Fire Island  wasn’t declared a National Seashore until 1964, by which time 17 resort communities had already been established. These communities were allowed to remain, as long as they didn’t grow beyond their designated boundaries. Today they are popular vacation spots, especially among Manhattanites.
Each Fire Island community has its own distinct character. Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines are the island’s two gay retreats; Kismet and Fair Harbor attract a large singles crowd; Saltaire and Seaview cater primarily to families.
Most of these communities are not designed for the casual visitor. Their vacationers tend to rent or share houses—usually for the entire summer—and often arrive via hired water taxi. Most of these communities also do not offer bathhouses or other public facilities.
Two communities that do welcome day-trippers and overnight visitors are Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park. Ocean Beach attracts many families, Ocean Bay Park many singles. Both are friendly, middle-class communities equipped with public facilities and serviced by Fire Island Ferries in Bay Shore  (631/665-3600, www.fireislandferries.com , adults round-trip $17, children round-trip $7.50).
Cherry Grove also welcomes the casual visitor. Older, smaller, less expensive, and more exuberant than its sister community, the Pines, it centers around the Grove Hotel, which always teems with a gay crowd—talking, drinking, and partying. Cherry Grove is serviced by the Sayville Ferry Co. (River Rd., Sayville, 631/589-8980, www.sayvilleferry.com , adults round-trip $12, children round-trip $6).