Long Island: Places to Explore

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Fire Island

With the Atlantic Ocean to its south and the Great South Bay to its north, Fire Island is basically a long stretch of pristine beach. Most of the 32-mi-long barrier island belongs to the Fire Island National Seashore. Deer roam freely here, finding shelter in the thickets, and migrating ducks and geese seek sanctuary in the marshes; wildlife is abundant along the seashore. Vehicles aren't allowed on most of the island, which is accessible by ferry, private boat, and water taxi, although you can drive to Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park, on opposite ends of the island.

One of the outer playgrounds of Long Island's majestic coastline, Fire Island is home to a string of small communities, each with its own personality. In most, boardwalks lead to a vast expanse of beach. Slightly funky Cherry Grove and the male-dominated Pines are the two gay-and-lesbian communities. Ocean Beach, the largest residential area, has restaurants, stores, and bars and attracts day-trippers and families as well as summerhouse sharers. In Ocean Bay Park, weekending twentysomethings whoop it up late into the night. Kismet, Saltaire, Fair Harbor, Seaview, and Robbins Rest, mostly inhabited by private-home owners, are more exclusive. Kismet is also known for its restaurants.

In summer the population swells to the tens of thousands. The island doesn't have many lodging places, so most of these fair-weather visitors rent houses. You can see them and Fire Island homeowners coming off the ferries, pulling behind them little red wagons filled with their belongings. Enterprising youngsters meet the boats with their own wagons, in hopes of making a few dollars by helping you to your destination. After Columbus Day, the island pretty much shuts down until Memorial Day, and only a few hundred souls live here in winter.

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