An outing in Riverhead can encompass shopping, socializing, exploring — or a bit of all three. Recently crowned one of the 50 "Best Places to Travel in 2023" by Forbes Advisor, this historic North Shore town does not disappoint. Whether you're visiting the aquatic animals at the Long Island Aquarium or celebrating the weekend with live music at Jamesport Farm Brewery, here are the many reasons Riverhead is a destination not to miss this year.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
There's free public parking in Riverhead near shopping hubs and activities. For those traveling by train, the LIRR rolls directly into the downtown area (136 Railroad Ave.; lirr42.mta.info). Visiting boaters can pay to dock on a daily, overnight or weekly basis along the Peconic Riverfront with the proper permits ($25-$150; riverheadrecreation.net).
Following Main Street (Route 25) just north of the Peconic River between Center Drive and Riverside Drive, the downtown area is a historic destination with buildings that date back to the 19th century. Visitors can spot several murals painted in alleyways and you'll hear church bells ring when the hour strikes. For a better understanding of the area’s history, look for several QR codes posted near various points that connect to the Downtown Historic Trail (downtownriverhead.org), with each stop offering a different narrated introduction that explains its history.
A block south of Main Street, the Peconic River flows by, and there’s no charge to wander the Riverwalk, a free-to-use planked pathway that hugs the river for about a half-mile from Peconic Avenue to the rear of the Long Island Aquarium. You can then cross Peconic Avenue and walk into Milton L. Burns Park, which provides water views and features art installations. If you want to ride rather than walk, you’ll find bike-share rentals available near the east end of the Riverwalk and at the River and Roots Community Garden (approximately 84 W. Main St.), which connects the park with Main Street; bikes are $4 hourly, $35 daily (ridepedalshare.com).
For shopping opportunities, Tanger Outlet Riverhead (1770 W. Main St.; 631-369-2732, tangeroutlet.com) features dozens of big brand stores. For boutiques, head downtown to find Sunday Records (125 Roanoke Ave.; 631-599-3918), which organizes its vinyl in Long Island-friendly fashion by explaining which local radio station would play which vinyl. The store focuses on older albums but also carries some new releases and old-school memorabilia. If minerals, gems and crystals are in order, Breathe (116 E. Main St.; 631-642-2377, breatheinspiringgifts.com) carries a variety of items intended to benefit your mind, body and spirit.
Long Island Science Center
Currently located at Tanger Outlet Riverhead, this learning museum focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) programming. Weekly events for museum visitors include Science Saturday classes at 1 p.m. (parent must be present), where students will participate topic-based workshops, and MakerSpace Sundays, a drop-in activity area where visitors can make projects or try experiments, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
COST $15, 2 and younger is free; Science Saturday is $20 per student, includes the workshop and museum admission; self-guided MakerSpace is free with museum admission.
INFO 401 Tanger Mall Dr.; 631-208-8000, sciencecenterli.org
Long Island Aquarium
A day at the aquarium is a treat in itself. It is home to many marine and land animals and features indoor and outdoor exhibits including daily sea lion shows. Little adventurers can also play pretend on the Eye Opener, a 60-foot wooden tree house structure featuring slides, climbing nets, bridges and stairs. Once you've climbed to the top, catch a glimpse of the Peconic River.
Here’s one for the grown-ups 21 and older: The Sunset Booze Cruise, which launched last summer, was so popular that the Long Island Aquarium has doubled its offerings from three runs to six for this summer. “You have a nice, full moon as you’re going down the Peconic River,” says Darlene Puntillo, marketing director. The aquarium is dividing the cruises by alcohol offerings: Rum Punch cruises on July 14 and 15, Tequila Sunrise cruises on Aug. 11 and 12, and Harvest Wine cruises on Sept. 8 and 9 — all on the aquarium’s Atlantis Explorer Tour Boat, Puntillo. Each cruise includes entertainment such as a steel drum player. Cost is $75 per person.
COST $31.99 ages 3 to 12, $45.99 13 and older, 2 and younger is free; the playground is an add-on: $12 per child (free for adults)
INFO 431 E. Main St.; 631-208-9200, longislandaquarium.com
If you're a family of animal lovers, head over to the family-owned Goodale Farms where you'll see sheep, cows, goats and chickens. The late spring and early summer should impress, when baby animals are typically born. Guests can buy bottles and grain cups to feed some of the resident animals, who are easy to watch from pens placed around the grounds.
COST Free to enter, animal feed: $2 grain cups, $4 bottles
INFO 250 Main Rd.; 631-901-5975, goodalefarms.com
The All Star
The main event at The All Star is bowling but there is also an arcade and a number of pool tables for those looking to play games. Gamers can also grab food at the All American Grill, which serves burgers, wings, salads and more.
COST Bowling rates: Monday through Friday: $36 hourly until 6 p.m., $44 after; Saturday-Sunday: $44 hourly
INFO 96 Main Rd.; 631-998-3565, theallstar.com
Imagine Special Equestrians
Children and adults of all abilities can come here to ride, as private, semiprivate and group lessons are available. It hosts a “360 Horsemanship” program that also instructs in tacking, grooming and groundwork, and an “Adaptive Horsemanship” program that uses the rhythmic movement of horseback riding to help those with special physical needs to strengthen their balance, muscles and flexibility, as well as their emotional and cognitive state.
COST $65 for a half-hour private lesson, $225 for four half-hour private lessons.
INFO 1039 Sound Ave.; 631-209-7750, imaginese.org
Long Island Selfie Studio
Guests will find a professionally lit studio equipped with a tripod able to hold any smartphone and choose between 26 unique backdrops to use. Rates start at $35 per person for an hourly session.
INFO: 221 E. Main St., Riverhead; longislandselfiestudio.com, 631-591-0259
Hallockville Museum Farm
Explore Long Island’s family farming history with classes and craft workshops offered frequently throughout the year at this museum. Upcoming events include a barn dance on July 29.
COST Guided tours are $15, $10 ages 5-12, four and under free
INFO 6038 Sound Ave.; 631-298-5292, hallockville.org
Riverhead Raceway has been in operation since the 1940s, providing NASCAR fans a place to witness live stock car racing on a seasonal basis. The 2023 season has a tentative schedule of runs mostly taking place Saturdays through Sept. 30, before wrapping on Nov. 11 with the annual Islip 300 race.
COST Tickets start at $30 for adults, $10 ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and under; cash-only, can only be purchased day-of on-site.
INFO 1797 Old Country Rd.; 631-842-7223, riverheadraceway.com
CATCH A LIVE SHOW
Catch a performance at The Suffolk (118 E. Main St.; 631-727-4343, thesuffolk.org), a restored 1930s Art Deco theater which has been reborn as a performing arts center. Upcoming events include movie showings and live concerts. The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall (18 Peconic Ave; 631-727-5782, thevail.org), which first opened in 1881, is now operating as a nonprofit.
For water views, visit Hallock State Park Preserve (6062 Sound Ave.; 631-315-5475, parks.ny.gov), where you'll find a beach on the Sound (parking is $8).
Another destination to wander is Cranberry Bog Nature Preserve (3675-3815 Lake Ave.; 631-854-4949, suffolkcountyny.gov), an open space that once served as a cranberry farm. Parking is limited to only a few spaces, but visitors can hike through woods and wetlands to spot wildlife.
SWEET TREATS AND LIGHT BITES
There's often a long line outside this popular farm known for its homemade fruit pies. The farm also sells muffins, breads, jams, jellies, cakes and cookies. There’s a small selection of produce and plants for sale.
INFO 4414 Sound Ave.; 631-722-3931, briermerefarms.com
1760 Homestead Farm
Guests can wander the grounds at this historic farm dating back to the 18th century and meet the resident animals. Buy freshly baked pies and other items such as sauces, soups, cheese spreads and jams, plants and produce that are sold here. A farm-to-plate meal is served Sundays Memorial Day through October and there’s a busy seasonal event calendar to explore.
INFO 5412 Sound Ave.; 631-831-1653, 1760homesteadfarm.com
Mugs on Main
At this newly opened coffee shop, visitors can order coffee and food served in mugs, like a “broken” bacon egg and cheese sandwich, French toast, oatmeal and crème brûlée. The eatery also plans to host live music on its outdoor patio this summer and weekend “Flight Nights” that will feature a selection of lattes to try.
INFO 33 East Main St.; 631-381-0494, mugsonmain.com
Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe
A roadside stop for takeout ice cream dating back to 1953, Snowflake serves a mighty menu of homemade treats. Options include soft-serve, hand-dipped ice creams and a changing flavor of the week, available by the cone or cup.
INFO 1148 W. Main St.; 631-727-4394, snowflakeicecream.com
This ice cream takeout parlor is the last stop for some sweet treats before entering Aquebogue. Customers can grab cones or cups of either soft or hard ice cream, homemade Italian ices, egg creams, ice cream sodas, cakes, banana boats, milk shakes and floats.
INFO 51 Main Rd.; 631-727-0220
A small roadside shack specializing in tacos and burritos, it has both outdoor and indoor seating. The space may be small, but it’s menu is a vast selection that also includes enchiladas, pizzas, salads, nachos, quesadillas and Latin-styled sandwiches, as well as beverages like sangria, margaritas, beer, fruity Mexican sodas and horchata.
INFO 1156 W. Main St.; 631-369-7277, funchos.com
Taco Bout It
This eatery in downtown Riverhead offers a menu featuring chalupas, enchiladas, quesadillas and pambazo, served here with slow-cooked birria and Dijon mayo.
INFO 40B E. Main St.; 631-574-8787
North Fork Brewing Co.
Located in a former firehouse, North Fork Brewing Co. will be releasing new brews and seasonal faves over the next few months. A wheat beer made with reishi mushrooms, dragon fruit and guava will be released in May. The brewery will host a fifth anniversary bash on a June 17 with live music, limited beer releases and an appearance by the Weenie Panini food truck.
INFO 24 E 2nd St., Ste A; 631-591-1191; northforkbrewingco.com
Montauk Distilling Co.
Neighboring the North Fork Brewing Co., this family-owned-and-operated distillery will be hosting spirit tastings this summer and introducing an Espresso Martini Flight and a new “boozy ice cream” flight. Visitors can enjoy live music Fridays through Sundays and outdoor seating is available.
INFO 24 E 2nd St.; 631-727-6326; montaukdistillingco.com
Jamesport Farm Brewery
Notable for its use of hops and barley grown on-site, the brewery has both a tasting room and a sheltered beer garden. Live music takes place every Saturday and Sunday and new releases monthly. There is also a pet-friendly tasting room and on Saturdays and Sundays guests must be 21 and over to enter, no kids including infants in strollers or carriers.
INFO 5873 Sound Ave.; 844-532-2337, jfbrewery.com
Twin Stills Moonshine
With a tasting room plus a porch and outdoor seating, guests at this distillery can order up cocktails made with its moonshine or try a tasting menu. Guests can also order vodka, martinis and whiskeys.
INFO 5506 Sound Ave.; 631-779-3199, liooldtymer.com
Peconic County Brewing
Notable for its location near the Peconic Riverwalk, guests can hang on its patio with their pup or have a brew in the tasting room, where you can also play foosball. Trivia nights are Sundays and live music takes place weekends.
INFO 221 E. Main St.; 631-740-9797, peconiccountybrewing.com
übergeek Brewing Company
This craft brewery is all about events, including shows ranging in genre from punk, rock, metal, funk and blues — including its first-ever music festival (July 1) starring 14 different acts, food trucks and various vendors. Look for live comedy and paint nights, as well as its unique “Geek Talks” every other Thursday, where local researchers and educators chat with the crowd about all kinds of interesting topics.
INFO 400 Hallett Ave.; 631-381-0848, ubergeekbrewing.com
Long Ireland Beer Company
This brewery has been in operation for more than a decade and hosts a variety of events. The brewers are already busy working on experimental beers for the summer season, including its latest “Summerdale,” a blonde brew made with lemon peel.
INFO 817 Pulaski St.; 631-403-4303, longirelandbeer.com
If you are staying the night, the Hyatt Place Long Island/East End (451 E. Main St.; 631-208-0002, hyatt.com) and the boutique Preston House and Hotel (428 E. Main St.; 631-775-1500, theprestonhouseandhotel.com) are nearby options. The Hyatt, which neighbors the aquarium, provides a more traditional hotel experience. The historic Preston House has its own upscale restaurant for those looking for a romantic escape. A summer stay at the Hyatt starts at $199; the Preston at $399.
Hotel Indigo East End
Located about a half-mile from Tanger Outlet Riverhead and three miles from the center of downtown, this boutique hotel has a pool (opens Memorial Day) and outdoor seating where it hosts its annual Patio Series each summer season, a program where people can dine while live music plays. The hotel is also equipped with its own restaurant Bistro 72. Summer rates to stay start at $189.
INFO 1830 W. Main St.; 631-369-2200, indigoeastend.com