Fire Island

With the Atlantic Ocean to its south and the Great South Bay to its north, Fire Island is a 32-mile-long narrow stretch of pristine barrier island forming part of 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.

Fire Island is home to a string of small communities, each with its own character. In most, boardwalks lead to a vast expanse of beach. Fabulously funky Cherry Grove and the male-dominated Pines are the two predominantly gay and lesbian communities. Ocean Beach, the largest residential area, has restaurants, stores, and bars and attracts day-trippers and families as well as summer house sharers. In Ocean Bay Park weekending post-college crowds whoop it up late into the night. Kismet, Saltaire, Fair Harbor, Seaview, and Robbins Rest, mostly inhabited by private-home owners, are more exclusive. Almost deserted after Columbus Day except for a few sleepy residential enclaves, during the 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 the hope of making a few dollars by helping you to your destination.

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