Montauk Lighthouse:
photo courtesy Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau

Before the rise of the railroads, transportation in America was immensely difficult. The only way to transport significant quantities was by water. Clipper ships traveled the Atlantic and Pacific, bringing manufactured materials and fashionable goods from Europe and the Far East. Along East Coast, sailing sloops brought fresh produce to big cities; barges were laden with coal, sand, and stone. At night, the only source of light was the moon and stars; the darkness was total when the night sky was overcast, and the marine charts were often incomplete or inaccurate.

Little wonder, then, that a top priority in Colonial America was building lighthouses, starting with the Boston Lighthouse in 1716. After George Washington was elected president, he urged the First Congress to pass the Lighthouse Bill in 1789, placing all existing lighthouses under Federal control, and creating the U.S. Lighthouse Service, which built dozens of new lighthouses.

A major scientific breakthrough came in 1822, with the French invention of the Fresnel lens -- glass prisms projecting light beams for over twenty miles. Many Fresnel lens are still in use 150 years later, although the lights themselves now operate with electricity or solar power, not whale or lard oil.

Rendered obsolete by modern navigation, many lighthouses were threatened by destruction from natural elements (the sea) and less natural ones (the Coast Guard). A variety of local, regional, and national societies formed to preserve these American treasures, with volunteers staffing museums and maintaining the buildings.

Eastern Long Island, NY
South Winds B&B, Westhampton Beach, NY
Getting Around

Extending eastward into the Atlantic Ocean like a giant lobster claw, Long Island stretches 100 miles from New York City in the west to its easternmost point in Montauk. The two "claws" are known as the North Fork, facing Long Island Sound and the Connecticut shoreline, and the South Fork, facing the Atlantic Ocean. Peconic Bay separates the two forks, with Shelter Island in between. The main highway to the area is I-495 (also known as the Long Island Expressway, the L.I.E., the Long Island Distressway, and "the world's longest parking lot.") You can take the Long Island Railroad or the Hampton Jitney (bus) to the Hamptons in the South Fork, but it's still helpful to have access to a car to get around once there.

At Riverhead, you can follow Routes 25/48 to the North Folk, or Routes 24/27 to the Hamptons in the South Fork. For a more relaxing trip, consider taking the ferry from Bridgeport, CT (just off I-95) to Port Jefferson, on the North Shore, or from New London, CT to Orient Point.

Travel between the North and South Forks takes longer than the mileage indicates, even without traffic, so allow extra time. The most scenic route is to take the ferry from Greenport on the North Fork across to Shelter Island, drive across the island, then take another little ferry onto the South Fork, following the road to Sag Harbor and points south (or vice versa).

When to Go

As always, off-season, midweek visits offer the best rates, the least traffic, and the most welcoming atmosphere. Weekends from Memorial Day at the end of May, to Labor Day at the beginning of September can involve serious traffic on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, crowded restaurants, and high prices plus minimum weekend stays at most B&Bs. Spring and fall are ideal, and September is probably best of all, since the crowds have diminished, but the warm water temperatures continue throughout the month.

Sights & Activities

Beaches: Beautiful South Shore beaches have fine white sand and crashing waves. Parking and/or non-resident entrance fees are required at most beaches in the Hamptons from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends. Many B&Bs are within easy walking/biking distance of a beach, so ask your innkeeper for details. North Fork beaches are generally narrower and calmer, since they are on Long Island Sound. More info.

Wines & more: Most of Long Island's wineries are clustered on the North Fork, on Routes 25 (the Main Road) and Route 48 (Sound Avenue). In less than 30 years, the Long Island wine industry has grown from one small vineyard to nearly 3,000 acres of vines, and over two dozen wineries. In addition to the North Fork's wineries, dozens of farmstands offer beautiful fruits and vegetables throughout the season; "pick-your-own" stands are especially fun for families.

Maritime heritage Eastern Long Island has a rich seafaring heritage. Stroll the handsome, historic streets of Sag Harbor, then visit the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, recalling the days when this now-sleepy village was an international port. The 100-foot high Montauk Point Lighthouse was authorized in 1792 by the Second Congress. Less dramatic, but equally interesting is the Horton Point Lighthouse in Southold, with views of Long Island Sound, and a Nautical Museum. The East End Seaport Museum & Marine Foundation in Greenport comprises the maritime museum, a blacksmith shop, and the Long Beach Bar (Bug) Light. More lighthouse info.

Birding & hiking: Seven areas comprise The Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. On a neck jutting into Peconic Bay (not far from Sag Harbor) is the 187-acre Morton National Wildlife Refuge , of particular interest during the spring and fall migrations. Another option is the Quoque Wildlife Refuge, not far from Westhampton, while scenic Shelter Island offers the 2,100-acre Mashomack Preserve. (Be sure to bring bug & tick repellent)

Art galleries & museums: Head to the Hamptons for most area galleries, as well as the Parrish Art Museum , displaying work by local and other American artists. More info.
More Long lsland info.

B&Bs and Inns

Mill House Inn, East Hampton, NY

South Fork (listed from west to east)

Southampton An undiscovered gem, the Seatuck Cove House is a gracious new home with amazing water views in every direction. Spacious, well-equipped guest rooms are enhanced by generous common areas, plus a swimming pool and private beach. It's located in Eastport, in Southampton Township. More Southampton B&Bs

Westhampton Beach Heirloom quilts and antiques give the 1880 Seafield House old-fashioned B&B charm. The creatively renovated carriage house is a guest favorite. There's a tennis court and swimming pool on the grounds, and the village and beach are an easy walk or bike ride. Friendly owners, historic charm, and comfy décor make South Winds B&B an excellent choice. You can relax by the heated pool, walk to shops, the theater, and restaurants, or take a quick bike ride to the beach. More Westhampton Beach B&Bs

East Hampton Centrally located in the beautiful village of East Hampton is the Mill House Inn, steps from shops. galleries, restaurants, theaters, and walking distance of an ocean beach. A frou-frou-free zone, the guest rooms combine comfort and elegance, many with an arts & crafts-style touch. Wonderful breakfasts include an extravagance of choices. A destination unto itself. More East Hampton B&Bs

North Fork (listed from west to east)

Southold Filled with wonderful antiques, Shorecrest is an American four-square Prairie box- style house circa 1897, overlooking the Long Island Sound. A little bit of France in Long Island's wine country, Coeur des Vignes is a handsome white colonial building with imposing columns. The restaurant is on the ground floor; upstairs are four attractive guest rooms, some with queen-size sleigh beds.

Greenport Area inns.

East Marion Two inviting B&Bs are right across from one another: Arbor View House and Quintessentials These Victorian captain's homes are owned by two sisters, Sylvia Daley and Veda Daley Joseph; Veda's husband Wilfred Joseph did a fine job of renovating both homes. All three are gracious and welcoming innkeepers.

Orient Although an off-season visit precluded an inside tour, we peeked through the windows of the Orient Inn, a handsome 1906 gambrel-roofed shingle-style inn, recently restored to its original Arts & Crafts décor.

More Long Island B&Bs

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