Long Islanders live in an area where others go on vacation. Hollywood hits the East End every summer for evenings and days on the beach. New York residents come to North Fork to taste wines and pick pumpkins. It’s a point of pride and a curse, as any islander dealing with summer traffic can attest.
As the hectic pace of the summer season fades, fall is the perfect time to take a break and become a tourist in your garden. (And if you’re coming from elsewhere, it’s a great time to find great deals and scenery for you too.)
There is plenty to do – here are three itineraries for the easiest of nearby getaways.
Something to the east
The South Fork, more so than the North Fork, sees the end of its high season on Labor Day weekend. Tumbleweed Tuesday approaches and, suddenly, the Montauk Highway becomes a main road and not a parking lot.
But it’s a loss to everyone else as the Hamptons are in all their glory in the fall. Foliage is a leaf-gazing paradise, and there are even a few farms that devote themselves to the centuries-old tradition of picking pumpkins.
Start the day in a hidden gem. Estia’s Little Kitchen, a small roadside cafe, serves breakfasts with a Mexican-meets-Hamptons twist. The ingredients come from local farms like nearby Milk Pail, and the islanders found themselves dreaming of egg sandwiches.
The Parrish Art Museum’s annual Midsummer Festival is one of the signature events on the annual summer social calendar. But the museum, which you’ll first notice for the two giant sculptures by Roy Lichtenstein towering over the front lawn, continues to display world-class art all year round. An exhibition of Lichenstein, History in the making, runs until October 24 and provides a glimpse into his early work. Tomashi Jackson: The land clam focuses on the historical and contemporary experiences, such as agriculture and transportation, of black, indigenous and Latin American families in the East End.
Discuss what you learned and loved in Parrish at lunch at Provision’s Natural Foods four minutes away in Water Mill. Items on the cafe’s menu include grilled chicken with crunchy apple salad and aged cheddar or a vegan chili that sticks to the ribs in all the right ways.
Duck Walk Vineyard is a popular stop in North Fork, but it also boasts a location in the Hamptons. Vidal Ice wines, produced from grapes actually frozen on the vine, are a sweet delight. If you have time, it’s worth stopping by Hank’s Pumpkintown for a pumpkin and apple picking or at least an apple cider donut. It’s the season. But save space for dinner at Calissa, where Mediterranean cuisine is light and fresh. Beetroot hummus and crunchy squid are popular choices.
Rest your tired legs at the Mill House Inn, a luxury B&B in East Hampton. There is a fireplace in each room, ideal for a cozy autumn evening.
Something small town
Looking for a dose of picturesque autumn? The Long Island region is home to many areas with small-town charm, complete with vibrant main streets and family-owned shops that continue to find creative ways to get around during the pandemic.
Several towns and villages within driving distance along the south coast of Suffolk County fit this bill. Start with breakfast at The Shed in West Sayville. The interior of the space is light and airy, with white walls accented by poppy art. On the menu, you’ll find favorite comfort food brunch dishes such as a breakfast bowl with two poached eggs, avocado and homemade French fries, and Belgian waffles. From there, head to Bellport. The idyllic yet exclusive setting (residents have access to their own beach on Fire Island, Ho-Hum – ho-hum, really). Check out the shops along South Country Road, such as Cooper Beech, The Bellport General, and The Storefront.
Before you leave, try to check in early at the Bellport Inn, where you will be staying for the night. The hotel, which dates back to 1889, is located in the heart of the village. But the peaceful gardens with vines and blueberry bushes offer an escape from the hustle and bustle.
Next, you will head to Bay Shore. The center, which has experienced a renaissance over the past half-decade, is home to a number of unique restaurants, including Tullulah’s. The atmosphere inside is industrial-meets-speakeasy, with soft lighting and exposed wooden beams. Popular lunchtime dishes include creamy Mac ‘n cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches. Get off and get the sand in your shoes at Robert Moses Beach. The camps will be less crowded, giving you space to stretch out and enjoy the benefits of living on an island.
Once you’ve got all the sun, sand, and sea you can handle, head to Babylon Village for dinner. Barrique Kitchen & Wine Bar, a tapas-focused wine bar, boasts beer, wine, and spirits tastings, as well as a tapas menu that allows you to mix and match throughout your meal. Think creamy burrata that melts in your mouth, Oktoberfest-worthy pretzels with baked brie, and delicious veal meatballs.
With New York City in our backyard, it can be easy to overlook the arts, culture and history right here on the island. But that would be a mistake. From Gatsby-style villas to theaters hosting shows that will leave you begging for an encore, there’s a lot to learn about your home region.
But no one learns well on an empty stomach, so start the day with brunch at Hatch in Huntington. The bright interior with yellow chairs and a neon sign that says “My Happy Place” above the open kitchen is like natural caffeine. But go ahead and have a coffee too. It goes perfectly with huevos rancheros. From there, head to Oheka Castle. The famous 1919 Gold Coast mansion has beautiful formal gardens made to be explored. See if you can leave your suitcases there – you’ll sleep like a king tonight. (Bonus: ask about in-room massages).
Coindre Hall, a 15-minute drive away, is next on your list for the Gatsby part of this fall vacation. The French chateau, a national historic monument built in 1912, exudes a medieval charm. It is also a park with sweeping views of Huntington Harbor.
You’ll be refueling from Besito, who put a high-end twist on Mexican food with iron-pan tacos and guacamole so good you’ll want to plan on asking for seconds. Then, head to the Hecksher Museum of Art. The ongoing exhibition, Eclipse of the sun, showcases political art and includes depictions of World War I and Nazi Germany. Reservations are recommended.
Talk about what you saw – or go back to not talking about politics – over dinner at Northport’s Whale’s Tale. The expansive waterfront views and seafood to write home about offer a welcome respite from current events and falling temperatures. The commercial is also a short distance from Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater. The local gem on Main Street will be staging Smokey Joe’s Cafe until October 31, and you will stomp and dance in the aisles for shows like “On Broadway” and “Stand by Me”.