends only.
Head South on Route 114 for a little over a mile and you'll come to the old cedar-shingled structure that houses Black Cat Books, one of Long Island's best used-and-collectible book shops. For 10 years Black Cat was in Sag Harbor, although the owners and the warehouse were here on Shelter Island. Michael Kinsey, co-owner with his wife Dawn Hedberg, said that over the years more and more of their business has moved online "so our physical location became less crucial." Black Cat stocks about 25,000 books; every category is well represented. There are signed copies, of course, and among the first editions are Toni Morrison's breakthrough "The Bluest Eye" (Holt Rhinehart Winston) from 1970 and William S. Burroughs's 1959 "Naked Lunch," (Grove Press), which, Kinsey noted, was the focus of "the country's last great court case for censorship."
In the age of Kindle, Kinsey specializes in books that are not read "just for content." The images in the store's yards and yards of books on art, design and photography "just can't be appreciated on a tablet reader." In the sunlit front room, a big leather sofa is positioned right in front of the artists' monographs. It's a great place to while away an afternoon.
blackcatbooks.com. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 7 days a week through Labor Day; after that Friday through Sunday and, as the sign says, "by chance or by appointment.")
Even if you don't fancy a hike, the visitor center is worth a stop. Inside are scores of interactive exhibits that explore the preserve's abundant wildlife, like the display of 55 different bird eggs -- hummingbird eggs slightly larger than Tic Tacs, wood thrush eggs seemingly painted an elegant Williamsburg blue, Northern harrier eggs that looked just like chicken eggs. All the eggs are more than 100 years old; it is now illegal to collect them.
Mashomack, administered by the Nature Conservancy, is home to about 200 bird species throughout the year, and plenty of them hover around the visitor center. A bird feeder, viewable through a window in the center, is equipped with a microphone so you can hear the birds as well as see them. Spotted within five minutes: titmice, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers and ruby-throated hummingbirds.
INFO Mashomack Preserve is at 79 South Ferry Rd., Shelter Island, 631-749-1001, nature.org/mashomack. July and August: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; September and March through June, closed on Tuesdays; October through February, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Tuesdays.
Or, experience Mashomack from the water. Working with the Nature Conservancy and the Town of Shelter Island, Jay Damuck, owner of Shelter Island Kayak Tours, created a "marine water trail" along 21/2 miles of the island's coastline. The route encompasses not only most of the preserve's northern coast, but Congdons and Foxen creeks as well.
"It's pretty much current-free with hardly any boat traffic," Damuck said, "and if you really get tired you can leave the boat and walk back to the launch."
On the trail, you'll see abundant marine life and marsh habitats. Among the fauna are fiddler crabs, diamondback terrapins, ospreys, great blue herons, ducks and geese. Via kayak is also the only way to reach Taylor's Island, a tiny park, cut off from the rest of Shelter Island except at low tide, that features a log cabin built around 1900.
INFO Shelter Island Kayak Tours, conducts guided two-hour tours for $60. Or rent a kayak and plan your own route: Single kayaks are $30 for two hours, $45 for four hours; double are $50/$70. The kayaks put in at the Burns Road Town Landing. Shelter Island Kayak Tours is at Route 114 at Duvall, 631-749-1990, kayaksi.com. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from mid-April through second week in September. Thereafter, call.
The Havens House, officially known as the 1743 James Haven Homestead, is the only museum on the island and is also the headquarters of the Shelter Island Historical Society. The well-preserved home of the James Havens family gives visitors a window into domestic life in the 18th and 19th centuries with six reconstructed rooms. There is a collection of beautiful chamber pots displayed outside the upstairs bedrooms.
Just behind the house is the restored Havens Barn, the site of temporary exhibits and regular events. Every Friday night in summer there's a screening of a nautical-themed film (e.g., "Jaws," "Master and Commander"), and on Sunday afternoons there are talks and readings.
The front lawn of the Havens House is the site of Shelter Island's Saturday farmers market from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Produce from the island's own Sylvester Manor is for sale, along with locally grown herbs and flowers, locally collected honey and locally landed fish. A few vendors are from the North Fork as well. (For more information, go to facebook.com/sifarmersmarket.)
Hit the beach
Shelter Island has 20 miles of coastline; water meets the island in countless harbors, coves, creeks, marshes and inlets. Public beaches, however, number only three -- Shell, Crescent and Wades -- and you'll need a permit to park at any of them between Memorial and Labor Days. Permits are issued by the town clerk whose office at 38 North Ferry Rd. and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. 631-749-1166. There are no daily permits; weekly permits cost $30; monthly, $75; seasonal, $200. If you walk or bike to the beach -- or if you hire a Shelter Island Go'fors Taxi (631-749-4252) -- no permit is required. Wades is the big family beach; Crescent is more of a hipster scene; Shell is the most private.
Ride the ferry
Shelter Island is only accessible by ferry. On the North Ferry, which departs from Greenport, one-way vehicle with driver is $9; same-day round-trip is $13. Additional passengers, and foot passengers, cost $2 apiece. For more information and schedules go to northferry.com. The South Ferry (southferry.com), which departs from North Haven, costs $12 per vehicle (including all passengers) one way, $15 same-day round-trip. Foot passengers pay $1. Both ferries run every 10 to 20 minutes but there can be a long wait to reach the island on Friday evenings, and to leave it on Sunday evenings.
Go for a bike ride
With its gentle hills and scant car traffic, Shelter Island is perfect for biking. Maps of the Island are ubiquitous and road signage is excellent. Bring your bicycle or rent one at Piccozzi's, a short walk from the North Ferry. A three-speed cruiser is $10/hour, $15/half day, $20/full day. Hybrids, baby seats and tag-a-long attachments are also available. Piccozzi's Bike Shop is at Bridge Street, Shelter Island Heights, 631-749-0045.