Long Island boasts a wealth of beautiful and uncrowded outdoor attractions. If busy beaches and state parks don’t appeal during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, get out of the house and visit a serene sculpture garden, flower farm, nature preserve, or arboretum.
At the time of this writing, all of the following are open to the public, with certain rules and restrictions. To limit crowds and promote social distancing, some places require the purchase of entrance tickets online ahead of time. Others require masks. Restrooms may be closed. Benches may be roped off. Call ahead for information about hours, entry requirements, and possible closures.
Timed ticket entry keeps crowds small at the LongHouse Reserve, a stunning sculpture garden with more than 60 works by Sol LeWitt, Buckminster Fuller, Yoko Ono, and many more, situated within 16 acres of thoughtfully designed gardens. INFO 133 Hands Creek Rd., East Hampton, 631-329-3568, longhouse.org
The Nassau County Museum of Art has been welcoming visitors to its sculpture garden throughout the pandemic, even when the buildings were closed (the Mansion reopened July 8; the Manes Center remains shuttered). Forty sculptures by Richard Serra, Fernando Botero, and others dot the 145-acre preserve that includes eight marked nature trails and a formal garden.
INFO One Museum Drive, Roslyn Harbor, 516-484-9338, nassaumuseum.org
Animals in their Habitats
At the kid-friendly Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium, you can tour eight outdoor trout ponds, feed the trout, and try your hand at “catch and keep” fishing. Covid-adapted rules include mandatory face coverings while fishing and no more than eight people on the fishing platform at a time. Fishing is $16 per person and by reservation only, and each fish you catch will cost you $4.
INFO 1660 NY-25A, Cold Spring Harbor, 516-692-6768, cshfishhatchery.org
Spend some time at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, bird watching or just walking the refuge’s seven miles of trails, exploring diverse habitats including forests, ponds, and pine barrens. Injured eagles, owls, falcons, hawks, groundhogs, and foxes are housed in an Outdoor Wildlife Complex that is open to visitors every day (the indoor Nature Center is closed for now).
INFO 3 Old Country Rd., Quogue, 631-653-4771, quoguewildliferefuge.org
Frederick Law Olmstead designed the Bayard Cutting Arboretum boasts the most extensive collection of conifers — including spruce, pine, cypress, hemlock, yew, and other lesser known varieties — on Long Island. “Think of us as a museum of trees,” says the website. The grand Manor House and café are closed, but visitors can wander the property with a map, identifying the conifers as well as 100 different types of holly, and 14 species of oak.
INFO 440 Montauk Hwy., Great River, 631-581-1002, bayardcuttingarboretum.com
The Humes Japanese Stroll Garden, featuring bamboo groves, a waterfall that empties into a koi pond, and 11 species of moss was built by U.S. diplomat John Portner Humes as a place of quiet contemplation Stepping stones control the speed at which visitors move through the landscape, encouraging moment-to-moment reflection.
Planting Fields Arboretum is part of the 409-acre Gold Coast estate formerly owned by William Robertson Coe and Mai Rogers Coe. Its extensive collection of formal gardens includes a heather garden, a rose garden, a hydrangea collection, a day lily garden, and a dahlia garden. The Italian Garden, the center of which is sunk below the surrounding level of the park for the sake of seclusion, was designed by Mai Coe in 1916 as an homage to Italian villa oases.
INFO 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay, 516-922-9210, plantingfields.org
The Shore Road Sanctuary in Cold Spring Harbor was once an ExxonMobil fueling site. The eight acre parcel has been transformed by the North Shore Land Alliance into a grassland preserve with salt marsh and wet meadow. You can walk on the beach at low tide or walk through the blooming meadow, spotting horseshoe crabs and monarch butterflies as you go.
INFO 95 Shore Rd., Cold Spring Harbor, 516-922-1028, northshorelandalliance.org
There are 140 acres at the Avalon Nature Preserve in Stony Brook open to the public, providing 5 miles of dog-friendly trails. The preserve has four distinct areas: The most developed, Mill Pond, features two freshwater ponds filled with waterfowl and frogs and a stone labyrinth for quiet contemplation. The Coastal Corridor offers a walk over undulating hills with glimpses of the Long Island Sound. Hilltop Meadow is a series of five former agricultural fields, now seeded with wildflowers and native grasses. And the Forest Sanctuary includes spicebush and viburnum-lined trails through oak, hickory, and beech trees.
INFO 200 Harbor Rd., Stony Brook, 631-689-0619, avalonnaturepreserve.org
Beginning in early August (call before you go, because Mother Nature schedules the first bloom) the 17-acre North Fork Sunflower Maze opens to the public daily, from 9 a.m. to sunset. A path through the fields provides many views of the flowers, and plenty of opportunities for spectacular photographs. Cut flowers as well as T-shirts, hats, and North Fork Potato Chips (the maze is owned by the Sidor family, who have been growing potatoes in Mattituck since 1910) are available at the farm stand.
INFO 8623 Wickham Ave., Mattituck, 631-644-2200, northforkchips.com
If you want a hands-on sunfower experience, check out Waterdrinker Family Farm, where u-pick flowers are $2/stem. Shears are available, but you can bring your own if you are more comfortable with that. The u-pick option, plus barnyard animals, mini-golf, and more make it a kid-friendly sunflower destination.
INFO 663 Wading River Rd., Manorville, 631-878-8653, water-drinker.com
If you like to grow flowers as well as pick them, visit the Peconic River Herb Farm, a 14-acre plant paradise picturesque enough to be a popular pre-Covid wedding venue. Browse dozens of varieties of flowering plants arranged in large outdoor sales areas, get free advice from knowledgable salespeople, and take home plants or seeds for your own garden.
INFO 2749 River Rd., Calverton, 631-369-0058, prherbfarm.com
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included the Hofstra University Museum of Art, which is temporarily closed, as a site to visit. Cushman Woods preserve in Matinecock also is closed until further notice due to recent storm damage.
In addition to natural beauty, Long Island is rich in kitschy roadside attractions that make fun viewing and good social media material.
Start out east in Montauk, where you’ll find Ronjo, the giant copper-painted tiki statue guarding the entrance to the Montauk Beach House.
Proceed to Riverhead, to view and photograph Long Island’s most famous novelty building, the Big Duck.
At Atlantic Seafood in Center Moriches, the entrance is shaded by enormous Shark Jaws.
Not quite as massive but impressive nonetheless is the Giant Rooster spouting water outside the Bello Poultry Farm in Holbrook.
The colorful Figurehead of Hercules, which formerly adorned the USS Ohio, now sits on a pedestal in the Hercules Pavilion on Main Street in Stony Brook. It is said that if you kiss the brow of Hercules you’ll be married within the year — easier said than done because the massive bust sits behind a low but spiky wrought-iron fence.
Bayport’s Cement Sphinx was originally built in the early 1900s to attract guests to the Anchorage Inn, which burned down in the 1920s. Brothers Lou and John Fontana rescued and restored the sphinx and it now sits in front of their business, Fontana Concrete Products.