Long Island has its share of iconic destinations, from the Montauk Lighthouse to Jones Beach. But the region also has a long list of lesser-known jewels -- Long Island's hidden spots, so to speak. For example, there's Southards Pond in Babylon Village, three non-East End vineyards and a sanctuary in Nissequogue. Here, we spill the region's secrets.
"Cartas al Cielo," which loosely translates to "Letters to the heavens" in Spanish is an interactive art installation by Alicia Framis at Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook. The art piece is housed in a small clearing past a field of wild flowers in the preserve, so you may have to do some walking before you can find it.
Know your history
You might not know it, but Levittown has its very own history museum, tucked away in the lower level of the Gerald R. Claps Career and Technical Center. The museum features vintage artifacts, maps and photos dating to Levittown's origins, and is run by the Levittown Historical Society.
Do that hoodoo
Near Montauk, Shadmoor State Park's nearly four miles of trails can land you places that seem far from Long Island. A bluff walk 70 feet above the beach along miles of ocean carries hikers up and down gentle green hills. Descending to the half-mile beach below brings views of hoodoos, which are naturally carved earthen structures of red clay and sand that recall the American Southwest.
The shady groves of Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River aren't necessarily a secret. However, many visitors miss the dozens of secluded park benches hidden on the back paths of this 691-acre state park.
Secluded picnic spot
Hidden in Stony Brook's 76-acre Avalon Preserve, hikers should look for a group of trees that rises above the chest-high fields of wildflowers. Within the grove is a secluded spot ringed by boulders that offers a great place for a picnic.
Hidden oasis in Hauppauge
Escape from your troubles by renting a rowboat and heading out on Stump Pond within Blydenburgh County Park in Hauppauge. Located off Veterans Memorial Highway, Stump Pond offers a secluded suburban spot to kayak, canoe and go fishing.
Stony Brook's labyrinth
Right in the heart of Stony Brook is Avalon Park & Preserve, which includes an 8-acre oasis with a mile-long path among the trees, flowering plants and the sounds of birds. In the center of this labyrinth is a tranquil spot for visitors. Surrounding the park is the 76-acre Avalon Preserve, which is open to biking.
Callahan's Beach is a small, quiet North Shore beach tucked neatly out of Route 25A in Fort Salonga. The waves are small, but it's a peaceful place to take a quick dip or a beachfront picnic.
Lakeland County Park
Lakeland County Park off Johnson Avenue in Islandia is a wooded refuge, offering a winding maze of handicapped accessible trails to explore. Signs point the way to secluded benches overlooking a pond. There's also a playground and full-sized basketball courts.
Scenic beachfront picnic
Did you know there's more to do than fishing at Captree State Park? Keep to the right when entering the park to head toward a beachfront picnic area with a scenic view of Fire Island Inlet and the Robert Moses Causeway.
Hidden wildlife sanctuary
The Charles T. Church Nature Preserve, or Shu Swamp Preserve, can only be found by driving past a fenced patch of grass off the side of Frost Mill Road in Mill Neck. Follow a well-worn footpath around to a wooden viewing platform where you can watch heron, cranes and other native wildlife.
Scenic picnic on the Sound
Cordwood Park may be small, but this piece of shoreline in Head of the Harbor offers a quiet, secluded picnic spot overlooking the Long Island Sound. Town of Smithtown residents with a permit can picnic or take a relaxing dip in the water.
Pirate's Cove is a hidden private beach nestled between large sand dunes at McAllister County Park on the northern tip of Belle Terre. Getting there can be tricky -- if you don't have a boat to ferry you into the cove, you have to walk more than a mile along the shoreline. But once you get there, the clean shallow water and quiet beachfront is more than sublime. It's also a great place for kayaking or fishing.
Camping on the beach
Did you know that you can camp out under the stars in Suffolk? Residents of the Town of Smithtown are welcome to pitch a tent, grill and relax on shores of Short Beach, a quiet shoreline located off the end of Moriches Road in St. James. While you're there, keep an eye on the skies -- you may catch an osprey or two heading home to roost.
Secret salt marshes
Though West Meadow is typically known for its sandy north shore beach, it's actually home to an expansive wetlands preserve and bird sanctuary, too. If you follow the long road behind the shore (perfect for runners or cyclists looking for a scenic workout) you will eventually find the Dr. Erwin J. Ernst Marine Conservation Center. One dirt path off the main road takes you into the heart of the salt marshes -- and there's a dock you can sit on to enjoy the breathtaking views.
A hidden well
It may look like a simple pipe, but this constantly flowing well actually offers some of the freshest, cleanest water to drink -- if you can find it. It's tucked away in the heart of the West Meadow Wetland Preserve in Stony Brook and is frequented by those familiar with the park looking to take a break and cool off as they walk along the trails.
Massapequa Preserve has many scenic spots including this one, which is located just off the running and biking trail. Here, visitors can sit on a small bench and watch swans and ducks swim by.
Indian Landing in the Carmans River in Shirley is seen on Sept. 9, 2012. It once served as a meeting place for Native Americans. It can be reached by water and from a walking trail from the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge Complex Center and Headquarters.
A Jones Beach secret
Inside Field 10 at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh is a hidden trail that guides visitors through sand dunes to a spot on the beach that, during the winter time, is an ideal spot to search for seals bobbing from underwater.
Did you know that one of the most biologically diverse areas in New York is on Long Island? Now you do. The 1,100-acre Long Island Greenbelt extends from Sag Harbor to the Atlantic Ocean. This view is from the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center in Bridgehampton.
End of the road
All along the East End, roads that come to an end have an adventure just beyond the dead end sign. For instance, this Southampton street runs right into the Shinnecock Inlet. Next time you're in the Hamptons, take a detour down a few side streets near the water.
To reach this oasis you have to scale a 115-foot hill at the former Merrick Landfill, now the Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve, located off the Meadowbrook State Parkway in Merrick. At the top, you'll see two man-made ponds, which attract natural wildlife, and impressive views of Jones Beach and the New York City skyline.
Let there be light
Have you visited Old Field Lighthouse? Chances are the answer is no. Change that this year and take a trip to the historical building, which has stood near the Long Island Sound since 1869. This photo is from February 2012.
The great Hamptons lawn
This is not a top secret: The Hamptons are hot during the summer. While everyone else mobs the beaches, take a break from the water by visiting Agawam Park, which is nestled right in Southampton's downtown. The park has a great lawn and a top-notch playground for children. This photo is from May 27, 2013.
Bluffs, on Long Island
The David Weld Sanctuary in Nissequogue is a tight loop of trails that runs along the North Shore, skimming the bluffs of the Long Island Sound and winding through vine-laden woods. You can thank us later.
Babylon Village locals aren't going to like that we are blowing the top off one of Long Island's best-kept secrets. Southards Pond is 19 acres of paradise just south of Sunrise Highway. Fishing, walking and jogging trails, and foot bridges make Southards worth the drive. Sorry, Babylon.
A toast to LI wine
Whisper Vineyards in St. James is one of three vineyards on Long Island that aren't on the East End. There's Whisper, Loughlin Vineyards in Sayville and Harmony Vineyards in Head of the Harbor. So enjoying local wine doesn't necessarily mean a drive out east. This is from Nov. 25, 2013.
Paddling at Belmont
Belmont Lake State Park in Babylon is known for its walking trails, picnic areas, children's playgrounds and cannons captured from a British warship. But it's during the summer months that Belmont's paddle boats become available. Only then can you paddle through the middle of the lake in peace, with ducks following nearby.
Old-fashioned ice cream places are getting harder to find, and McNulty's in Miller Place may be even more difficult to track down since it's off the beaten path. The shop is tucked away on North Country Road, so launch your GPS and enjoy.
Hoops at the harbor
Trying to stay in shape? You'll be hard pressed to find a prettier spot to practice foul shots than the basketball court on Woodbine Avenue in Northport Village. Can't get the hook shot to drop? Eh, don't sweat it. Walk a few steps to the water and enjoy the view. This photo is from January 2013.