The Montauk Point Lighthouse was completed in 1796, less than two years after it was authorized by George Washington.
But the eastern tip of Long Island always has been a beacon.
And it becomes even brighter in autumn. The crowds depart and the appeal grows, whether you're intent on recreation or ready for Montauk's most seductive attraction - doing nothing.
Montauk encourages you simply to watch the waves. This is, after all, a beach town, even in the off-season. And the main reason you come here at any time of year is to enjoy the rhythms of the ocean.
Montauk has been inhabited for more than 4,000 years. Native Americans, the Montauketts, welcomed the Dutch and the English. Visitors ranged from Captain Kidd to Theodore Roosevelt. This fall, it's ready for you.
Top of the lighthouse: 137 steps.
ABOUT THE AREA
Old Montauk Highway, where resorts dot the beachfront, became a road in the 18th century. It was used by cattle ranchers. Montauk itself was grazing land. By 1895, a railroad linked Montauk to Sag Harbor. And in the last century, Carl Fisher, known for developing Miami Beach from a mangrove swamp, tried to make Montauk, then a fishing-and-hunting destination, into its northern twin, a summertime Miami Beach.
It never happened.
Fisher, an Indiana businessman and builder with an affinity for real estate, bought more than 10,000 acres for about $2.5 million. He developed a lot of them starting in 1926. Montauk Manor opened the next year. But the 1929 stock-market crash finished Fisher's plans.
The tall office building in the center of town is one of his monuments, along with Montauk Manor, what's now Montauk Downs golf course and the yacht club on Star Island, among others. During World War II, Montauk served as a naval base. Motels and hotels date back many decades, Gurney's Inn to the 1920s. But the surge didn't occur until the 1960s.
Although it's part of the Town of East Hampton, Montauk never has been "Hamptonized" in the boldface-name style. Yes, more stylish restaurants have opened in the last decade. Celebrities including Robert DeNiro and Ralph Lauren own residences. And the federal government has just found a buyer for Bernard Madoff's beach house, for more than the $8.7 million asking price.
But, generally, the paparazzi won't find you here.
Gosman's still steams lobsters. So does Duryea's. Shoppers can find T-shirts and beachwear, sweatsuits and sweaters, essentials and souvenirs. Big-name boutiques, however, haven't overrun the downtown stores. There is one movie theater. It shows one movie.
Montauk is seasonal: pre-, post-, high-, off-. At many places, rates dipped after Labor Day and are poised to drop again after Columbus Day. Weekdays are cheaper than weekends. And, of course, studios are less expensive than two-bedrooms. Following are a dozen of Montauk's mainstays, with rates current as of press time.
WHERE TO STAY
BEACH PLUM RESORT MOTEL: 779 Old Montauk Hwy., 631-668-4100, beachplumresort.com
Situated across the road from the beach. Studios, one and two bedrooms apartments. Suitable for families.
BEACHCOMBER RESORT: 727 Old Montauk Hwy., 631-668-2894, email@example.com
Closing October 31 and will reopen May 1.
Across the road from the beach. Studio efficiencies; one- and two-bedroom suites. Suitable for families.
HARTMAN'S BRINEY BREEZES MOTEL: 693 Old Montauk Hwy., 631-668-2290, brineybreezes.com
Rates: $249 for two nights through November.
Renovated studio apartments; Hartman's Briney Breezes in on the north side, across from the ocean.
MEMORY MOTEL: 692 Montauk Hwy., 631-668-2702
Rates: $49-$99. Will be closing December 1 and will reopen the beginning of March.
Are you a Rolling Stones fan? This motel on the main street downtown inspired the song on the 1976 album, "Black and Blue." Twin- and double-bed rooms available.
Rates: $99-$240; through December, you can stay four consecutive nights (Sunday-Thursday) for the price of two.
Historic site, landmark building on a hill overlooking Montauk. Studio, one and two bedroom apartments. Suitable for families.
Rates: $99-$119 midweek ($149-$170 weekends) through the month of October.
Restored and refurbished landmark, which includes water-view rooms and two suites. Suitable for families.
Rates: $115-$325 weekdays ($85-$115 weekends).
Doubles to suites with Jacuzzis; second-floor ocean-view rooms. Suitable for families.
PANORAMIC VIEW: 272 Old Montauk Hwy., 631-668-3000, panoramicview.com
Rates range: $195-$595.
The oceanfront resort has studio apartments, one and two bedroom suites, as well as beach cottages.
Rates range: $100-$650 ($70-$250 in October).
The resort includes ocean-view and oceanfront rooms, one and two bedroom suites, town houses, including full kitchen, fire place, and whirl pool. Suitable for families.
SANDS MOTEL: 71 S. Emery St., 631-668-5100, montauksands.com
Rates: $80-$160 midweek ($265-$395 for two-night weekend stays). Studios and one-bedroom apartments, 2-bedroom cottages.
THE SURF CLUB: 20 Surfside Ave., 631-668-3800, duneresorts.com
Rates: $160-$275 through Oct. 11; $90-$180 thereafter.
The resort includes one- and two-bedroom units with garden, poolside or oceanfront views. Suitable for families.
WAVECREST OCEANFRONT RESORT: 170 Old Montauk Hwy., 631-668-2141, wavecrestonocean.com
Rates: $160-$214 midweek ($177-$197 weekends).
Situated on the beach side. Studio and one-bedroom units, most with ocean views.
BIRD ON THE ROOF: 47 S. Elmwood Ave., 631-668-5833
Good for breakfast and lunch, omelets and sandwiches.
Very casual, tables outdoors; best for lobster to eat in or take out. Open till Columbus Day.
JOHN'S PANCAKE HOUSE: 721 Main St., 631-668-2383
Popular for breakfast: pancakes, crepes, waffles, eggs; also, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads, seafood specials.
JONI'S: 34 S. Edison St., 631-668-3663
Casual; outdoor tables, takeout. Tasty sandwiches, wraps and salads.
Italian cuisine; best for pasta, seafood and the "polenta board" with toppings.
Retooled this year. Reliable for seafood, steak, and a view of Fort Pond.
First-rate seafood, inventive and traditional; informal style, with a view of the marina.
New American, coastal cuisine, fine seafood. Handsome appointments, waterside setting.
Dependable, popular New American, Mediterranean fare; situated waterside.
HAVANA BEACH CLUB: 448 W. Lake Dr., 866-377-8132, havanabeachclubny.com
Cuban food and drink, from Cubano sandwiches and stews to mojitos, plus a buffet.
Snappy seafood, including sushi; friendly service; water views.
Old-fashioned style, warm service, savory "comfort" food for the family.
THINGS TO DO
*Charter boats, fishing boats, open boats - they're all available at Montauk Harbor.
*Viking Fleet, for example, charges $85 a person for porgy and sea bass fishing. Trips are from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. for weekend night fishing through November (462 W. Lake Dr., 631-668- 5700).
*If you'd rather charter a vessel, Uihlein's Marina and Boat Rentals charges $150 per hour for a fishing boat that holds six. Deck boats that hold six to 10 people are also available for $170 an hour ($495 for eight hours). Add a captain for $50 an hour (444 W. Lake Dr., 631-668-3799).
*Located about three miles east of downtown Montauk, Deep Hollow Ranch is the country's oldest cattle ranch. Today, enjoy Western-style riding, pony rides or shoreline rides at Diane and Rusty Leaver's piece of history. A 90-minute ride on trails and the beach costs $75 a person - 30-minute ($35) and one-hour ($65) rides available (631-668-2744, deephollowranch.com).
*Montauk Downs State Park boasts an 18-hole public golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. It's open year-round, with $46 greens fees for state residents on weekends and holidays - $24 for twilight golf (631-668-5000, montaukdowns.org).
*For miniature golf, go for a round at Puff & Putt, open weekends only (659 Montauk Hwy., 631-668-4473).
*Even if you're not staying at Gurney's Inn, you can get a day pass ($30) to the resort's spa, which has a saltwater pool, sauna, steam room and Roman bath in addition to services that range from hydrotherapy and facials to nail treatments. At the resort itself, October room rates start at $125 for an ocean view studio and go up to $500 for a beachfront cottage (631-668-2345, gurneysinn.com).