Check out five staycations in Riverhead, Montauk, Sands Point Preserve, Robert Moses State Park, and Lambertville…
Riverhead, Long Island
Once synonymous with “Main Street Blight,” Riverhead’s downtown is undergoing a (tepid) resurgence. Boasting an Atlantis themed aquarium, beautiful kayaking and canoeing on the Peconic River and Bay, and enough BBQ joints to kill a southerner, Riverhead is an excellent detour along the Long Island Rail Road or the Sunrise Highway (R-27) headed east. It has a quaint main street, East Main Street to be precise, with some renovated turn of the 19th century architecture. Although there are still plenty of empty storefronts, the area is still well kept and clean, and Riverhead also is home to one of Long Island’s largest (only?) Polish Towns! Polish Town is northwest of East Main Street and is centered on Pulaski Street (of course) and Osborn Avenue. If BBQ is your thing, look no further than the inexpensive and Carolina-reminiscent Spicy’s Barbeque joint. This is a no frills kind of place, the BBQ sauce is of the yellow East Carolina variety, and the formica and white bread screams down-home. If you thought that all the farm land in Riverhead has been converted into Outlet Malls, think again! Tweeds Restaurant, also in downtown Riverhead, serves up locally raised and slaughtered, free-range buffalo, direct from pastures just outside of town. Just north of town, you have Wildwood State Park on the cliff’s of Long Island’s north shore. Take in the beautiful country roads before suburbs and New Urbanist enclaves destroy the dwindling farms. Riverhead is a perfect layover for wine-country along the northfork or to the beaches of the south fork.
Montauk, Long Island
Little-ol’ Montauk is probably one of the most overrated hard-to-reach beaches for New York City urbanites, but it still deserves its due. If you are into fishing, then you are already aware of the excellent surfcasting that abounds, especially along the Lighthouse point. Montauk is also known for its great surfing (in Long Island terms, of course) and decent sandy beaches. It’s the end of the line for the Long Island Rail Road, but you can also take the Hampton Jitney. Most of the parking and beaches are free, so carpooling could also work, but be sure to leave early: R-27 turns into a two-lane road and is really the only way in or out. Traffic is bad even on a good day, and there seems to have been a lot of road construction the last time I went out there. The Plaza is Montauk’s visitor downtown and offers up plenty of food and drink. Be prepared to drop Manhattan-level dollars on suburban-quality food which often espouses cliché Caribbean-themed restaurants (I thought this was basically New England?). For more seafood options, head north of the main plaza to the ferry-landing. I suggest eating cheaply in Riverhead before you get to Montauk, or pack a lunch or dinner and head over to the Lighthouse area and munch on your egg-salad sandwich on one of the many overlooks or park trails (you can even catch a glimpse of Block Island (Rhode Island)). It would be an almost impossibly long-walk out to the point, but the bike ride is glorious and hilly and there are bus/shuttle options. Parking at the Lighthouse is a whopping $8, and the lighthouse also charges admission, but parking is free after 4pm, perfect for a sunset picnic. Just watch out for the copious amount of ticks. Bring some cash (no plastic accepted) and head over to the Lighthouse’s neighboring lounge/café and drink a beer on the stone lookout or the comfy leather-couch living room to watch the Mets beat the Red Sox.
Sands Point Preserve & Roslyn
The first time I made it out to the Sands Point Preserve, it was based on a Long Islander’s recommendation. When I asked what it was all about, he replied “just do it!” I didn’t even google it beforehand. So I was totally unprepared to come across a frickin’ castle complex on Long Island’s north shore. If driving, you can get there from Northern Blvd., R-25A, or the closest LIRR stop is in Port Washington (which you will need a bike to get to the preserve from the station). If driving, take the longer and more scenic route along the bay, instead of the direct route on 101, Port Washington Blvd. If you have read The Great Gatsby, then you may be familiar with Sands Point, a.k.a. the “East Egg,” and the old money of mansions and man-servants. The preserve is famous for Daniel Guggenheim’s “Falaise” and “Castle Gould” both built in the early 1900’s. Overlooking rolling hills with geese, thick woods filled with follies, and beautiful north-shore cliff trails, stands a replica of the Irish Kilkenny Castle (originally built in 1195). Tickets are $10 per person, but parking is free and all ~200-acres are open to the public for plenty of ‘splorin! Nearby Roslyn used to be a hoppin’ little town with a nice main street until the 25A bypass cut right around the downtown, and since then, times have been tough for Roslyn’s day trip-related services. Ever wonder what happened to those dark, wood-paneled restaurants with plush carpeting your grandparents would take you to for early-bird? They said that if you behaved, you could bring your Tomagotchi Nano Pet and they would give you a quarter to get fish food for the pond next door. Well, reminisce no longer! If you are looking for great lunch or dinner in the area, I highly recommend the Jolly Fisherman in the town of Rosyln. Yes it is expensive, but that is what happens when you get quality entrees that come with salad, 3+ sides, baskets of multiple breads, and refillable iced-teas. Yes, your neighboring patrons will be purple-haired, but so were your neighboring patrons over in Williamsburg, too. Jolly Fisherman is not a formal place, but for the love of god, could you please run a comb through your hair, I don’t want my canasta team to think I hang out with a bunch of riff-raff.
Robert Moses State Park
For all the stories that Robert Moses has inspired, he doesn’t get enough credit for the awesome job he did in ensuring public access to the beach, something that I have found is hard to come by in America’s northeast. Say what you will, but $10 per car is a fair price for copious amounts of parking and my yearly dose of skin-cancer inducing solar radiation. I have a special fondness for Robert Moses Park, not only is it fairly easy to get to by car and public transit (take that Janey-baby!), but my Dad used to work his summers in the park’s concession stands. You can take the LIRR to Babylon and then take the S-47 Suffolk Bus to the park. The surfing is usually good, but the lifeguards will chase you out of the water, while at the same time telling you how sick that gnarly wave was you just ripped up (head to the beach furthest west if you want to surf, or just go to Gilgo and call it a day). Bring food, bring water, bring sunscreen, and bring a book, because once you are out on the beach, there are really no provisions, save for the aforementioned over-priced concession stands. Hate it when all your friends are like “so, have you like, been out to Fire Island yet? It is really, like, awesome” you can happily say yes, because Robert Moses Park is on Fire Island. Babylon is a nice town as well, and you can find some lunch or dinner options if you are in no hurry to get back, they also have a Taco Bell. If you need a new bathing suit or to patch the dinged-up board you have in your basement, head over to Bunger Surf for New York City’s closest real surf shop.
Clinton, Frenchtown & Lambertville, NJ
Okay, enough about Long Island. What if you don’t mind paying tolls and you are calling bullshit on all the people who smack-talk New Jersey? Well if you want proof that New Jersey is a truly fine and dandy place that does deserve the nickname “the garden state” then head over to the tri-fecta mill towns of Clinton, Frenchtown and Lambertville. These three clapboard and leaded glass stlye towns offer up plenty of antique and shoppe-flavored stores and restaurants. If you want to pay Brooklyn Flea prices but with a better selection and overall experience, then head over to this area. Each of these towns boast intact main streets. Frenchtown is the smallest with few options, but deserves a little drive-through. Clinton, while not on the Delaware River, offers a beautifully restored Mill that now houses a decent art gallery. Lots of the artwork actually comes from Brooklyn- or Manhattan-based artists who to reside in these townsdue to cheaper rents, fresh air, and lots of serenity. Hey, these towns are only an-hour long bus-ride from Penn Station! Lambertville (and Pennsylvania’s twin town of New Hope) is really the crown jewel of this area. The bustling downtown will cater to all your microbrew and locally-churned sensibilities, but the dense blocks of detached and semi-detached residential areas really blow me away. Lambertville is what Disney and the New Urbanists wish they could build for main street America. The neighborhood north and west of Bridge and Main Streets are filled with small lots and mother-in-law cottages, but the real treat are the hidden canal tow-paths on either side of the Delaware River, parts of which have been converted into walking and cycling parkways. The now defunct tow-paths also serve as a glorious pedestrian alley to get back and forth between the residential area and the commercial area. Hydrangeas and willows dip low over the compacted dirt, with lichen encrusted picket fences on one side and the gently flowing canal on the other. I recommend parking down one of the many side-street dead-ends and approaching the downtown on foot. Cross the bridge into Pennsylvania’s New Hope and eat at the Landing Restaurant, overlooking the River. The Deleware River has lots of tubing and kayaking options, and these towns have so many nooks and crannies that you can discover.