Not long ago, a young (not quite 21-year-old) friend of mine asked me, “What is there to do on the North Fork if you’re not going to a winery?” Her family was thinking of taking a weekend drive out east, and wondering what to do. After I answered her, I thought, “I should add this to my blog.” So here are some suggestions, in no particular order.
Well, of course there’s shopping at Tanger Mall, but what else is there?
http://www.longislandaquarium.com/ The Long Island Aquarium is terrific, with enough to look at to take up a good half day on its own. You can touch rays, watch the sea lion show (Very entertaining, though one two-year-old I know objected to its being “too loud.”), and learn about what is going on under the surface of the sea in many different areas of the world—including Peconic Bay.
Afterwards, you can walk along the Peconic River which flows along behind Main Street and stop in at one of the restaurants on Main. We recently had a reasonably priced and very delicious (I recommend the pulled pork sandwich.) lunch at a new place, Joe’s Garage. (http://joesgarageandgrill.com/ However, speaking of price, the aquarium is pricey, with admission at the moment ranging from $20.50 to $26.50, with more if you want to visit the butterfly exhibit or do other activities. So onward…
I love history, so I found a visit to The Old House fascinating. (http://www.cutchoguenewsuffolkhistory.org/Old-House.html ) It is the oldest “English style” house in New York State, built in 1649, and is located on a pretty village green with several other historical buildings near it, including an old school house. Check the web site for times, as it is generally only open during the summer. Tours are free, though I would leave a nice donation. From there it is a short ride to Founder’s Tavern in Southold, one of our favorite local eateries. (http://www.founderstavern.com/ ) We’re especially enamored of the Tavern Burger and the home-made potato chips. Speaking of Southold, they also have historic buildings in their village, and so does Mattituck.
Along the north shore of the North Fork you can visit Horton Point Lighthouse in Southold, one of the lighthouses (like Montauk and Fire Island) that are located on land. (http://www.southoldhistoricalsociety.org/lighthouse.htm )You can visit the quirky little museum in the lower room, and then ascend the spiral steps for a great view of Long Island Sound, and admission is a very reasonable $3. You can climb down the long steep outdoor steps to the beach below, or walk a little nature trail, and they allow picnics on the grounds. Again, check the web site, as they are not open in the winter (though I believe you can visit the grounds any time). There are other interesting lighthouses, like the Bug Light and the Coffee Pot Lighthouse, but you’d have to take a cruise to see them.
We really love Greenport. It’s a great town for just strolling around at any time of year, with interesting shops and restaurants. And then, of course, there is the carousel, a favorite place of a three-year-old I know, though older children have been known to enjoy the ride. Some highlights include strolling the docks to look at the boats, visiting Vines and Branches to sample (and buy!) an amazing variety of olive oils and vinegars, and browsing the art galleries and antique stores along Front and Main Streets. You can picnic in Mitchell Park facing the waterfront or stop in to Salamander’s for their excellent fried chicken or the Coronet Luncheonette for old fashioned sandwiches that will leave you too full to eat dinner, just to name two choices. Aldo’s is the village coffee shop, and they outlasted a Starbuck’s that had opened up right across the street (yay). We also recently discovered a little oyster shack facing the harbor, in a back area near the carousel, where they hand you the number of oysters you ordered plus shucking equipment. Great oysters, but we were glad that one member of our party was an experienced and enthusiastic shucker. The town also has an old school house, jail, and blacksmith’s shop, all of which are open sporadically. (http://www.greenportvillage.com/
- Other Downtowns
As you drive along Route 25 you’ll notice the downtown areas of Southold and Cutchogue, both of which have a few interesting shops you could explore, but there’s another downtown that’s just off 25: Love Lane in Mattituck. (I’ve seen more than one couple posing for a photo with the heart-shaped Love Lane sign.) Though short, it has a couple of attractions worth noting: Bookhampton Book Store, the Village Cheese Shop, a couple of cute shops, including a candy store, and the very popular Love Lane Kitchen, which is always well populated for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you’re looking to put together a picnic, you can get bread and cheese at the cheese store, or more extensive choices at Lombardi’s Italian deli, which just opened. Or you can go to the other commercial area of Mattituck, a strip mall (with a movie theater, in case it starts to rain) and eat at Crazy Fork—great seafood at really reasonable prices—or Michelangelo’s—decent pizza.
- The water
Alas, for a spit of land surrounded on three sides by water, it is hard to access the beaches unless you are a resident. However, if you go before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, there is no one to stop you from going to any beach. Of course, that also means there are no life guards. If you like to wander a beach looking for pretty rocks and shells, then Breakwater Beach on the Long Island Sound is the place to go (though you have to be a Mattituck resident to even walk in during the summer). However, if you want to drive all the way out to Orient, you can go to Orient Beach State Park, where you can swim and enjoy the water. They charge a car fee of about $10 if you don’t have a state permit. (http://www.nysparks.com/parks/106/details.aspx )
Another way to enjoy the water is to rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Eagle’s Neck, located in the Port of Egypt marina in Southold (http://www.eaglesneck.com/ ). And when you get back from your exercise on the water, you can eat at Pepi’s (Italian) or Alure (pricey but excellent fish dishes), both located within the marina.
This depends on the time of year, but there are often events worth investigating, like the Maritime Festival in Greenport, the Strawberry Festival in Mattituck (with fireworks at night), or various harvest time festivals. There’s also berry picking at Harbes in Mattituck—from strawberries in June to blackberries in September—and apple picking at various orchards in October. Of course, if we’re talking about October, there are corn mazes and pumpkin “picking” (well, you do have to pick them up from where they’ve been laid out in a field) opportunities at several sites. Harbes is the best known, but there are others as well. Newsday has a good site which lists many of these events (http://long-island.newsday.com/events ). And if you don’t want to pick your own produce, the farm stands are worth a visit—especially Briermere for pies! Most of them are open from May or June through October, with a few open until Thanksgiving or even later.
If you long to pet a goat, visit Catapano Dairy Farm, where you can sample and buy their excellent goat and sheep milk cheeses, pet the goats (through a fence), and even, if you time your visit right, get to watch them milking. (http://www.catapanodairyfarm.com/ ) Martha Clara Vineyard also has animals you can feed and touch, and they have a large entertainment space where you can buy sandwiches and listen to music, even if you don’t want to drink! (http://www.marthaclaravineyards.com/ )
Speaking of music, many of the wineries have live performers, and you generally don’t have to drink in order to listen to them; and though the price of a glass of wine is usually included when they charge a fee they often have alternative drinks for the designated drivers. In February and March there is Live on the Vine (formerly Jazz on the Vine), featuring a variety of musical acts. Check each venue for prices and age restrictions and reservations. (http://www.eastendarts.org/programs/events/winterfest.html )
Reasons to visit: the towns, the water, the history, the food, the scenery! The best times to visit the North Fork are late spring through late October, as during the winter there is less to do. However, I love the look of the grape vines in the snow, most of the shops and restaurants in Greenport (plus the all-important carousel) are open all year (and there’s a skating rink in Mitchell Park during the winter), and there is no traffic.