Fire Island

From the moment you step off the ferry, everything slows down. Tradein car horns for the soft ding of bicycle bells and the sounds of wagons rolling down the dock. The beauty of Fire island is you can do as much or as little as you want on your getaway. Obviously the beach is a big draw; swimming, fishing and sunbathing are a given. And the lighthouse is iconic.

But further east, almost in the center of the island, is Sunken Forest Preserve. A collection of rare specimens of foliage, most notably maritime Holly, the forest is a great place for bird watching or walking the boardwalk that runs through it. The National parks service also offers other tours, including guided canoe tours of the salt marshes at Watch Hill, the eastern-most edge. The tours are free, canoes and lifejackets are provided.

But the island isn’t just about wildlife, beaches and bars. The Fire Island Dance Festival, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, is an event that raises money for the organization Dancers Responding to AIDs. Held in mid-July, the stage is set right on the waterfront in pines, with the stunning backdrop of the Great south Bay enhancing the beauty of the performances.

For a unique 4th of July event, look no further than the Invasion of the Pines. in its 39th year, the event begins at noon when a boat full of drag queens takes off from Cherry Grove and sails into pines, the start of a daylong celebration that pays homage to the history of the island and the past staunch divisions between the two communities.