Living on an island means being surrounded by beach towns.
Lounging in the sand, dining on the water, strolling along the boardwalk, and being stuck in oceanfront traffic are all part of the Long Island beachgoer’s rite of passage.
Here's a guide instructing those seeking sand and sun on how to get to some at Long Island's beach towns. So grab a towel and some sunblock, and follow the sound of the waves.
Getting there: As a true beach town should be, Fire Island is best accessed by boat. Hop a ferry out of Bay Shore, Sayville or Patchogue and enjoy a roughly half-hour cruise across the Great South Bay. With the island’s many car-free communities, arriving by sea is highly recommended. Water taxis are available but can be costly. (Is Uber Boat available yet?)
Dining scene: If captaining your own vessel to grab dinner or lunch at a bayfront restaurant, dock at one of the marinas. Enjoy some seafood or American cuisine at Maguire’s Bayfront Restaurant in Ocean Beach (1 Bungalow Walk) while taking in the island’s most picturesque views of the sunset. Grab a drink at fixtures like C.J.’s Restaurant and Bar (479 Bay Walk) — a first stop off the Ocean Beach ferry that’s home to lobster specials and the popular rocket fuel tropical drink — and Flynn’s (1 Cayuga St.) — which offers happy hour and live music during the day and a nightclub vibe after dark, as well as waterside dining and even dining on the water with their dinner cruise.
Take the kids for some of the island’s best pancakes, French toast and egg sandwiches at Rachel’s Bakery and Restaurant (325 Bay Walk, Ocean Beach), or simply stop in for a cup of coffee and comfort foods like the famed crumb cake at the all-day eatery. For upscale dining, there are options like Top of the Bay in Cherry Grove (1 Dock Walk), The Hideaway in Ocean Beach (785 Evergreen Walk), and the Pines Bistro and Martini Bar in Fire Island Pines (36 Fire Island Blvd.).
Exploring nature: The 32-mile-long island is situated between the Great South Bay and Atlantic Ocean and bookended by Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park. In between are 101 miles of coastline with beaches stretching from Kismet to Ho Hum Beach and beyond. Get out of the sun for a bit by taking a stroll around the 1.5-mile boardwalk of the Sunken Forest in Sailors Haven, a rare maritime holly forest sunken behind dunes near the island’s center.
Getting active: Fire Island is a haven for boating, surfing, fishing and other outdoor activities. Rent a bike on the island and take a ride down multiple trails, but be sure to let some air out of the tires for a smoother ride in the sand. Get a bird’s-eye view of the island by going parasailing in Ocean Beach. Go camping at Watch Hill. Take a hike through nature trails that stretch from 2 to 5 miles long. Or simply walk around the communities.
Getting there: Directions to Montauk are short and simple: Head east. The commute there isn't always quite as easy, particularly during peak season when in gridlock with fellow beachgoers traveling to Long Island's easternmost point. The drive on Sunrise Highway eventually will merge into one lane, weaving through areas in the Hamptons that are home to some of the country's most renowned beaches. If you'd rather not be behind the wheel, hop on the Hampton Jitney, a bus service with connections at MacArthur Airport via reservation, or take the Long Island Rail Road, with a train from Patchogue to Montauk taking roughly an hour and 45 minutes.
Dining scene: Breakfast in Montauk starts with a difficult decision: a stack of pancakes at Anthony's Pancake House (710 Montauk Hwy.) or John's Pancake House (721 Montauk Hwy.)? The answer: whichever of the longtime establishments has a table available first. Other mainstay eateries include Harvest on Fort Pond (11 S. Emery St.) for Italian, Gosman's Dock (500 W. Lake Dr.) for seafood, Shagwong Tavern (774 Montauk Hwy.) for clams, John's Drive-In (677 Montauk Hwy.) for ice cream, and The Lobster Roll aka LUNCH (1980 Montauk Hwy.) for, well, lobster rolls.
Montauk's ever-expanding menu continues to evolve with a growing list of popular eateries like Navy Beach (16 Navy Rd.), where diners can eat on a private beach overlooking Fort Pond Bay with their toes in the sand; Joni's Kitchen (28 S. Etna Ave.), with creative breakfast offerings, acai bowls, salads, wraps and healthy alternatives; and The Inlet Seafood Restaurant (541 E. Lake Dr.), for sushi and views of Long Island Sound. Wash it all down at Montauk Brewing Co. (62 S. Erie Ave.)
Exploring nature: Nearly an island in itself with water to its north, south and east, Montauk offers natural beaches and towering bluffs. There are plenty to choose from — some sandy, some rocky — including favorites like Ditch Plains, Gin Beach and Kirk Park Beach. Reserve a beach cottage at Gurney's Resort & Seawater Spa (290 Old Montauk Hwy.) and consider their Beach Club, which includes king-size daybeds on a private beach. Or simply walk the shorelines at Montauk Point State Park Beach to take in views of the Montauk Lighthouse as ocean waves crash into boulders along Long Island's endpoint. Hike or bike the various nature trails along cliffs and overlooks at various parks, including Camp Hero State Park, Shadmoor State Park and Hither Hills State Park.
Getting active: Hit the links at Montauk Downs State Park Golf Course (50 S. Fairview Ave.), an 18-hole, par-72 public course. Take surf lessons or learn to stand-up paddleboard at one of many water activity locations like CoreysWave (53 Deforest Rd.). Rent a bike at Montauk Cycle Company (463 W. Lake Dr.). Go horseback riding at Deep Hollow Ranch (8 Old Montauk Hwy.). Or just get a boat, kayak, canoe or Jet Ski at various rental locations and set sail.
Getting there: Drive or ride, take your pick. The resort-like city is on a barrier island connected to the mainland by bridges on its east and west ends. With that, area is easily accessible by land — traffic notwithstanding. Coming from western Long Island or New York City, head south past Far Rockaway and take the Atlantic Beach Bridge. From the east, Meadowbrook State Parkway connects to Loop Parkway, which takes a motorist straight into Point Lookout. The Long Island Rail Road is an option for those wanting to skip the highways and parking expenses. The LIRR's Long Beach Package includes round-trip train tickets, a coupon for the 24-hour Long Beach bus and discounted admission to the beach.
Dining scene: Get breakfast or lunch at Lido's Kosher Deli (641 E. Park Ave.). Try the delicatessen omelet with pastrami, corned beef and salami, or keep it simple with a brisket sandwich. Head over to Brixx & Barley (152 W. Park Ave.) for a relaxing lunch and explore their something-for-everyone style menu. Get started with the tuna tartare or braised short rib tacos, then consider the gnocchi carbonara. There also is a vegan menu, and a variety of burgers and familiar dishes for kids.
If there's still room after lunch, hit Swingbelly's Beachside BBQ (909 W. Beech St.). The appropriately named BBQ joint will send diners home full, with its burnt-end chili, pulled pork-stuffed jalapeños, Buffalo mac-and-cheese, grilled shrimp tacos and all the traditional barbecue dishes one would expect. The dining list also includes LB Social (62 W. Park Ave.), Roc & Olive (180 W. Park Ave.) and JJ Coopers (124 W. Park Ave.). The kids will love Dough Hut (891 W. Beech St.), offering specialty doughnuts, and Waffle Cabin (874-B W. Beech St.), for signature Belgian waffles to go.
Exploring nature: The beaches, duh! Ocean Beach Park has a 4-mile beachfront and a lengthy boardwalk, making it a popular spot for visitors. It's a good location to enjoy an afternoon swimming, surfing or playing beach volleyball. Nearby, there are fishing piers, playgrounds and eateries. To the east are Lido Beach and Point Lookout, which offer white sand and views across at Jones Bay. Visit the Lido Beach Passive Nature Preserve, a restored tidal wetland. The 40-acre site is home to several indigenous plants and a variety of vegetation and marine life. Settle in for a few minutes to do some bird-watching and enjoy the views of the inland waterways. For those with a car, the Marine Nature Study Area might be worth a 4-mile drive to Oceanside. The 52-acre preserve has tanks with specimens of marine life from the area along with plenty of educational material.
Getting active: Skudin Surf (1 Riverside Blvd.) offers surfing for kids and adults, as well as rentals and storage of surfboards. Unwind during sunset by cruising along Reynolds Channel in a private yacht chartered through Long Beach Charter Cruises (218 E. Park Ave.). A two-hour ride costs $595.
Getting there: Once you start seeing vineyards, you're close. Take the Long Island Expressway as far as it goes, wind your way toward Main Road, take it to the near end of the North Fork and escape into the tranquility of this quaint village. Along the way you'll pass farmlands and wineries. The Long Island Rail Road also stops in Greenport, with a train ride from Ronkonkoma taking about an hour and a half. Near the train station, there's a Hampton Jitney drop-off point, as well as ferry service to and from Shelter Island.
Dining scene: Let's just say that Front Street and Main Road have enough dining options to satisfy the most undecided of diners and their palettes. The village's burgeoning dining scene boasts an eclectic mix of menus that perfectly complement the area's long-standing mayor of eateries: Claudio's (111 Main St.).
For upscale seafood and new American fare, head to Noah's (136 Front St.). For breakfast and lunch made with local produce, try Bruce & Son (208 Main St.). For a classic diner with a twist, grab a seat at Crazy Beans (2 Front St.). The list goes on with The Frisky Oyster (27 Front St.), First and South (100 South St.), PORT Waterfront Bar & Grill (104 Third St.), and so on. Depending on your preference of post-meal beverage, head to either Brix & Rye (308A Main St.), a speak-easy with classic cocktails, or to Greenport Harbor Brewing Company (234 Carpenter St.), a brewery and tasting room situated in a mid-1800s firehouse.
Exploring nature: While the dining is in the heart of town, the beaches are a short drive away, including Town Beach and Truman's Beach. Inlet Pond County Park features wooded trails that lead to a freshwater pond. Set up a tent and spend the night at McCann's Campground.
Getting active: Arrange for bicycle delivery to your house, hotel, marina or train station through Dan's Bike Rental. Hop on board a sailboat, lounge in a beanbag chair and sip wine during a chartered trip with Layla Sailing (1410 Manhanset Ave., Dock H4). Throw on a pair of skates and head to GDC Memorial Skating Rink (102 Third St.).