When it’s time to get off the island, you have several options: bridge, tunnel or boat. Setting out by sea, of course, is by far the more romantic choice, especially when you’re looking for a quick one-day getaway. Here are four day trip ideas for “vacations” that start once you set foot on a Long Island ferry:
Fire Island is the less glittery Hamptons, the New Yorker’s “Vineyard." With no cars, it offers visitors a completely changed mindset just a 25-minute ferry ride away. Eight communities can be accessed from Bay Shore ferries: Kismet, Saltaire, Fair Harbor, Dunewood, Atlantique, Robin’s Rest, Ocean Beach, Seaview and Ocean Bay Park. From Sayville, catch the ferries to Point of Woods, Cherry Grove, The Pines, Sailor’s Haven and Sunken Forest.
While Fire Island was once code for gay, the LGBTQ communities are centered in Cherry Grove and The Pines. Most of the other hamlets have their own identities, from insular to family-friendly. Most beaches of Fire Island National Seashore are accessible to the public and are widely considered to be among the most pristine (and chill) beaches in New York.
A favorite with day trippers is Ocean Beach, which has a boutique hotel and plenty of restaurants and shops. Eateries range from clam shacks to pizza parlors to sports bars. CJ’s and Maguire’s are popular choices. Parking in Sayville and Bay Shore is per car per day — $10 Monday-Thursday, $17 Friday-Sunday. The ferry round trip is $19 per person — cash only. Yes, you read that correctly. Going back to a simpler time begins at the ferry dock.
Norwalk, Connecticut, and the casinos
Ride the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport ferry with your car, and you’ve got options. (Cost each way is $58 for car and driver, $19 for each additional passenger). A 20-minute drive from Bridgeport Ferry Landing brings you to Norwalk, Connecticut, where you’ll find great museums and restaurants. The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk draws over half a million visitors a year to see live sharks, loggerhead turtles, seals, rays, jellyfish and a cast of other aquatic creatures — some you can touch, others best left behind glass. With an IMAX Theater, traveling exhibits and Marine Study cruises on Long Island Sound, you can spend all day learning about our maritime environment.
Norwalk has much more to offer. "Signal Station 44" has been restored to create the SoNo Switch Tower Museum. Climb narrow iron stairs to the burnished third floor for a chance to pull the disengaged Armstrong levers — so named because you needed a strong arm — that once moved track switches on the main line. The award-winning Stepping Stones Museum for Children was built with a keen eye to what excites and stimulates a child’s mind. Geared toward children 1-10, this small but active center engages even the youngest crawlers. Great Norwalk restaurants include Public Wine Bar, Peaches Southern Pub and Juke Joint, and the small but delectable Knot Norm’s.
If you’re the gambling kind and don’t want the expense of a car, Foxwoods Resort and Casino and Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino offer round-trip ferry service from Port Jefferson, transportation from the Bridgeport Ferry Terminal to the Casino and back, and freebies like food and gaming vouchers. ($45 for Foxwoods gets you transportation and $35 worth of perks, $48 for Mohegan Sun buys transportation and $40 worth of extras).
Block Island, Rhode Island
Bring your bikes on the round-trip Viking Ferry from Montauk to Block Island ($85 adults, $50 children, bikes $5 extra each way) — there’s a lot of ground to cover in a day, especially if headed to a remote beach or to the island’s two lighthouses. The Ferry leaves you off in Old Harbor, the only “bustling” town on this seven-mile long, four-miles wide chunk of land out in the Atlantic.
Get your bearings at Block Island Historical Museum and Gallery, stocked with artifacts from first settlers, photos of offshore boating disasters and plenty of island history. Then start with a 7-mile loop — south from Old Harbor to Southeast Lighthouse (where you’ll find the fantastic Southeast Light Delights Food Truck), and the steep stairs down to Mohegan Bluffs beach. Continue up to New Harbor (for a “killer” Payne’s Donut), and from there, it’s a mile back to town. With variations of landscape, from forceful surf, clay cliffs, silent ponds, yachting centers, salt marsh, and stonewalls, it’s a fantastic overview of the best of the island.
If you’ve got any time (or breath) left, take an 8-mile round-trip ride on Corn Neck Road to North Lighthouse (another three-quarter-mile walk each way from the road). Be sure to pull over at The Labyrinth, a stone-lined meditative circular pathway, or stop at the easy-to-access Crescent Beach. Most restaurants can be found in Old Harbor, where you catch the ferry back home: Eli’s (fine dining), Kimberly’s (New American fusion), Poor People’s Pub (elevated pub grub), Rebecca’s (seafood shack) and Aldo's Bakery (breakfast, pastries, ice cream).
New London, Connecticut
Take your car on the Cross Sound Ferry from Orient Point to New London ($57 each way for car and driver, $16.50 per additional passenger), as the town’s attractions are spread out. Learn about the fate of the Slave Ship Amistad at the Custom House Maritime Museum, where, in 1839, the ship was towed after captive Africans aboard mutinied and drifted to nearby waters. Across the Thames in Groton, find the world’s first nuclear propelled submarine, U.S.S. Nautilus, berthed within the Submarine Force Library and Museum. A free tour, complete with audio guide, takes you through the sub’s cramped quarters. The Fort Trumbull State Park visitor’s center has interactive kiosks, allowing history buffs to build their own forts, and a real periscope through which you may detect submarines coming into or leaving the Thames River right outside.
Literary fans will want to walk through the boyhood summer home of playwright Eugene O’Neill, Monte Cristo Cottage. New London also boasts the 70-year-old world-class Lyman Allyn Art Museum, showcasing Connecticut Impressionists, paintings from the Hudson River School and other American art. If your tastes run more toward the avant-garde, pop into the Hygienic Art Gallery to see some bold creations.
There are plenty of meal options, but for an authentic New London dining experience order the award-winning chowder, lobster rolls and crab fritters at Capt’n Scott’s Lobster Dock. Plan a coffee break at Muddy Waters Café (next door to the Hygienic) or head a bit out of town to On the Waterfront Restaurant for fresh seafood with Thames River views.