Located on the South Fork of Eastern Long Island, just 100 miles outside of NYC, the Hamptons have served as the backdrop for countless books, movies, and TV shows for years. For many who frequent the beach-y summer haven annually, the quiet and calm collection of Long Island beach towns have long been a place to make memories and spend quality time with family and friends. Now that summer is just about here, make sure to include some of these classic Eastern Long Island experiences on your Hamptons to-do list.
As the oldest lighthouse in New York and the fourth oldest operating lighthouse in the United States, the Montauk Point Lighthouse, located in the quiet beach town of Montauk on the easternmost tip of Long Island, is one of the Hamptons’ most beloved historic landmarks. Built in 1792 during George Washington’s presidency, the 111-foot beacon offers a unique and sprawling view of the Block Island Sound, as well as the Atlantic Ocean, where the tower’s light can be seen for nearly 19 miles at night. On clear days, bring the family to the adjacent Montauk Point State Park to enjoy the area’s playground, concession stands, and hiking trails, then climb the lighthouse’s 137 iron steps to take in the stunning Long Island sunset. Don’t forget to stop by the nearby museum–located in the 1860 Keepers’ house–to learn more about this landmark’s rich history through the Montauk Historical Society’s collection of assorted historical documents and photographs. Entry price: $11 for adults, $4 for children, $8 for seniors.
The reasons to love the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center are endless. Located in downtown Riverhead, this massive aquatic paradise resides on 3.2 acres alongside the scenic Peconic River and is home to “one of the Western hemisphere’s largest all-living Coral Reef display,” as well as one of the continent’s largest insect exhibitions according to the center’s official website. First opened in 2000, the aquarium only continues to expand as it accommodates the millions of visitors it attracts every year. Recently named one of the Top 10 Interactive Aquariums by Parents magazine, be sure to visit over the summer to take full advantage of the center’s both indoor and outdoor offerings: Say hi to the seals in their outdoor tank; feel stingrays in the lobby; hold starfish, horseshoe crabs, and other small ocean animals in the touch tank; catch the popular outdoor sea lion show starring Java and Bunker; and even become an archaeologist in the “Unearthing Atlantis” exhibit. Open seven days a week from 10am-5pm. Various ticket packages available, see website for details.
No Hamptons visit would be complete without a trip to the beach, and Cooper’s Beach is one of the area’s finest. Named the Best Beach in America in 2010 according to Dr. Stephen Leatherman (the geoscientist and coastal ecologist also known as Dr. Beach), this long stretch of grainy white sand has all the amenities one needs for a fun and safe day at the shore, including lifeguards, bathrooms, and fresh water showers. With plenty of food options, spending an entire day soaking in the sun is easily done. Grab some snacks at one of the concession stands, pack your own lunch to enjoy at the beach’s picnic table area, or stop by a nearby restaurant that hosts lobster bakes every Friday and Saturday during the summer months. Visitors also have the option to rent out umbrellas and chairs. Parking is a little on the pricier side ($40 per day), so biking may be preferable.
Family-friendly and informative, a visit to the Natural History Museum and Nature Center–known as SoFo–is a must. Sitting adjacent to the Vineyard Field Preserve and the Long Pond Greenbelt, the South Fork’s only natural history museum is known for its nature exhibits and over 250 educational programs led by knowledgeable museum educators. Visitors can enjoy the museum’s galleries and exhibits recreating natural habitats, as well as several floor-to-ceiling murals depicting natural scenes of forests, oceans, and ponds. Inside, explore a marine touch tank and many terrariums and aquariums that feature local wildlife, then wander outside to take in the beauty of the SoFo’s Native Butterfly and Native Wildflower gardens. For a more solitary experience, take a stroll through the center’s 40 acre preserve featuring ponds, woods, and wetlands. Open seven days a week, this educational gem is the perfect way to learn more about and engage in the world around you.
Since the Westhampton Raceway closed in 2003, the quarter-mile Riverhead Raceway has remained Long Island’s only auto-racing venue and is one of the oldest stock-car racing tracks in the nation. First opened as a dirt track in 1951 before permanently switching to asphalt in 1955, this oval race track has been the site where auto-racing fans have made memories for decades. Make some memories of your own when you visit the Hamptons by checking out any of the track’s many races, special events, and children’s rides. See official website for upcoming event details.
The Southampton Historical Museum, located on the Rogers Mansion property in Southampton, is a year-round museum dedicated to educating visitors about the town’s development and history. With so many constantly-changing exhibits, there’s something new to explore with every visit, and both children and adults will be captivated by the museum’s displays, research center, and educational programs detailing the town’s rich past. Built by a local whaling captain in 1843, the site’s original buildings serve as artifacts themselves, with the museum’s main complex consisting of several small shops and buildings that transport visitors back to another, simpler time. When you visit, be sure to check out the one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and even a paint and wallpaper store, among other small stores that together recreate the feel of a small 19th-century town. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and holidays.
The Hamptons unparalleled beauty is what makes it such a popular getaway spot, and what better way to take in that beauty than jumping on board one of the area’s many boat tours? Just a sampling of what’s offered: Sail Montauk, MTK Cruises, Sag Harbor Charters, and Sag Harbor Sailing, among many others. Each tour offers a unique perspective and experience, while also being an incredibly informative and fun experience for the entire family.