Now that spring is officially here, it's time to get out and start exploring the Island. Here are a few ideas for thematic day trips guaranteed to please the whole family.
RIVERHEAD A musical mecca
Start your day in this musical mecca at Music & Arts (30 W. Main St., Ste. 101, 631-727-2897, stores.musicarts.com/riverhead), which rents and sells instruments. "We've got guitars and amps, we have drums, we've got everything," says manager Don Norton. Kids can try out any instrument they'd like, says Norton.
If it's Sunday, don't miss a stop at the aptly named Sunday Records (125 Roanoke Ave, 631-599-3918), where parents can turn their kids on to some of the favorite tunes from their youth. Owner Brian Volkman has organized his collection of 10,000 vinyl records, 90 percent of which are used, into crates in three separate categories named for Long Island radio stations: WBAB (classic rock), WLIR (new wave and alternative) and WEHM (progressive radio). There is a listening station, which kids can use with their parents' help.
"We say, 'Come get lost in the crates,' " says Volkman, adding that his son, Christopher, 11, is often there to help out.
You''ll have to book in advance to record your own demo at East End Arts' Jesse F. Sherman Recording Studio (133 Main St., 631-727-0900, eastendarts.org). There's a two-hour minimum and a $65 per hour fee includes a soundboard technician. "The client can bring a flash drive or a blank CD and we will download the finished product for them," says Diane Burke, executive director of East End Arts, adding that the studio is popular with younger folks.
If the weather's nice, sit on the patio of Turquaz Grill (40 McDermott Ave., 631-591-1757, turkuazgrillriverhead.com), across from the Peconic River, where you'll hear Turkish music as you chow down on Turkish cuisine. Owner Demet Bozatli recommends falafel, a kid favorite, or adana, which is seasoned and skewered lamb.
Parents can share their passion for live music from the '70s and '80s at the 431-seat Suffolk Theater (118 E. Main St., 631-727-4343, suffolktheater.com). If it's the first or third Thursday of the month, shell out $5 per person for an evening of jazz with Bob Barta & Friends at Vail-Leavitt Music Hall (18 Peconic Ave., 631-727-5782, thevail.org), Long Island's oldest theater. Other events include Spotlight Children's Theater's May 11 and 12 production of the musical "13."
While in town Tried-and-true kid-friendly attractions include the Long Island Aquarium (431 E. Main St., 631-208-9200, longislandaquarium.com), The Safari Adventure (1074 Pulaski Rd., 631-727-4386, thesafariadventure.com) and the Long Island Science Center (40 Peconic Ave., 631-208-8000, sciencecenterli.org). Nearby, there's Splish Splash Water Park (2549 Splish Splash Dr., Calverton, 631-727-3600, splishsplash.com) and The Big Duck (1012 Route 24, Flanders, 631-852-3377, bigduck.org). All but The Big Duck require admission fees.
PATCHOGUE From brunch to dessert
You can probably spend at least a week eating your way down Patchogue's Main Street and Ocean Avenue, but to condense it all into one day, begin with the four-egg omelet at Toast Coffeehouse (48 E. Main St., 631-654-7091, toastcoffeehouse.com), where manager Andre DuChausee says, "Everything is pretty much kid friendly." Or order from the "Calve's" menu at Buttermilk's Kitchen's (76 W. Main St., 631-654-6455, buttermilkkitchen.com), which serves cinnamon-swirled brioche French toast or stacks of apple pie, chocolate chip or cupcake pancakes. Besides an assortment of burritos and tacos, Swell Taco (30 East Main St., 631-627-6710, swelltacoli.com) features a brunch menu that includes breakfast tostadas and nachos.
See the sunset while swaying on a bench swing on the rooftop of RHUM (13 E. Main St., 631-569-5944, rhumpatchogue.com), For older kids, owner David Hersh recommends soy and sugar cane salmon; for younger ones, junior burgers. Though kids' meals come with ice cream, Hersh actually recommends another dessert. "We have the best hot fudge sundaes ever made," he says.
If you're still hungry or want to grab something to go, pick up croissants -- in seven flavors, including raspberry -- beignets or éclairs from Mademoiselle Patisserie (61 N. Ocean Ave., 631-627-8560, mademoiselleofpatchogue.com), stop for some hard-to-find candies from Sensationally Sweet (31 W. Main St., 631-627-8759, sensationally-sweet.com) or choose from one of 17 cupcake flavors on any given day at Smallcakes Cupcake & Creamery (17 W. Main St., 631-500-9300, smallcakespatchogue.com). Manager Nicole Ramirez recommends the cupcake smash, which has two scoops of ice cream in the middle, or a cupcake milkshake, a milkshake blended with a cupcake. After a day of overindulging, you might feel guilty and want to bring home a treat for your "best friend" -- a Smallcake "pupcake," which is a mini cupcake with a Milk-Bone on top.
While in town Take a break from eating with a stop at Paper Doll Curiosity Shoppe (33 E. Main St., 730-8383), where you'll find fun novelty items and can take a selfie with the Big Foot statue. Then try a puppet show at Think Big Theater (42 S. Ocean Ave., 631-307-4042, thinkbigtheaterarts.org).
SEA CLIFF A world of art
Be prepared to pop in and out of galleries (for free!) throughout the quaint seaside village. Start the trail at Dmitry Studio & Fine Arts Gallery (252 Sea Cliff Ave., 516-676-6070, dimitry.com), where artist Dmitry Schidlovsky displays his drawings, paintings and prints of natural history, maritime, animals, still lifes and abstracts.
Representing mostly local artists, the K. Diresta Collective (212 Sea Cliff Ave., 516-671-5895, kdirestadesign.com) features handmade jewelry, pottery, wooden bowls, paintings, photography, prints and collages. "I try to mix it up, so every time someone comes in, there's something new to see," says owner Kathleen Diresta.
Check out the "Color, Beauty and Community" exhibit of photographs by Rebecca Victor Baadarani at Creative Art Studio (256 Sea Cliff Ave., 516-578-5594). There, the family also will find art concept jewelry, sculpture and unique artifacts from Sorella Designs. From noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays through late May, the studio hosts a farmers market that includes a few artist and artisan vendors. Anyone curious about how older works of art are restored to their former grandeur will want to make a beeline to Sherman Art Conservation (221 Sea Cliff Ave., 516-671-9435, shermanartconservation.com), where Jonathan Sherman has been revitalizing paintings and murals there for more than three decades.
Other stops to see art include the Sea Cliff Village Library (300 Sea Cliff Ave., 516-801-3400, seaclifflibrary.org), which is now showing the Sea Cliff Arts Council's latest exhibit, "Photography by Robert Bloom," and the offices of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty (266 Sea Cliff Ave., 516-759-6822, danielgale.com), where local art is always on display.
Once you've built up an appetite, grab a meal at Tavern 227 (227 Sea Cliff Ave., 200-9179, tavern227.com), a restaurant designed by the owner's son and local Sea Cliff artists. Kids can choose pasta, fried calamari and arancini (rice balls), says owner Toni Zuccaro. And, he adds, "we can make anything in a children's-size portion."
While in town Collect shells at either Sea Cliff Beach (The Boulevard) or Harry Tappen Beach (494 Prospect Ave.), walk among the maze of yews at Elm Park, also known as "Spooky Park" (Dayton Street), or see the sunset at Veterans Memorial Park (Prospect and Sea Cliff avenues) (seacliff-ny.gov for information about all).
THREE VILLAGE AREA Journey through history
For a sense of old Long Island, few places rival the Three Village area of St. James, Stony Brook and Setauket, home to the Revolutionary-era Culper Spy Ring.
At the 1709 Thompson House (91 N. Country Rd., East Setauket, 631-751-2244, threevillagehistoricalsociety.org), Dr. Samuel Thompson, a local physician, treated members of George Washington's spies from his home practice. Take a self-guided tour of the circa 1665 Brewster House (18 Runs Rd., Setauket, 631-751-2244, wmho.org), a former tavern where American patriot Joseph Brewster served British troops during the Revolutionary War.
On weekends, you can learn how a mill works at the circa 1751 Stony Brook Grist Mill (100 Harbor Rd., Stony Brook, 631-689-3238, wmho.org). If you want to take a guided walking or bicycling tour of the Culper spy network, try Tri-Spy Tours (93 N. Country Rd., Setauket, 631-751-3730, culper.com). All tours begin and end at the Three Village Historical Society, (93 N. Country Rd., East Setauket, 631-751-3730, threevillagehistoricalsociety.org), which houses an interactive Culper spy exhibit.
But there are other must-see historic spots in the area. Learn about the legacy of slavery and the free communities that formed on Long Island at the "Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island" exhibit through May 27 at the Long Island Museum (1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook, 631-751-3730, longislandmuseum.org). The grounds are open year-round at the Sherwood-Jayne House (55 Old Post Rd,, East Setauket, 631-692-4664, preservationlongisland.org), which embraces its 19th century agrarian past with grazing sheep, pastures and orchards, says Andrea Hart, a spokeswoman for Preservation Long Island, which acts as a steward of historical properties. The 1730 house opens Memorial Day, and has period furniture and hand-painted frescoes, a carriage house, a pump house, a corn crib (storehouse for corn) and a barn with old farm tools.
And families won't want to miss the St. James General Store (516 Moriches Rd., St. James, 631-854-3740), the oldest continuously operating general store in the country. In addition to items for sale, there are some shelves of artifacts on display -- and not for sale -- that would have been available in a general store in the 19th century. "Kids of all ages love the candy," notes manager Karen Sheedy. There also is a room at the 1857 house with old timey toys, most of which don't use batteries, like a ball and cup and a Jacob's ladder, she says.
If you're craving history while you eat, you can't miss with The Country House Restaurant (1175 N. Country Rd., Stony Brook, 631-751-3332, countryhouserestaurant.com). "We're one of the oldest buildings in the area," says owner Bob Willemstyn, adding that in an earlier incarnation (from 1710 to 1970), it served as a farmhouse. Willemstyn recommends the root beer float to sip with the chicken fingers, mac and cheese, or pasta. "When they add their ice cream, it overflows like a volcano," says Willemstyn.
When in the area Check out the trails and waterfowl at Avalon Park and Preserve (200 Harbor Rd., Stony Brook, 631-689-0619, avalonparkandpreserve.org), farm animals at Benner's Farm (56 Gnarled Hollow Rd., East Setauket, 631-689-8172, bennersfarm.com) and the playground and beach at West Meadow Beach (100 Trustees Rd., Stony Brook, 631-751-3193, brookhavenny.gov/300/West-Meadow-Beach).
NORTH SHORE Gardens galore
There are greenhouses, gardens and trees to explore at the 400-plus acre Planting Fields Arboretum (1395 Planting Fields Rd.,Oyster Bay, 516-922-8600, plantingfields.org), where the annual Arbor Day Family Festival takes place April 27 and 28.
"Planting Fields offers expansive lawns, where children can roam freely and safely," says assistant director Michael Runkel, who recommends the arboretum's self-guided plant detective game where kids go on a scavenger hunt for plants in the main greenhouse.
Next, hop on to Route 25A and head east to Main Street Nursery (475 Main St., Huntington, 631-549-4515, mainstreetnursery.com) to feed the goats, ponies and chickens at Old McKean's Farm. You'll also find 3,000 koi and goldfish at the nursery's Koi Market, which reopens April 6. "People can come and feed the fish," says Shawn Rosen, Koi Market owner.
If you look closely, you might spy a few tulip buds peeking out at nearby Heckscher Park (Route 25A and Prime Avenue, Huntington, 631-351-3089, huntingtonny.gov), planted for the upcoming Tulip Festival, which takes place May 5.
Every third Saturday of the month, visitors are welcome to get their hands dirty with some weeding and cleanup at the Gateway Park Community Organic Garden (15 Cheshire St., Huntington Station, 631-351-3094, huntingtonny.gov). The garden makes weekly produce donations to nonprofit Community Solidarity's Huntington Station food share market as well as to other local food pantries, says board member Frances Cera Whittelsey. She suggests coming any day to check out the garden's monarch butterfly way station, with its milkweed and other special plants that attract these colorful beauties.
All that fresh air is sure to work up an appetite -- try farm-to-table specialties such as the veggie burger and grilled cheese with tomato soup at The Shed (54 New St., Huntington, 631-385-7433, intheshed.com).
While in the area Stop at Theodore Roosevelt's summer White House, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (20 Sagamore Hill Rd., Oyster Bay, 516-922-4788, nps.gov/sahi/index.htm), the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium (1660 Rte. 25A, Cold Spring Harbor, 516-692-6768, cshfishhatchery.org) or Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve (25 Lloyd Harbor Rd., Lloyd Harbor, 631-423-1770, parks.ny.gov).