One of the greatest things about life on Long Island is being surrounded by water — that means beaches, boats, boardwalks and more — but there are some other options you might want to explore with your family. We found fun things to do with kids on (or by) the water, from surfing lessons and river cruises to exploring aquatic life and more.
Drift in a pontoon down a creek
The Ward Melville Heritage Organization has a wetlands preserve spanning dozens of acres. To see all the nature that lies along West Meadow Creek, the WMHO offers a 90-minute tour via its “Discovery” pontoon boat. Wildlife is often within view and a naturalist will be aboard to offer more information. The scenery is considered very photogenic, so be sure and bring a good camera. The tour runs daily but at various times, so check the schedule before heading down; reservations are recommended. Price: $18-$25. Info: 55 Shore Rd., Stony Brook; 631-751-2244, wmho.org.
Learn how to surf
Montauk happens to be one of the nation’s top surfing spots, and the team at CoreysWave provides surf instruction for all ages (children should be confident swimmers) while utilizing its awesome beaches. Surfboards and wetsuits are provided, and lessons can be done one-on-one or in groups of up to five. Rates start at $150, and depend on season, day of the week or length of lesson. Info: 516-639-4879, coreyswave.com.
Play in the bay
Children can play in the sand and surf at Scotty's Fishing Station at Buoy Bar, but as it’s on the bay side of Point Lookout, there are no waves to fear. Critters like starfish and hermit crabs are within reach, and small nets are available for purchase to help kids scoop up their finds. Wednesday nights in July and August, children can fish off the floating dock as part of a competition with prizes like dinner at Scotty’s among other items. Rods are available to buy or rent and guests can also bring their own. The Fun Package is $25, which includes bait, a life vest rental and a coupon toward a meal at Scotty’s. Info: 72 Bayside Dr.; 516-432-3975, buoybarli.com.
Learn about aquatic life
The Marine Discovery Sail program sets sail from Oyster Bay's WaterFront Center's Christeen on select Saturdays and Sundays (from 10 a.m. to noon). Families climb aboard the oyster dredges for this educational outing with touch tanks that are also part of the experience. The boat is wheelchair-accessible, life jackets are provided and attendees score coupons for meals at participating restaurants located in downtown Oyster Bay. Price: $25. Info: 1 West End Ave., Oyster Bay; 516-922-7245, thewaterfrontcenter.org.
Visit a lighthouse
Long Island is home to several lighthouses, but the two tallest and most famous would be the Montauk (2000 Montauk Hwy.; 631-668-2544, montauklighthouse.com) and the Fire Island (a half-mile walk east from Robert Moses State Pkwy, Bay Shore; 631-321-7028, fireislandlighthouse.com) lighthouses. Both are family friendly, but there are height restrictions to climb to the top: 41-inches tall in Montauk and 42-inches tall for Fire Island, which is the highest observation opportunity on Long Island at 168 feet. Montauk Lighthouse is the oldest in New York State, and was authorized under President George Washington. Prices: Montauk: $12, $5 children ages 12 and younger; Fire Island: $8, $4 children ages 12 and younger. Be sure to call ahead for hours.
Tour the Sunken Forest
Not your everyday patch of woods, this maritime holly forest in Fire Island is considered ecologically rare. The unique mix of trees (that don’t grow higher than the dunes) protect them from the ocean, creating what appears to be a “sunken” forest. Free tours are 1.5 miles long and are given 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 1. To get there, take the Sayville Ferry to Sailor’s Haven. Info: 631-687-4780, nps.gov.
Spend an evening with horseshoe crabs
One of the coolest critters found crawling along Long Island beaches is the horseshoe crab, which at first may seem like just another sea creature — but when you realize that they’ve been around for more than 400 million years, it becomes clear you’re seeing something that predates the dinosaur. The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County holds tagging surveys for the crab (which, by the way, is not actually a true crab) around full and new moon nights between May and July at several locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties to monitor their spawning. The general public is invited to take part; you’ll need to dress properly and bring items like a flashlight, work gloves, clipboard, pencils and a watch. Info: 631-727-7850, nyhorseshoecrab.com.
Play mini-golf, listen to music and eat on a boardwalk
The Jones Beach Boardwalk always has its ocean views, mini-golf and playgrounds, but come the summer, the food kiosks are open for business and there are free concerts in the bandshell (at Field Four, jonesbeachbandshell.com; June 22 to Aug. 31) with kids' music on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. and Family Cinema Nights on Thursdays starting at sundown (June 27 to Aug. 29). Mini-golf is open daily 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Parking is $10 per car May 25 to Aug. 4 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sat and Sun 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Info: 2400 Ocean Pkwy., Wantagh; 516-785-1600, parks.ny.gov.
Take a river cruise
The Long Island Aquarium is a fascinating and fun way to engage with oceanic life, but one of the coolest things to do is to climb aboard the Atlantis Explorer. Families can take an excursion down the Peconic River and out into Flanders Bay, giving guests a taste of unspoiled Long Island nature. The cruise sets sail weekends at noon and 2 p.m. in June and September, noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. July through Labor Day. Price: $22 ($15 with Aquarium admission; $5 children ages two and younger). Info: 431 E. Main St., Riverhead; 631-208-9200, longislandaquarium.
Learn to fish (or not to fish)
Captree State Park in Bay Shore is clearly a spot where anglers come and go, as the Captree Fleet launches and docks here, and according to the Island Princess fishing boat (631-587-6024, islandprincesscaptree.com), it’s the most family friendly of the fleet. There’s no age restrictions, and the crew is standing by to help everyone out. However, if you just want to hang around the park instead of heading out to fish, there’s a restaurant, a pier, picnic tables and a playground — not to mention great views of the Robert Moses Causeway, the Fire Island Lighthouse and the surrounding waters. Info: 3500 E. Ocean Pkwy., Bay Shore; 631-669-0449, parks.ny.gov.
Pedal around a lake
Taking pedal boats out on Belmont Lake is a tradition for many Long Islanders come the summer. As many as four people can fit in one (or take a rowboat that seats five; only one child at a time) for two hours. Park staff will provide life vests; fishing permitted from rowboats for licensed fisherman ages 16 and older. Boats are available 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays June 24 through Aug. 30 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays May 4 through 19, Sept. 7 through Oct. 14). Price: $20. Info: Belmont Lake State Park: Southern State Pkwy (Exit 38), North Babylon; 631-667-5055, parks.ny.gov.
Visit the Tugboat Museum and fish
Anglers of all ages can toss their line into Manhasset Bay while fishing at Town Dock Park in Port Washington (Main St., Port Washington; 516-869-6311, northhempsteadny.gov). Time at the park can be educational, too, with a stop by the Tugboat Museum. There's no charge to just peek in the windows to see the current exhibits. There are also several restaurants and snack shops within walking distance, including Douglas & James Homemade Ice Cream at Sweet Treats on the Wharf (405 Main St.; 516-708-1706). If you’d like to explore the water firsthand, rent a kayak from Atlantic Outfitters (405 Main St.; 516-767-2215, atlanticoutfitters.us).
Spend the day on the harbor
Mitchell Park in Greenport (115 Front St.; 631-477-2200, greenportvillage.com) is a large green, grassy meadow that runs along on the harbor. Nestled within the many restaurants and shops located in Greenport, its most famous landmark is the carousel, a vintage piece that will turn 100 in 2020. Once the school year ends, the carousel is open until 9 p.m. daily through Labor Day Weekend, and all can ride for $2 a person (ages three and under ride free with a guardian). There’s also a camera obscura (available by appointment only), and a short walk down the pier takes you to the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum (americasfireboat.org), an 80-year-old vessel that offers tours of its inner workings; it’s open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays weekend afternoons April through October. Hungry families should consider Front Street Station (212 Front St.; 631-333-2050, eatatfrontstreet.net), with a kid-friendly menu and paper over tables so children can doodle with crayons while they dine.
Spend time harborside
Primarily a large lawn adjacent to the harbor, the aptly named Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson (101A East Broadway; portjeff.com) hosts outdoor ice skating in the winter; in the summer, people of all ages flock to the meadow Wednesdays in July and August for live music at 6:30 p.m. It's also a great place to watch the sun set on a clear day. Kids can watch the ferry come in from Connecticut and check out the playground with water sprinkler. Make a day of it and grab seafood at The Steam Room (4 East Broadway; 631-928-6690, steamroomrestaurant.com) and a wide selection of sweets, treats, ice cream and more (including dog treats) at Roger's Frigate (99 Main St.; 631-474-8888, portjeffersonfrigate.com).