The standard is high for Long Island beaches; they’re on an island after all, with a tremendous amount of attractive coastline. The north shore is on Long Island Sound, which is buffered by Connecticut, so the waters are pretty calm. The south shore is on the Atlantic Ocean, which makes it more open and dramatic, and surfer-friendly. We’re biased toward the south shore, so starting closest to New York City and moving eastward, here are a few ocean-side options to start with.
Jones Beach is a lovely state park located on a barrier island. There’s little commercial development, so you can look forward to a nice clean boardwalk, a few concession stands, and a wide white-sand beach. Jones Beach also has a huge outdoor amphitheater hosting big-name bands. The beach is accessible by car, or you can take the N88 bus (or a taxi) from the Freeport train station on the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). Check mta.info/lirr for discounts, and remember that taxis don’t take credit cards.
Fire Island is also a barrier island, but even prettier with so many deer and migratory birds, and it’s a protected National Seashore. There are many different communities on Fire Island, so to help you get oriented: Ocean Beach acts as a major hub with the highest concentration of shops, restaurants, and bars; the Pines and Cherry Grove have a legendary gay scene; and Fair Harbor is quieter, less party-central. For these spots, take the LIRR to Bay Shore or Sayville, then take a taxi (or walk about a mile, if you have time) to the ferry terminal. Ferries to Ocean Beach and Fair Harbor leave from Bay Shore ($17 round-trip) and ferries to the Pines & Cherry Grove leave from Sayville ($16 round-trip). Take note, vehicles are generally not allowed on the island, and bring cash, as cards are scarcely accepted.
The Hamptons are no doubt famous, and while you may associate them with crazy celebrities, absurd wealth, and gated communities, the beaches are beautiful regardless. Much of the area is occupied by private beaches, but there are several public ones with concessions. Try Main Beach in East Hampton (rated #1 in America by Dr. Beach in 2013), but be warned, it’s quite popular and parking can be an expensive nightmare, as the town only issues a certain number of permits per year. Alternately, walk about two miles (or take a taxi) from the East Hampton train station on the LIRR.
Ditch Plains is way out in Montauk, at the easternmost tip of Long Island. The solid waves make it a surfer magnet, the high sandy bluffs are just too picturesque, and the grassy paths that snake through Shadmoor State Park offer some expansive ocean views. The landmark East Deck Motel (right on the beach next to the Ditch Witch concession stand) has sadly closed after 57 years, but the beach itself remains a gem. From Ditch Plains, you can walk about an hour along the beach to get into town, if you want to grab some take-out, groceries, or supplies. Ditch Plains is accessible by car, or you can take a taxi from the Montauk train station on the LIRR.
What’s your favorite Long Island beach?