14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do on Long Island, NY
Written by Lavanya Sunkara
Jul 11, 2019
The Hamptons get all the attention on Long Island, but the 118-mile-long and 23-mile-wide land stretching from the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn has a number of top attractions to keep you busy for days.
Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the south and the Long Island Sound on the north, the 10th largest island in the country has plenty of wide-open spaces, uncrowded beaches, and historic mansions. From the golden beaches of the South Shore to the quaint waterfront villages of the North Shore, from the fabled Gold Coast mansions and their elaborate gardens to historic lighthouses and museums, you'll never run out of things to do on Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk counties.
The land that gave us Walt Whitman, Billy Joel, Jerry Seinfeld, LL Cool J, and Mariah Carey is culturally and ethnically diverse; no single town is the same as another, and you are sure to find various accents. With that, you'll also find authentic ethnic food, delicious bagels, and fresh seafood.
Kids can have endless fun building sandcastles on beautiful beaches and learning about the island's surrounding waters at the Jones Beach Nature Center and the Long Island Aquarium. Summer days can be spent at concerts at the outdoor amphitheater at Jones Beach, attending one of the many fun weekend festivals or exploring castles and mansions.
The best part is, you can get to almost anywhere on the island from New York City via the Long Island Rail Road. It may be the busiest commuter rail in the country (and probably the most expensive), but it's convenient, comfortable, and fast.
Plan your next vacation with our list of the top attractions and things to do on Long Island.
1. Montauk Point Lighthouse
At the farthest point east on Long Island stands the historic Montauk Point Lighthouse in the hamlet of Montauk. Commissioned by George Washington and completed in 1797, the oldest lighthouse in New York State became a beacon of hope and the first sight millions of immigrants saw on their way to the free world. It later became a strategic fire control station by the armed forces during WWII.
Today, the lighthouse attracts scores of tourists wanting to take in the expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean and catch glimpses of the seals that gather on the shores. On these dog-friendly grounds, there are walking trails that take you around the buildings and onto a rocky beach. You can climb up to the top of the lighthouse for panoramic views or visit the museum, located in the 1860 Keepers' house.
Address: 2000 Montauk Hwy, Montauk, New York
Official site: https://montauklighthouse.com
2. Jones Beach State Park
As one of the most beautiful beaches on Long Island, the 6.5-mile-long Jones Beach, with sugary sand and refreshing waves, is a popular summer spot. Walk or bike the boardwalk, play basketball or miniature golf, or simply hang out on your beach blanket after a swim. Get delicious tacos, burgers, and rice bowls at the newly revamped Boardwalk Cafe adjacent to the Central Mall Concession. Be sure to arrive early in the day to beat the crowds, or come after sunset to enjoy cool ocean breezes and a nearly empty beach.
Don't miss the biggest show the state park puts on-the Memorial Day Bethpage Air Show-where the U.S. Navy Blue Angels put on a breathtaking show over the water. Music lovers can catch concerts for free at the bandshell or get tickets to big-name musical acts at the Northwell Health outdoor arena.
The Nature Center, located on a barrier island within the state park, has a lot of fun things to do for kids, including a Discovery Bone Cove where they can dig up whale bones, see a butterfly garden, or view a shipwreck.
Address: 1 Ocean Pkwy, Wantagh, New York
Official site: http://jonesbeach.com/
3. The Hamptons
From world-class beaches to lovely hamlets and towns boasting mansions with manicured lawns, the Hamptons, in the easternmost part of the South Fork of Long Island, embody the quintessential summer getaway. You can fill your days with outdoor parties, gallery openings and museum outings, alfresco dining, and of course celebrity watching. The area encompasses Southampton and East Hampton, with hamlets such as Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, Water Mill, and Amagansett among others.
This seaside resort destination has miles of sunny beaches, including the world-famous Main Beach and Cooper's Beach. Getting to the Hamptons may take a while, whether you are taking the Hampton Jitney or the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) or driving, but the trip is well worth the time.
4. Long Island Aquarium
The Atlantis-themed Long Island Aquarium boasts one of the largest living coral displays in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to the 20,000-gallon display tank, this Riverhead aquarium has a massive shark tank, and a number of indoor and outdoor exhibits of marine and island wildlife. Kids can have up-close encounters thanks to touch tanks and other interactive features like meet-and-greet with penguins, selfies with sea lions, and feeding the birds at the Bird Aviary.
In the summer, a 90-minute Atlantis Explorer Boat educational tour takes visitors down the Peconic River. If you are feeling a bit adventurous, you can do a shark dive in a cage in their Lost City of Atlantis Shark exhibit. The aquarium also hosts sleepovers, so you can spend the night next to the tanks. But you can always opt for the nearby waterfront Hyatt Place Long Island/East End.
Address: 431 E. Main Street, Riverhead, New York
Official site: https://www.longislandaquarium.com/
5. Fire Island
Miles of enchanting beaches and tiny villages flanked by sand dunes, white-tailed deer, and pristine wilderness make Fire Island seem like a world away from the concrete jungle of New York City. This narrow barrier island parallels Long Island on the South Shore, with the westernmost tip beginning at the popular Robert Moses State Park and separated by the Great South Bay.
From the Robert Moses Beach, you can take a nature trail to the Fire Island Lighthouse and Smith Point Visitor Center. The best way to explore Fire Island is on an overnight stay, either at a campground at Watch Hill or by renting a beach house, but be sure to book early in the year to reserve a spot. Take time to explore the Sunken Forest on a relaxing walk on the elevated boardwalk under the canopy of a maritime holly forest.
On this car-free island, the Robert Moses Causeway takes you to the state park, while the William Floyd Parkway takes you to the eastern end to the William Floyd estate. The Fire Island National Seashore, which covers 26 miles of the island, can be accessed by boat or ferry from Patchogue, Sayville, and Bay Shore.
6. Old Westbury Gardens
Step right into the pages of The Great Gatsby when you enter the grounds of this Old Westbury opulent estate, former property of John S. and Margarita Grace Phipps. This Gold Coast estate, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, consists of 160 acres. It features the main attraction of the palatial Westbury House surrounded by sweeping lawns, rose gardens, water fountains, serene ponds, and lakes. Begin with a tour of the mansion, followed by a stroll through its gorgeous gardens.
During the warmer months, Old Westbury Gardens has concerts and special events on the main lawn. Their most popular event, Dog Days, happening in the spring and fall, attracts dog owners and lovers to the gardens for a fun-filled outing with hikes, themed-entertainment, and vendors.
Address: 71 Old Westbury Road, Old Westbury, New York
Official site: https://www.oldwestburygardens.org/
7. Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
If you have dogs and love history, be sure to explore the "Summer White House" on the North Shore. The former estate of the country's 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, is open for visitors year-round between sunrise and sunset. Take a guided tour of the 23-room Victorian mansion (filled with game trophies from his exploring days), check out the Audubon Center, and walk the trail to the Long Island Sound that the president enjoyed with his furry friends.
Sagamore Hill is part of the U.S. National Parks Service and is listed on the National Historic Places registry. Every year, it hosts educational programs and annual events, including a free Independence Day celebration that features a visit from an actor resembling the late president.
Address: 20 Sagamore Hill Road, Oyster Bay, New York
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/sahi/index.htm
8. Oheka Castle
Travel to the time of Long Island's Gilded Age with a visit to Oheka Castle, sitting on the highest point of Long Island in the town of Huntington. With expansive manicured lawns and gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, responsible for the layout of Central Park, this French chateau-inspired building has been the setting for many weddings.
This former estate of financier and philanthropist Otto Herman Kahn was built in 1919 and had its share of extravagant soirees in the roaring 20s. The name of the castle comes from the first letters of its former owner. Available on the grounds are tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, a large greenhouse complex, and a French Formal Garden in the front of the house.
After Kahn's death, the property had multiple owners, and the latest owner, Gary Melius, did a complete renovation and turned this second largest private residence in America into a luxury hotel. This Historic Hotels of America member boasts 32 guest rooms and suites on the upper floors of the estate. The property also has an events space, conference center, and hosts mansion tours.
Address: 135 W. Gate Drive, Huntington, New York
Official site: https://www.oheka.com/
9. Long Beach Boardwalk
For a fun outing with surf and fine white sand, there's no better place than Long Beach, located a 50-minute train ride from New York City. Stroll or bike the 2.2-mile boardwalk, rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy, grab a bite at the Shoregasboard food truck market, and cool off with a frozen yogurt at Tutti Frutti. Visitors can take advantage of the free concert series in the summer. If you want to learn how to surf or paddleboard, Skudin Surf Long Beach is located right on the beach. Surf2Live runs weekly summer surf camps and private lessons for children and adults.
10. Coe Hall and the Planting Fields
Coe Hall, the former estate of Standard Oil heiress Mai Rogers Coe and her husband insurance magnate William Robertson Coe, is the main attraction of this popular North Shore property in Oyster Bay. This Tudor Revival mansion still maintains its 20s elegance, and a tour inside reveals priceless antiques, handcrafted details, and original furnishings and artwork.
The 409-acre grounds surrounding the estate are known as Planting Fields, and are included in the National Register of Historic Places. It is a feast for the eyes, with blooming flowers, lush rolling lawns, greenhouses, and formal gardens.
In April, the Planting Fields Foundation celebrates Arbor Day with their annual festival full of fun activities, including tree climbing with a harness, planting ceremonies with Smokey Bear, and live music with Peat Moss & the Fertilizers and Johnny Herbert. Kids can also enjoy scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, and book readings. On summer Friday evenings, the Planting Fields puts on "Music in the Garden" outdoor concerts featuring blues, jazz, and swing music.
Address: 1395 Planting Fields Road, Oyster Bay, New York
Official site: https://plantingfields.org/
11. Sands Point Preserve
Overlooking the Long Island Sound, Sands Point Preserve is a magnificent 216-acre park featuring three castle-like mansions on the original Guggenheim Estate and several dog-friendly, wooded hiking trails. The preserve has the stately Hempstead House, Castle Gould, and Falaise. Falaise, built by Harry S. Guggenheim, boasts paintings from the Renaissance and antiques that date back to the 16th century.
Hempstead House, an opulent Tudor-style mansion, boasts 40 rooms, a rose garden, and terrace with sweeping views of the Long Island Sound. It's often used as a venue for weddings and special events.
Sands Point Preserve hosts a number of events, including mansion tours, yoga classes, and a Halloween Ball. Dogs can have fun splashing around in the cool waters of the Long Island Sound, and the grounds are ideal for picnics.
Address: 127 Middle Neck Road, Sands Point, New York
Official site: http://sandspointpreserveconservancy.org/
12. Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium
Located on the North Shore, the 43-acre former estate of William K. Vanderbilt includes the Spanish Revival-style mansion of Eagle's Nest, turned museum and Planetarium. The museum houses thousands of wildlife specimens that Vanderbilt collected during his overseas expeditions. Additional structures on the property include a boathouse, seaplane hangar, and a curator's cottage surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Vanderbilt's Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium has full-dome films, laser shows, live star talks, and concerts. The rooftop observatory is open to the public Friday nights (depending on weather) where visitors can see the night sky through a 16-inch Meade reflecting telescope with the guidance of an astronomy educator.
The venue is a perfect place for weddings and special events. Tours of the planetarium and other exhibits are available daily except holidays.
Address: 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport, New York
Official site: https://www.vanderbiltmuseum.org/
13. Nassau County Museum of Art
On the grounds of the former estate of Henry Clay Frick, the Georgian mansion-turned-museum hosts permanent and rotating exhibitions by famous artists like Pierre Bonnard, Auguste Rodin, Roy Lichtenstein, Moses Soyer, Edouard Vuillard, and others.
The Nassau County Museum of Art also features an outdoor sculpture garden with works by Botero, Calder, and more. Walking trails through 145 verdant acres offer opportunities to go for a leisurely stroll to reflect after a visit to the gallery. The museum also offers fun activities for kids, art classes, and workshops like flower felting and scarf painting.
Address: One, Museum Drive, Roslyn, New York
Official site: https://www.nassaumuseum.org/
14. The Cradle of Aviation Museum
The world-class Cradle of Aviation Museum houses Donald Everett Axinn Air & Space Museum Hall, which has permanent and changing collections chronicling the history of aviation, specifically that of Long Island. It has air and spacecraft displays (from biplanes to a lunar landing module), hands-on exhibits, and cockpits to climb into.
The museum also has an IMAX Dome surround-screen theater, showcasing immersive virtual reality experiences and films that transport viewers to far-flung places. The museum's latest exhibit, Space: A Journey to Our Future, is part of their countdown to the Apollo at 50 celebration. Next door on Museum Row, the historic Nunley's Carousel, created in 1912, has been restored to its former glory and is available for rides.
Address: Charles Lindbergh Blvd, Garden City, New York
Official site: https://www.cradleofaviation.org/
Where to Stay on Long Island for Sightseeing
Hotels run the gamut, from luxurious hotels in the Hamptons and North Shore to more affordable chain hotels spread out throughout the counties.
- Luxury Hotels: In the East Hampton, the Mill House Inn is a charming bed-and-breakfast with 10 uniquely themed rooms ideal for a romantic getaway. Guest rooms come with private decks, soaking tubs, flat-screen HDTVs, and fireplaces. And the indulgent breakfast here is known for being one of the best on the island. Undoubtedly, OHEKA CASTLE Hotel & Estate, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has some of the most elegant rooms on the North Shore. Sleep like royalty in the 32 individually decorated rooms, located on the upper floors of the castle. The East Hampton Art House Bed and Breakfast is located within walking distance to Clearwater Beach Preserve and Marina, and has lovely rooms, a 66-foot pool, a hot tub with a waterfall, a wading pool, and an indoor Endless Pool.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Ocean Resort Inn in Montauk is located within steps from the beach and provides a peaceful retreat with views of the Atlantic. Complimentary bikes, chairs, umbrellas, and towels are provided, so you can make the most of your Montauk getaway. The waterfront Hilton Garden Inn Roslyn has an on-site restaurant, fitness center, and indoor pool; it's near many country clubs and golf courses and downtown Roslyn. As the name suggests, the centrally located Hilton Garden Inn Islip/MacArthur Airport is less than a five-minute drive from the Long Island airport.
- Budget Hotels: The newly renovated Red Roof PLUS+ Long Island - Garden City boasts a new lobby, and flat-screen TVs, new furniture, and hardwood flooring in all guest rooms. The property is pet-friendly and has free parking. Comfort Inn Syosset by Choice Hotels has new rooms and offers complimentary hot breakfast and parking.
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