To many of us, Long Island simply means “home,” but it’s also a place with enough fascinating attractions to serve as a vacation destination in its own right. In this piece, we hope to provide a starting point for exploring one of New York State’s most interesting areas. Please read on for a list of Long Island attractions worthy of a one-day visit. Hopefully you’ll be able to put some of your property tax savings to good use!
(Note: for destinations offering tours or limited access programs, it’s best to call or email ahead before hopping in your car and heading to the location. Click on the link in each entry to access the website; there you can reserve your place via phone, online form or via email.)
Gold Coast Mansions of the North Shore
100 years ago, American industrial barons chose the North Shore of Long Island to build dozens of opulent, castle-like mansions with exquisite, sprawling grounds; today many of these once private estates are open to the general public. Although visiting each and every one of these palaces will take more than a single day, four great historic sites are conveniently located within seven miles of each other, allowing them to be easily visited on a one-day mini-vacation:
Old Westbury Gardens (Westbury)
Hempstead House (Port Washington)
Chelsea House (East Norwich)
Coe Hall (Oyster Bay)
The Great Long Island Art Safari
You don’t need to venture into Manhattan to see great visual art. Long Island has a bevy of world-class art museums, all located close enough to each other to allow them to be visited in a single day. Start your art-oriented day trip with a visit to the Hofstra University Museum of Art in Hempstead, then venture North about eight miles to the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn; both are currently highlighting contemporary American art created after World War II. Just a few miles East on 25A, you’ll find the Steinberg Art Museum in North Hempstead, whose galleries feature a rolling selection from its collection of 4,000 objects. About 10 miles further East on 25A, you’ll find The Heckscher Museum in Huntington; there, American Impressionist painters are currently being featured.
Revolutionary War Spy Adventures in Setauket
Viewers of Turn — AMC’s highly-rated series recounting the key role played by George Washington’s network of Long Island-based spies in the American Revolution — will know that Setauket was the home of the Culper Spy Ring. If you’re a fan of the series — or just want to steep yourself in thrilling tales of high-stakes bravery in occupied New York — Tri-Spy Tours, in cooperation with the Three Village Historical Society, conducts spy-themed tours on weekends during the warmer months, plus an annual “Culper Spy Day” (happening this September 14th) featuring exhibits, self-guided tours and lively reenactments of key historical events.
The Cradle of Aviation and American Airpower Museums in Farmingdale
If you or a family member has an interest in Long Island’s key role in aviation, a day trip to visit the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, and the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, will provide an unforgettable day trip. Exhibits at the Cradle of Aviation include 75 classic air and spacecraft ranging from restored early 20th Century monoplanes to the Lunar Excursion Module; the museum also contains 30 interactive exhibits, a planetarium and an iMax theater.
Ten miles further east, you’ll find the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport, whose exhibits include the North American P-51D Mustang, Douglas B-25, Grumman TBM-3E Avenger, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog and other classic war birds. For the truly adventurous, the AAM’s extra-fare options include 20-minute flights on several restored historic planes, including the AT-6D trainer and the WACO UPF-7 bi-plane.
Sagamore Hill: Long Island’s “Summer White House” (Cove Neck)
Sagamore Hill, President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Summer White House” in Oyster Bay, provides an intimate look into the life of America’s 26th president, who lived there with his family from 1886 until his death in 1919. Now a National Historic Site administered by the Parks Department, the 83-acre estate includes the 23-room Roosevelt home, a museum, bookstore, visitor’s center, and a three-quarter mile hiking trail and nature walk. Don’t forget to visit Oyster Bay after visiting Sagamore Hill – this charming hamlet boasts plenty of good restaurants and even hosts its own annual Oyster Festival, which happens this year on October 19th and 20th.
Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington Station
Walt Whitman – born 200 years ago in what is now Huntington Station, Long Island – has been praised as “America’s most democratic poet” for eschewing the traditionally flowery style of 19th Century poets in favor of a more direct, plain-speaking style. Whitman’s most famous work, Leaves of Grass (1855), includes a poem called “Paumanok” (the original Native American name for Long Island) that sums up his affection for Long Island:
Sea-beauty! stretch’d and basking!
One side thy inland ocean laving, broad, with copious commerce,
And one the Atlantic’s wind caressing, fierce or gentle—mighty
hulls dark-gliding in the distance.
Isle of sweet brooks of drinking-water—healthy air and soil!
Isle of the salty shore and breeze and brine!
Whitman’s beloved Island hasn’t forgotten him; today, his original home has been completely restored back to its 1823 appearance (the last year that Whitman lived in it), an interpretive center has been added, and a calendar of events for the literary-minded provides continuing education and inspiration for Long Islanders of all ages at the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historical Site.
Auto Racing in Riverhead
Riverhead Raceway – the NASCAR track nearest to New York City — will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2019, making it one of the oldest auto racing tracks in the nation. Its season runs from July to the end of September, with races regularly occurring on Saturdays and selected Wednesdays in July and August. Riverhead’s track can be configured as an oval or figure-eight course; beyond NASCAR racing, races at Riverhead also feature demolition derbies involving cars, trucks, vans and even decommissioned school buses.