Like most museums, Long Island’s preserved Gold Coast estates have been lonely places during the social-distancing era. But that’s changing as historic mansion grounds reopen for outdoor activities such as garden strolls, lawn picnics and castle gawking. Here’s how to spend a day in the great (Gatsby) outdoors while observing social distancing and other COVID-19-imposed protocols. Call ahead and check websites for the latest guidelines.
Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum
The grounds can be explored at globe-trotting railroad heir William K. Vanderbilt II’s onetime summer oasis. Spread your picnic blanket on the lawn for an eagle’s eye view of the shimmery sailboat-dotted bay. Take your postprandial stroll to smell the thyme, lavender and other fragrant herbs in the Sensory Garden.
Mansion appreciation: Vanderbilt’s stucco Spanish Revival nest features nautical-themed decorative ironwork created by Samuel Yellin, considered the finest iron artisan of his time, said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum. The following indoor tours have resumed: Memorial Wing (first floor), Habitat and Stoll Wing animal dioramas and The Hall of Fishes (first floor only). The museum will reopen after Labor Day, according to spokesman Patrick Keefe.
If you go: A limited number of visitors are being admitted on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., $14 per car. Purchase tickets online in advance to reserve a time slot. No admission at the gate. 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport; 631-854-5579; vanderbiltmuseum.org.
Sands Point Preserve
The mansions on the 216-acre former Guggenheim estate are sterling examples of the “East Egg” summer retreats described in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” The Great Lawn offers picnickers a million-dollar view of the Long Island Sound. Six marked trails running through the forest include a section lined with dinosaur models. Kids can also monkey around on the castle and climbing walls at the recently built Woodland Playground, located in the woods behind the (currently closed) learning center.
Mansion appreciation: Sands Point’s gargantuan Castle Gould was modeled after an Irish castle. Hempstead House, a Tudor-style castle, hosted grand parties. “The rose garden behind Hempstead House is a beautiful place for a view of The Long Island Sound,” said marketing director Jana Raphael-McDonough.
If you go: Ground tours only; all buildings are closed but can be appreciated from the outside. A new contact-free pay station is located at the gatehouse entrance. The number of cars allowed will be limited, so you may need to wait for entry. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, 9 a.m.-11 a.m., $15/car; 127 Middle Neck Rd., Sands Point, 516-570-7901, sandspointpreserve.org.
None other than silent-screen legend Charlie Chaplin numbered among the stellar guests who attended lavish Roaring '20s soirees at financier/philanthropist Otto Herman Kahn’s French-style hilltop château. Oheka's OHK Bar & Restaurant is open with limited seating for outdoor dining and cocktails.
Mansion appreciation: Try not to be impressed by the sheer size of 109,000-square-foot, 127-room Oheka Castle, considered the second-largest private residence ever built in the United States.
If you go: Interior mansion tours are temporarily suspended. Gardens are open to restaurant guests only; 135 W. Gate Drive, Huntington, 631-659-1400, oheka.com.
Old Westbury Gardens
The former home of John S. Phipps, his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps and their four children encompasses 200 acres of formal gardens, landscaped grounds and woodlands with ponds and lakes. To feel like a Phipps, unpack your picnic basket on the lawn adjacent to Westbury House, then meander to the Walled Garden, Rose Garden or Lilac Walk.
Mansion appreciation: Westbury House’s architecture style harks back to the reign of English king Charles II (1660-1685), said Paul Hunchak, director of visitor services and public programs. The mansion has been seen in cinema classics such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959) and “Love Story” (1970).
If you go: Purchase tickets online for timed-admission spots. No admission at the gate. Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission: $12; $10/seniors 62+ and college students with ID; $7/children ages 7-17; free for members and children 6 and younger; 71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury, 516-333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org.
Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park
Planting Fields, which originally belonged to marine insurance mogul William Robertson Coe and Standard Oil heiress Mai Rogers Coe, is one of the few surviving estates on Long Island with its original acreage and buildings intact. “The gardens of Planting Fields are thriving right now with roses, catmint, hydrangea, dogwood, rhododendrons and more,” said Winn Keaton director of marketing and communications.
Mansion appreciation: Coe Hall, the estate’s 65-room Tudor Revival mansion, is open for member tours, and is expected to resume public tours on August 1, Keaton said. The Main Greenhouse and the Camellia Greenhouse are closed.
If you go: Coe Hall is open for private exhibition tours of The Electrifying Art and Spaces of Robert Winthrop Chanler for Planting Fields Foundation members. Tours are available for up to five people from the same household. Open daily, 8 a. m.-7 p.m. $8 parking fee; 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay; plantingfields.org.