Now that we’re deep in the winter freeze, it’s natural that our thoughts return to summer. It’s when Long Island comes alive; when we can take advantage of the beaches and boardwalks that are a stone’s throw from our backyards. This time of year, cold breezes off the Great South Bay and Long Island Sound send floods of wistful thoughts—and possibly a few four-letter words—through our minds. These six Long Island summer favorites are enough to keep us warm until Memorial Day Weekend.
Long Islanders undoubtedly live for the beach, but sometimes the water is best experienced when you’re actually on it. Sailing and powerboating are two classic past times, and the Island plays host to festivals, regattas and informal gatherings for all kinds of boating enthusiasts. Fishing is high on the list, too, and thanks to successful efforts to clean up the Long Island Sound over the past several decades, striped bass and bluefishing are as popular as ever. Watching Fourth of July Fireworks in harbors, bays and inlets is like a mid-summer night’s dream. But some of my favorite memories are the everyday ones, spent out on the Peconic Bay and hopping from shore to shore.
Don’t call ‘em dive bars. Long Island’s unassuming clam shacks chef up seafood that relies more on freshness than fuss. That’s OK with the locals, who just want get down to business and devour local bounty on a paper plate—while wearing flip-flops. During cold winter months, it’s tough not to get nostalgic (and hangry) while driving by summertime staples like Butler’s Flat Clam Shack in Port Washington, The Shack in Centerport, Bigelow’s Fried Clams in Rockville Centre, Peter’s Clam Bar in Long Beach, Cliff’s Elbow Room in Jamesport, Canal Cafe in Hampton Bays or the Steam Room in Port Jefferson. A bucket of fresh mussels or steamers along with some fried clam strips and a cold brew from Montauk Brewing Co.? Heaven. I’m actually tempted to make like a Billy Joel song, roll up my pant legs and troll one of the many clam beds around the island myself, chills be damned.
This may seem like an obvious choice, but it truly is one of the best aspects of living on Long Island. The beauty of it is there are just so many options. Partiers and recluses alike can find their niche at one of Fire Island’s many different communities. There are the world-famous beaches in Montauk and the Hamptons that draw tourists and stars to our shores each year. And beaches from Robert Moses to Gilgo to Jones Beach boast crowded fields and quiet stretches of sand nestled up against the dunes. Warning: Don’t wander too far down the strip at Robert Moses if nude bathing isn’t your idea of sightseeing. Those who prefer rockier shores to sand in their shoes can find havens on the North Shore. One thing is for sure: A Long Island summer without several beach days isn’t much of a summer at all.
Performances of all kinds are somehow better when watching them outside. From local acts to mid-size performers at Huntington’s Hecksher Park to international and national superstars who come to play at the Nikon at Jones Beach Amphitheater, there really is something—and somewhere—for everyone to take in live entertainment. Long Island’s many seasonal options offer a full range of seating styles, too: a picnic dinner and blanket, setting up lawn chairs or grabbing food and drinks at the concession stand to bring back to your assigned seats. Those truly in need of a respite can simply sit back, close their eyes and enjoy the sounds while taking in the summer night air.
Once the weather heats up, most Long Islanders can be found firing up the grill, heating up the pool and loading up the cooler in preparation for that classic summer rite of passage: backyard BBQs. We only have a few months a year that we can spend outside, making it essential to relish those muggy, firefly-laden summer nights spent outside. Hot dogs and hamburgers taste better with cold beer on a balmy evening. Bonus points for night swimming, a favorite for all Islanders regardless of age.
Long Island’s nationally-recognized Cabernet Francs, Merlots and other blends and varietals have come to prominence in the last two decades, giving summer revelers yet another reason to venture to the East End. Both Forks boast enough quality options to quench your thirst. Many actually have winter hours—consider abandoning hibernation goals and enjoying some tourist-free vino. It’s up to you whether you opt for a moody red or embrace summer in January with a trendy rosé. Rumor has it the pink stuff is so good, the South Fork runs dry of it each summer. If it’s too chilly to trek out East, get ready for warmer days ahead by calling up the crew and promising to make a day trip to the first weekend in April.