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.
Watch the sun wake up at Sunken Meadow State Park
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 make laps as the sun comes up, with company ranging from early morning fishermen to open water swimmers ($10 parking begins at 7 a.m. weekends and holidays, 8 a.m. weekdays May 25-Sept. 8; 631-269-4333, parks.ny.gov).
Go to Jones Beach (at night)
Long Island's most popular park draws 6 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 such (June 22-Labor Day weekend). Lighted game courts beckon couples and families to play a round of shuffleboard, paddleball or miniature golf ($5). Across the way, Fields 4 and 5 get busy with the nighttime concert crowd there to see an outdoor show at the iconic outdoor ampitheater. It's not unusual to see tailgaters parked in lawn chairs on the grassy swatch near Zach's Bay, picnicking within earshot of the marqee act (parking is $10 per car May 25-Aug. 4 Mon-Fri: 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat-Sun: 6 a.m.-6 p.m..; 516-785-1600, parks.ny.gov/parks/jonesbeach).
Sample the agriculture of Shelter Island
The small island sandwiched in the bay between the North and South forks has a personality that's all its own and much for daytrippers 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 back to 1652 where visitors can arrange for a private tour ($150 for up to 5 people, 80 N. Ferry Rd.; 631-749-0626, sylvestermanor.org) to see the full scope of the plantation's history. Stop into the Shelter Island Public Library (33 N. Ferry Rd.; 631-749-0042, shelterislandpubliclibrary.org) to choose from its index of heirloom plant and vegetable seeds to bring home to your garden.
Take a weekday Ocean Beach day-cation
If you've got a few hours, you can make a getaway--even on a weeknight--to Fire Island's Ocean Beach. Take the ferry from Bay Shore and ($21 roundtrip, fireislandferries.com) and admire the corral of red wagons locked near the dock; the summer share house crowd uses them to cart supplies to and from the boat. 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 prix fixe menus during the week). The nightlife is definitely worth sticking around for--but don't get too comfortable, or you might miss that last ferry of the night.
Help tag horseshoe crabs
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 along 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 a 7 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; counting occurs at several beaches in Nassau and Suffolk counties ( nyhorseshoecrab.com).
Eat, dine, dance and stroll along the Nautical Mile
Located along the water in Freeport along Woodcleft Avenue, this canal-side stretch of road is a classic summer hangout for generations of Long Islanders. Dining is always easy, as most 'Mile venues offer seafood-heavy menus, but for true nightlife the easiest spot to spot would be Bracco's (319 Woodcleft Ave; 516-378-6589), with a large sand-filled courtyard and outdoor dancefloor that can fill up with fans of the A-list DJs that come by to spin. DJs spin at Tropix On the Mile as well (395 Woodcleft Ave.; 516-623-8767, tropixonthemile.com), while live music is more the mainstay at Hudson on the Mile (340 Woodcleft Ave.; 516-442-5569, hudsonsonthemile.net). Bar scenes are also alive and well, most notably at EB Elliot's (23 Woodcleft Ave.; 516-378-8776, ebelliots.com) and Otto's Sea Grill (271 Woodcleft Ave.; 516-378-9480) which has been a Nautical Mile go-to since 1929.
Visit “The End”
Montauk--Long Island's eastern-most point--is a retro-cool surfer beach town and hipster tourist magnet. To do it right, consider spending at least one night so you'll have a built-in place to park and more time to roam The tiny village is booming with souvenir shops and come-as-you-are eateries, all within walking distance of beachside motels. A few miles outside town, the picturesque Montauk Lighthouse is a must-see. If you're not interested in climbing the tower, take the short trail down to a rocky beach for a better vantage point.
Fish by day (or night)
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 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 show up and walk aboard. What's more, many of the fleet's vessels make sightseeing cruises, including trips to see the July 4th fireworks at Jones Beach -- from the water (631-669-6464, captreefleet.com).
See the Sunken Forest
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 anamoly 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 (take the Sayville Ferry to Sailors Haven; 631-597-6183, nps.gov/fiis).
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 it's a standard 1 1⁄4-pounder or a meatier 10-pound behemoth availability is limited, call ahead). It used to be that you took your dinner to go or sat at a picnic table outdoors, but the 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 nearby in Barnum Island (1 Pettit Pl., Island Park; 516-889-3314, (jordanlobsterfarms.com).
Swim with a club
Answer the lure of serious swimming in the ocean -- 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 the waters off Heckscher State Park in East Islip ($18/ drop-in session or $240 for a membership; 516-356-5306, openwaterswimli.com).
The annual entertainment series at Tanner Park
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 see free live music shows as the sun goes down or perhaps an al fresco movie. The showstopper is Lumiere Ballet's annual summer ballet production, this year taking place on Aug. 24-25 at 7:30 p.m. (380 Baylawn Ave., Copiague; 631-893-2100, townofbabylon.com).
Rate the sand at Coopers Beach
Some say Coopers Beach 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 $25 for the day and the lot often fills by noon. You can rent beach umbrellas or chairs, and a large concession stand offers more than the requisite fries and hot dogs (268 Meadow Ln., Southampton; 631-283-0247, southamptontownny.gov).
Stroll the Long Beach boardwalk
A little more than two miles in length, the Long Beach boardwalk is a free and easy way to stroll along the beach without getting sand in your shoes. You'd need to buy a pass to actually enter the beach ($15, children 12 and under are free; weekends May 25-June 23, daily June 27-Sept. 2, 2019 from 9 a.m.- 6 p.m.), but parking is always free. Be sure and keep an eye out for art shows, vendor markets and other opportunities that pop up throughout the summer season. ( longbeachny.gov)
Drive a skiff boat
Never captained a powerboat? You don't need any experience to operate a skiff or dory boat. The small, shallow motorized boats are designed for puttering around bay waters to fish or clam. Holding 4 to 6 people and some gear (don't forget lunch), they can be rented for the day at spots like Silly Lilly Fishing Station. Half-day: $100, full-day: $148. (99 Adelaide Ave. East Moriches; 631-878-0247, (sillylily.com).
Go crabbing at a fishing clinic
Feeling crabby? Bring a string, crab net and trap, and a bucket and get ready to catch some crabs at the Town of Brookhaven Family Saltwater Fishing & Crabbing Clinic. Experts will be on hand to offer insight into techniques, biology and more. For saltwater fishing, loaner rods and free bait will be provided, while supplies last. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, Corey Beach, Corey Avenue, Blue Point; 631-444-0283, dec.ny.gov; Free admission.
Take a sunset sail around Oyster Bay
Go sailing without having to do any of the hard work--unless you want to--aboard the oyster sloop Cristeen at the nonprofit Waterfront Center in Oyster Bay. Harbor tours and Marine Discovery Sails ($25) take place select Saturdays and Sundays; Sunset cruises ($35) are particularly relaxing, offered Tuesday-Thursday from 6 p.m.-7:45 p.m. In addition, all sails are BYOB, so feel free to bring along some wine to toast the sunset. (1 West End Ave., Oyster Bay; 516-922-7245, thewaterfrontcenter.org).
Jam by the shore
It's the biggest weekend of the year in Patchogue when the annual Great South Bay Music Festival rolls into Shorefront Park. And humble, it's not. More than 60 acts hold court on four stages surrounded by food trucks, craft vendors and a kids zone with its own entertainment. Hometown favorites Taking Back Sunday (pictured) headline opening night with the iconic rock band America ("A Horse with No Name," "Ventura Highway,""Sister Golden Hair") performing on the closing night) July 18-21; $42.50-$165 per day, greatsouthbaymusicfestival.com.
Make Sunday a "Funday”
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. 631-583-5000, flynnsfireislandny.com).
Tour Manhasset Bay on a water taxi
Take a personal cruise around Manhasset Bay aboard the Port Washington Water Taxi's touring tugs. Thirty-minute tours ($10 adults, $5 ages 12 and younger) are an easy way to get a taste of cruising on the water. (Harbor tours depart from Town Dock: 347 Main St., Port Washington; 516-455-0411, portwatertaxi.com).
Ride water into the air
Operating out of Windswept Marina, Flyboard Hamptons will get you airborne as you launch with a water jetpack, giving riders a chance to get as high as almost 50 feet over the waves. 215 Atlantic Ave., East Moriches; 631-405-0991;flyboardhamptons.com, starts at $60 for 10 minutes, up to $220 for an hour
Sunsets at Cedar Beach
Watch an amazing sunset from Cedar Beach in Mt. Sinai,brookhavenny.gov (Pictured: People watch from Cedar Beach in Mt. Sinai, as the sun sets over Long Island Sound on the first day of summer.)