A Visitor’s Guide To Long Island, NY
No matter how much I travel and move, Long Island will forever be my home. I love the way you can spend one day on an isolated beach and the next in the second largest city in the world. You can celebrate all four seasons. You experience every kind of culture, and with it every kind of food – but especially Italian. Really good Italian. The pizza, bagels, and ethnic foods are amazing. From my hometown, I could get to NYC in 45 minutes. Still, if I go in the other direction, there are wineries, farms, and orchards as far as the eye can see and some of the most expensive, beautiful and gigantic homes in the world.
You can check out my blog of just my hometown, West Babylon, here, and my more in-depth Hamptons/Montauk/Eastern LI blog here.
Popular Things to Do on Long Island:
This waterpark is a big hit with the Travel Channel. They’ve rated Splish Splash as the 8th best water park in the country for kids (there are a lot of water parks in this country). I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it on higher rankings in the past, but I can settle for 8th.The only thing that’s not so great about Splish Splash is crowd control. Prepare to wait for the good rides. Wear a ton of sunscreen. Most of the queue lines have natural shade though, so that’s good. I 10/10 recommend the short little red slides they call “Shotgun Falls.” It’s a super short ride but it usually has a super short wait to match. It also looks simple but it’s actually very thrilling. At least I think so. I’m normally not a fan of body slides, but this one is so much fun and you FLY off at the end.
Worth the wait: “Bootleggers Run” (water coaster), “Alien Invasion,” “Mammoth River”.
Not worth the wait: Lazy River (always the longest line for this – why????), “Giant Twister” (though it’s not bad if the line is short), “Dr. Von’s Dark Tunnel of Terror” (again, do it if the line is short but the ride lasts for like three seconds).
Adventureland is a small but mighty amusement park centrally located on Long Island (and yes, it’s the theme park that the 2009 movie was based off of, but it wasn’t filmed there). This amusement park is definitely more for the younger ones, though there are a few rides that will make your stomach drop. They have a few small roller coasters, a log flume ride, tons of kid-friendly rides, and a full arcade. There’s also a food court, a restaurant, food stands throughout the park, and even a small tavern where you can grab a beer.
You may have heard the joke that Long Island is shopping central, with malls every few miles. That may not be true anymore with classic indoor malls closing down, but it’s still true that you can find a miniature golf course every few miles on Long Island. My favorite from my childhood is Heartland Golf Park, which includes a driving range as well as a beautiful 18-hole mini-golf course.
Long Island Aquarium
Once called Atlantis Marine World, The Long Island Aquarium, located in Riverhead (on the East side of Long Island), isa great way to spend a day. From snakes and eels to sharks and the giant pacific octopus, all your favorite marine animals are here. Kids will love interacting with the sting rays, plus starfish and others in the “touch tank.” Plus, that’s all just the inside portion – outside, you’ll find penguins, otters, seals, and more.
You can certainly spend more than a few hours at this aquarium if you take your time with the exhibits, dine on the property, catch a California sea lion show, and stop by the arcade. If you have a little more time to spend, you can also take advantage of the aquarium’s interactive experiences. You can go behind the scenes with the penguins, dive with sharks, swim with mermaids, and more. When you’re all done, you don’t have to go far for more fun. There are tons of cute restaurants and shops near by. Splish Splash waterpark and a massive Tanger outlet center are not far at all, and there are hotels in the area.
Long Island Game Farm
The Long Island Game Farm is a small children’s zoo that I loved as a kid. They are big on interactive encounters. You can get up close and personal with the giraffes, tortoises, camels, zebras, buffalo, and wallabies – plus, pony rides are available in the summer.
White Post Farms
White Post Farms is a great petting zoo and animal farm popular among Long Island families with small kids – but they also have an amazing bakery, farmer’s market, and garden store. Bring your kids to feed the goats and see camels, monkeys, and giraffes, get pony rides, and play on the jungle gym, but stick around to pick up a fresh baked pie and miscellaneous souvenirs.
Take the ferry from Bayshore, NY and find yourself in Ocean Beach, Fire Island, NY. The ferry is a nice ride. The view is pretty cool, especially from the top deck, but bring a sweatshirt even in July. Ocean Beach is a quaint little beach town where cars are not allowed and flip-flops are basically the required footwear.
Relax on the beach, eat fresh seafood, let the kids play, check out some cute boutiques and gift shops, take walks through the neighborhood of mostly summer homes, get some drinks and ice cream, and have an amazing day or night – but be careful to not miss the last ferry back to Long Island. Check the schedule before you go.
Click here to read my ENTIRE blog post just about Fire Island!
Fan of Kevin Jonas? Taylor Swift? How about Derek Jeter? Well, this beautiful mansion is where Kevin Jonas got married, Derek Jeter was rumored to be married, and Taylor Swift shot her Blank Space music video. It’s also a hotel – but you can check it out by booking a mansion tour or dining at the OHK bar and restaurant. “Country club casual” attire is required.
Vanderbilt Museum & Planetarium
Even if you’re not into touring the museum, the Vanderbilt Museum & Planetarium grounds are BEAUTIFUL. It’s worth checking out. This is on the north shore of Long Island, so if you look across the water you can faintly see the shore of Connecticut. I loved the planetarium as a kid. You can also take a tour of the mansion. There’s a lot of history there, and it’s so beautiful.
Whether you’re a Great Gatsby fan, a Gossip Girl fan, or otherwise inspired by the rich and famous, you’ve probably heard about The Hamptons. Located almost as far east as you can go on Long Island, “The Hamptons” are a string of wealthy seaside towns. Plenty of people live in The Hamptons year-round, but it’s also a popular destination for the wealthiest of NYC to have their summer homes. Main Street in Southhampton is the shopping district you may have seen in movies, and it’s where you may run into celebrities picking up their luxury goods. There are also tons of great restaurants and bakeries in that area. If you want to check out The Hamptons just for a day, that’s the place to start.
Similar to The Hamptons but farther out East and slightly more affordable, Montauk is the most famous summer hang-out on Long Island. Filled with seafood restaurants, bars, beaches, and family-friendly fun, it’s a popular destination for locals to take day trips or quick weekend trips to get away from the suburbs.
The Montauk Point Lighthouse is world famous for its history (it was commissioned by George Washington in 1792) and incredible views. You can also visit Deep Hallow Ranch, known for being the oldest working ranch in the U.S, to ride horseback on the beach. You can also opt to spend your day in Montauk relaxing on the beach – you have your pick of the litter, but I suggest Kirk Park Beach, Gin Beach, or Ditch Plains.
For family-friendly fun when you’re tired of the beach, check out “Puff N’ Putt” Mini Golf & Boat Rentals. I have great memories from spending an hour or two here as a kid – but be aware they are cash-only.
A lot of things in Montauk are only open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, so be sure to plan ahead if you’re visiting outside of the summer season!
North Fork Wineries
The farther east you go on Long Island, the less it feels like you’re anywhere near NYC. In the fall, you’ll find apple picking and hayrides, and in the summer, you can tour the wineries and taste some of the best Long Island-made wines. Here are my favorite vineyards:
Best Long Island Parks
New York State and Long Island should be recognized more for parks. The bulk of this park is just like any other, but the nature trails are absolutely gorgeous! If you’re super into hiking or biking this is a cool place to check out. It’s especially beautiful in the fall when the weather’s right but try it anytime.
Heckscher State Park
Robert Moses faced an uphill battle to turn this old estate into a park, but now it’s a beautiful area in Islip, NY that faces the Great South Bay, which is the body of water between Long Island and Fire Island. The history of this park (as well as Robert Moses’ self-titled beach/park) is very interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. He’s sort of a Long Island legend, see.
Belmont Lake State Park
Great for picnics in the warmer months, and you can rent cute little paddle boats and row boats. A nearby stable uses the horse trails there, and there are walking/running/biking trails as well. Dog walking is definitely a thing there, as well as fishing. It is not uncommon to find people throwing around frisbees or playing horseshoes, and there are softball fields as well. There are also playgrounds for the kids!
No matter where you’re staying on Long Island, you should make your way over to Babylon Village. You can check out the shops and restaurants and take a walk around this lake. It is almost guaranteed that if you drive or walk by during the day you will see a wedding party, a sweet 16, or some other sort of group taking pictures there. You’ll see swans and geese, but don’t you dare try to feed them. It WILL backfire on you. There are often seasonal festivals by the lake, usually including lots of vendors in little tents selling everything from Christmas tree ornaments to wooden ducks and doll clothes. The doll clothes have been a big one lately, I don’t know what’s up with that. Anyway, it’s worth checking out. There’s a park for kids, too.
The Best of the Best Long Island Beaches:
I wasn’t a fan of beaches when I was younger. It meant driving over bridges with whoknowswhat below them, getting wrapped in slimy seaweed, giving my sandy lunch to the seagulls, and getting covered in baby powder at the end of the day so as not to bring the sand into the car. But I’ve grown to love the feeling of the sun on my face with my hands in the sand. Note that you have to pay for parking for all of these (locals often have season passes). Usually, it’s free after four and throughout the winter season.
My favorite state beach near home! Certain fields have different features. If I’m not mistaken, field 5 is the one with the playground for the kids. Each one has bathrooms, concession, and lifeguards, so your priorities are covered.
The famous one. This is the largest and most popular beach on Long Island, which means it’s also the most crowded. It’s also one of the closest beaches to NYC, so city folk come in by the busload in the summers. There is also a huge amphitheater where major artists perform (and you can almost always hear the concerts from the parking lot, so tailgating is a thing). There are various activities scattered along the fields (mini-golf, shuffleboard, basketball, etc.) as well as kids playgrounds and a boardwalk with an incredible view at sunset. The “pencil” is an iconic structure in the middle of the traffic circle that connects roads to the different fields. Look for that when you’re driving in, but please don’t stop in the middle of the road to take a picture.
North Shore Beaches
I’m a south shore girl, so I love the likes of Robert Moses and Jones Beach, but the North Shore Beaches have notoriously beautiful views. They also have very rocky sand, so watch where you step and keep your shoes on. The south shore beaches are best for laying in the sand, splashing in the waves, and even surfing (see unique shops section), and the north shore beaches are great for walks along the water.
I mentioned a few of these in the Babylon blog; these beaches are much smaller than the state-owned beaches and typically have less amenities, but they’re much quieter which is great if you’re craving a relaxing day in the sun. My favorite is Captree.
Long Island Shopping:
Because shopping on Long Island is a thing, I guess.
This place is a MONSTER. It’s the second largest mall in the state of New York and the ninth largest in the country, just after the Galleria in Dallas. It’s a bad idea if you’re looking for something specific, but if you feel like shopping and wandering, it’s fun to check out. I recommend not going on a weekend. Go during the workday if possible. It’s a Simon mall, and it probably has your favorite store.
A more upscale option in the town of Huntington, which also has a cute village that you might like to walk around as well as some other hotspots. This mall is great if you want specifics like jewelry, purses, and other accessories. It’s made of mostly smaller stores, but the Macy’s is pretty big (though it’s missing a juniors section and I don’t believe they have a big kids section). There is an apple store, which is probably the most important store in 2015. Anyway, if you are a tourist on Long Island, this mall is mostly on the list in case you realize you need to buy something specific. It’s a really nice mall, but it’s a mall you could find anywhere.
Tanger Outlets Deer Park
This outdoor center is filled to the brim with deals and steals. Check out Nordstrom Rack, Saks Off 5th, Nike, and so many more outlet stores. Stop by Johnny Rockets or Nathans for lunch (or Chipotle, I guess…), grab some things you don’t need from Christmas Tree Shops, pick up some giant candy from It’s Sugar, and see a movie at the Regal theater. In the colder months, find the ice skating rink in the center. In the summertime, lookout for free concerts!
Tanger Outlets Riverhead
If you’re going to be out there anyway for the aquarium, Splish Splash, or anything else, this is a good stop. It’s split into two separate units, but both are huge. The organization in Deer Park is a little better, but they have most of the same stores with a few add-ins. Notably, there is a Pottery barn here.
My Favorite Restaurants on Long Island:
Conveniently located in the Walt Whitman (Huntington, NY) mall (described above). In my humble opinion, this is THE BEST GOURMET BURGER ON LONG ISLAND. If the ambiance matters to you, that’s pretty cool too. The waiters and waitresses all wear denim button-downs, jeans, and red converse. There are high-top tables and a large bar, which looks a lot like a sports bar though the rest of the restaurant feels a little more like a modern, urban restaurant and less like a place to watch the game. It works really well! They also have really good shakes in really fun flavors (i.e. for December, they have a Gingerbread option). Also pie. They have pie.
The Post Office Cafe
While it’s no Zinburger, this is another place for a great burger. I can’t explain it, but something about their buns is amazing, and they are toasted to perfection. I can’t even tell you what’s different about the burgers, they’re just good…like, really good. The Post Office also has incredible wings so I would start out with those if I were you. Everything else on the menu is great too, but their “Killer Mac ‘n’ Cheese” is particularly good and you can top it off with pulled pork for that extra deliciousness. It has a pretty cool bar scene, they often have live acoustic performers at night, but it’s also fine for kids. I’ve been going there forever with my family and they have a strong kids menu.
This is going to be one of your better choices for Italian while you’re in one of the most Italian-American areas of the country. It’s fairly priced and not too fancy. Mulberry Street has always been my family’s favorite choice for pizza take-out. If you’re visiting from out of state, you HAVE to have some Long Island pizza, and this is a good place to do it. Of course, there are pizza places on every corner and they will all probably be the best you’ve had, but anyway…Mulberry Street is half traditional pizza place, half traditional Italian restaurant, and they have AMAZING meals if you want something a little nicer than pizza. They give you bread on the table and they usually have these little pizza break things in there. I don’t know what they’re actually called, but I call them pizza bread, which may or may not be redundant. But it’s just a little roll with mozzarella and marinara so it’s like a little pizza. On a roll instead of crust. I don’t know, just try it. Chicken parm is always a classic, so I recommend that. Or ravioli. Or anything on the menu. Go here.
If you prefer something slightly more upscale or want to go family-style, I reccomend La Famiglia, which happens to be around the corenr from Mulberry Street in Babylon Village.
A super-fun, family-style environment with two locations on the island (Commack and Massapequa). Each plate serves at least 2-3 people, and you really can’t choose wrong. They also have an impressive dessert selection. This is a family favorite for birthdays and celebrations. I highly recommend the Sicilian Rice Ball as an appetizer.
If you’re coming to Long Island from anywhere outside of New York, you really should focus on Italian food. However, this is the best southern BBQ there is on Long Island. It’s owned by an old couple from TN – Memphis, I think. The sweet tea (which is really good) is served in mason jars and the ribs really hit the spot.
Milk and Sugar Cafe
If you’re into the whole brunch thing, this is a must. It’s also a cute place to sit down for a regular meal, but their brunch is adorable. You feel like you’re sitting in someone’s living room. It’s a whole experience.
Ralph’s Italian Ices
These are everywhere on Long Island. If you’re there in the summer, try to find one. They have an array of flavors – no one can walk away disappointed.
Kirsch’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor
This place is like a gourmet Friendly’s. It’s a 50’s-style ice cream parlor. You can grab dinner there first, or you can just dive right into a delicious sundae. Pick your flavors and toppings or choose one of the ready-made options. It’s all made on site and it’s all delicious. Fluffernutter is a favorite flavor. As seen below, I went for the mint-chocolate chip ice cream with whipped cream and sprinkles on top of a brownie. Bonus points if you can say the name of the town where it’s located – Massapequa.
New York-style Diners
Everyone on Long Island has a favorite diner. Mine is the Terrace Diner, as mentioned in the Babylon blog. But any place that looks like a traditional diner on the outside is likely to have a similar menu. If you don’t have traditional diners where you’re from, you might not understand, but you need to try one.
for a bagel. I’m pretty sure each individual town has at least 10 bagel stores. Most have incredible displays of flavored cream cheese and other spreads, and the bagels are made every morning (which means if you go just before closing, you’re likely to get a few extra for free because they don’t resell the next day – they’re always made fresh). I have a few favorites in Babylon, but if you’re on Long Island and looking for something near you, let me know where you’re going to be.
Unique Shops on Long Island:
Ooh La La
This is possibly the cutest clothing boutique in the entire world. They only exist on Long Island right now and have six locations including Babylon, Sayville, Huntington, Long Beach, Rockville Centre, and Fire Island. It’s small, but that’s part of the charm. Everything they have is adorable – clothes, jewelry, shoes, scarfs, you name it, I love it. I always say that if I could pick one store to make my closet, it would be Ooh La La. Or maybe Anthropologie. I would have more options at Anthropologie.
Bunger Surf Shop
I wouldn’t really know because I’m not a surfer, but apparently, people come from all over to go to this surf shop in Babylon. When you walk in, they have proof that famous surfers and athletes have been there, so that’s kind of cool. It’s one of those places that I always pop into when I’m showing someone around town. I’m proud to have a place like that so close to home.