It has happened to all of us. The phone rings and it is a far-flung friend or relative announcing that they are ‘in town’ and coming over for a visit- now. Pulling together catered meals or noshes poses no problem. It’s when we all find each other’s company so compelling that we do not want the visit to end. Now what, and more importantly, where to go next?
Cheap Eats and Dining Destinations: the entire village of Huntington offers a broad range of cuisines at prices ranging from wallet-friendly to ‘get a second mortgage‘. These include Brazilian, Thai, Greek, Mexican, French Bistro, Middle Eastern, a vegan bakery, and so much more! And for coffee, there’s always Starbucks! For another great ‘burb offering epicurean delights, get thee to East Williston with the fabled ice cream parlor Hildebrandt’s which also serves diner classics, and the no-reservations, cash-only Persian restaurant, Miraj. Order the saffron and rosewater rice to go. You will not be disappointed!
Walt Whitman House: across from the eponymous shopping mall, see where the region’s famous poet lived. A short drive away is the original 1892 Long Islander building smack in the center of Huntington Village, where the newspaper Walt started continues today (now housed at another location).
Theodore Roosevelt’s Summer White House: At age 8, his author used to ride over from Cold Spring Harbor on my two-wheeler, sneak in and join house tours, such was my hero worship for our 26th President. The big draw is the great room with exotic taxidermy including a giant set of politically-incorrect elephant tusks. Sit a spell on the broad veranda and imagine looking over the crowds of townsfolk and journalists hearing one of TR’s fiery speeches. Do not leave without visiting the adjacent Orchard museum, featuring display that chronicle TR’s life and larger than life legend.
Sites and Sights to See:
East Hampton: Come for the windmill, stay for the celebrity-sightings. This historic town is a New England village begotten on Long Island’s East End. Weathered cedar shakes adorn most buildings on quaint, tree-lined streets. Alec Baldwin, Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), Jennifer Lopez, Scarlett Johansson, and Sarah Jessica Parker, have year-round homes here and can be see on occasion at the farm stands, bakeries, and coffee shops, too. Be sure to drive along Dune Road to see firsthand where the 1% live, at least some of the time!
Shopping: Aside from the big box stores that have sprouted along secondary highways, nearly every town and village has unique boutiques worth a look. There are also two Tanger outlet shopping malls (Deer Park and Riverhead), the IKEA-anchored mall in Hicksville, and the mack daddy of them all, the Roosevelt Field (wonder who that was named for) shopping center in Westbury. Also the sprawling Smith Haven Mall in Smithtown and let’s not forget the Walt Whitman in South Huntington, both of which have a number of decent chain eateries like Red Robin, the Cheesecake Factory, and P.F. Chang’s. These malls are also great stops to pick up necessary items that didn’t get packed such as toiletries and vitamins.
But enough of the same-old, same-old. For those seeking something unique to the region, get thee to museum row in Garden City. Here’s where you’ll find the Cradle of Aviation, with dramatic and dynamic displays that include biplanes to jet fighters suspended from the ceiling. This museum pays tribute to the history of flight, much of which took place here on the Island! There’s also a Firefighter’s Museum, and a splendid Children’s Museum (for kids of all ages) that includes a carousel and exhibits that encourage interaction and make learning a delight.
A few miles east, the American Airpower Museum that features the war birds manufactured on Long Island at Grumman Aerospace, as well as Republic Aviation, and Sikorsky. On a great day visitors may happen upon retired employees from these companies who banded together to restore many of the planes used in the exhibits. They’ll be glad to recount the days when Long Island-built planes helped turn the tide for the Allies during WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam conflict, the Gulf War, as well as the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran.
Lighter fare as well as food for the imagination can be had everywhere in Port Jefferson. From quaint shops to dining delights, this town has so much to offer, including a ferry to Bridgeport, CT! Everyone in the family will enjoy the Long Island Exploratorium on Main Street, including its exhibit devoted to the ‘science of ice cream’. Sign. Me. Up! It is hands-on and highly interactive.
Like fish? Visit the Riverhead Aquarium. Aquatic life abounds, including giant fish tanks and no end to the varieties of salt and freshwater piscatory. There are also penguins, dolphins, sharks (you may snorkel with them if you dare), and Japanese Snow monkeys. (But why?) Try Groupon for discount tickets. And put blinders on the kids when you exit- it may be reached only by a trip through the extensive gift shop.
Once, back in the 1930s, roadside zoos dotted the highways. Chief among them were game farms featuring live animals. One of the last is the Long Island Game Farm in Manorville with domestic animals as well as the exotic: giraffes, zebras, wallaby, alligators, and ostrich.There is an outdoor theatre with entertainment from trained animal acts, and a carousel, too. Discount coupons are available on their website.
The Museums of Stony Brook. This unusual museum features several outbuildings including a blacksmith shop and a one-room schoolhouse along with a museum with changing exhibits, a gift shop, a duck decoy collection, and several centuries of carriages, housed on a 9-acre campus. The Nassau Museum, housed in a former Gold Coast mansion offers changing art exhibits, a formal stroll garden, all on an expansive campus featuring outsized sculptures in a permanent exhibit.
For those who enjoy an outdoor art experience, Longhouse Preserve in East Hampton provides the ideal locale. Open on select weekends during the Spring through Fall months, there are permanent as well as touring art exhibits. Do not miss the breathtaking formal gardens with expansive fountains and water features. This is the home of a renowned Scandinavian designer whose extraordinary modern home furnishings are on display in a walk-through glass gallery.
Speaking of museums in Gold Coast mansions, no visit to the North Shore would be complete without a day spent at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport. Built overlooking the LI Sound, this Mediterranean summer ‘cottage’ has a planetarium, a separate structure devoted to fish and game, a museum including all the trappings of wealth in the early 20th century including African art, taxidermy, an Egyptian mummy, a Moorish oasis, and a 16th century ‘taxi’. Tours of the home are a must. During the Christmas holidays the docents are costumed performers enacting scenes from the Vanderbilt’s family life including visits from celebrities of the day. There is also a tree-lighting ceremony with a choir in attendance, followed by an exclusive holiday feast for a select few around the family dining table.
The wealth of dining options and regional attractions cannot be covered in one article. And we haven’t even touched on the East End wineries.Two words: just go! By now you’re probably wondering how soon you can take more visitors around to the local attractions. In fact, there are so many that celebrate all that makes our region one of the best and most popular places to visit in the United States. It takes just one visit from out of towners and you’ll be thinking: staycation!