Several of the Fire Island ferries leave from the town of Bay Shore. Once a popular resort community—and still surrounded by some very wealthy estates—Bay Shore has more recently been stricken with urban blight, and feels tired and run-down.
The ferry docks at the foot of Maple Avenue, and on summer days, beachgoers stream down the thoroughfare, armed with coolers, beach chairs, and umbrellas. Few stop at the Gibson/Mack/Holt House (22 Maple Ave., 631/665-7003, 2–4 p.m. Tues. and Sat., free admission), but the very attractive historical home is well worth a look.
Several rooms have been restored to their original 1820 condition, while others house memorabilia from the town’s turn-of-the-century heyday. The house is run by the Bay Shore Historical Society and was restored almost entirely by volunteers.
Sightseeing cruises around Great South Bay are offered by South Bay Cruises ((631/321-9005, www.laurenkristy.com, April–Oct), as well as brunch, lunch and dinner voyages. The cruises leave from the Bay Shore Marina at the foot of Clinton Avenue.
Heckscher State Park
East of Bay Shore is 1,500-acre Heckscher State Park (off Heckscher State Pkwy., East Islip, 631/581-2100, dawn–dusk daily, $6–8 parking). The park is an especially good place for families to go swimming because the water is calm, protected by the bay. Facilities include three beaches, a pool, bathhouses, nature trails, and a 69-site campground. For camping reservations, call 800/456-CAMP.
The Long Island Greenbelt Trail, maintained by the Long Island Greenbelt Conference (631/360-0753, www.hike-li.com), runs the 34-mile width of Long Island, from Heckscher State Park on the South Shore to Sunken Meadow State Park on the North Shore. The trail follows the Connetquot and Nissequogue River valleys through wetlands, pine barrens, and forest. Other suggested hikes are outlined by the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau on their website, www.funonli.com.
Bayard Cutting Arboretum
One of the greatest estates along the South Shore is the Bayard Cutting Arboretum (466 Montauk Hwy., Oakdale, 631/581-1002, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., $6–8 parking), once owned by railroad magnate William Bayard Cutting. The 690-acre estate was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscape architect who also designed New York City’s Central Park.
The arboretum centers on a dark baronial Tudor mansion. Inside are a few natural history exhibits and a snack bar, but the place feels oddly empty. Perhaps that’s because compared to the estate’s glorious grounds, the mansion seems almost an afterthought.
Just outside the mansion is a verdant lawn, stretching 600 feet down to the Connetquot River. On either side stand huge old black oak trees, spreading out their leafy boughs, while all around are various gardens—the azalea garden, the rhododendron garden, the lilac garden, the holly garden.
Parts of the arboretum were badly hit by Hurricane Gloria in 1985. An estimated 1,000 trees were lost during that storm, including about 20 of Long Island’s oldest trees and 80 of the 120 species originally planted by Mr. Cutting. Younger trees have since been planted in their stead, but it will be many years before they reach their predecessors’ 70–90-foot heights.
Long Island Maritime Museum
The laid-back Long Island Maritime Museum (86 West Ave., off Montauk Hwy., West Sayville, 631/854-4974, http://limaritime.org, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–4 p.m. Sun., adults $4, seniors and children $2) occupies an idyllic spot overlooking Great South Bay. Housed in shipshape buildings, the museum holds the largest collection of small craft in Long Island. On display is everything from oyster vessels and sailboats to ice scooters and clam boats.
Also at the museum are a historic oyster house and an 1890s bayman’s cottage, both of which were moved here from elsewhere on the island. The oyster house holds an extensive exhibit on the harvesting of shellfish, while next door is a working boat shop where volunteers build new boats and restore old ones.
The Bay Shack (end of Maple Ave., Bay Shore, no phone) serves great clam chowder, lobster rolls, and other seafood to ferry passengers. Opposite the train station is tiny Siam Lotus (1664 Union Blvd., 631/968-8196, $11), serving first-rate Thai food in a cramped but friendly setting.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition