Since the 17th century onward, Long Island’s North Fork has been prime farm country, and today the region continues that tradition with a peaceful stretch of wineries, vineyards, apple orchards and potato and sod farms meandering eastward along the LI Sound from Riverhead to Orient Point. These days, however, the North Fork’s breathtaking natural scenery and deep-rooted agrarian lifestyle also drive area tourism, offering an East End experience entirely removed from the Hamptons scene.

Boasting more than 30 vineyards (and tasting rooms), miles of pristine coastline, fabulous dining and shopping options and a wide array of other activities and attractions, the North Fork’s allure continually grows among vacationers and LI-based weekenders. Whether you’re in Mattituck, Cutchogue, Peconic, Southold, Greenport, East Marion, Jamesport or Orient, you can expect a relaxing, yet bountiful, time like no other on Long Island.

“The North Fork is one of the sunniest locations in New York, allowing us to preserve farmland, whatever the agriculture may be,” said Diandra Petrocelli-Schultz, manager of the Raphael vineyard in Peconic. “Local produce complements local cuisine, which pairs with food-friendly local wine, for a well-balanced experience.”

In fact, there’s so much to do on the North Fork, we’ve had to split up our recommendations into a series of articles. We’ve already spotlighted Greenport (a key North Fork spot) in a previous column, and we published a comprehensive guide to area vineyards in a separate column.

That still leaves a virtual smorgasbord of other options, including:

Harmony Vineyards
Harmony Vineyards offers visitors the opportunity to experience a high-quality Long Island winery without traveling to the North Fork. (Photo: Harmony Vineyards Facebook profile)

FARM FUN

Aside from the ubiquitous wineries, there are a number of other local farms that offer “agraritainment,” especially during the fall pumpkin/harvest season. While there are too many to list each one here, no trip to the North Fork is complete without a visit to Harbes Family Farm (715 Sound Ave., Mattituck; 631-298-0800; harbesfamilyfarm.com), going strong after 13 generations, and historic Wickham’s Fruit Farm (28700 Main Rd., Cutchogue; 631-734-6441; wickhamsfruitfarm.com).

And if you’ve seen one North Fork farm, you definitely have not seen them all. For example, if goats (and goat cheese) strike your fancy, there’s plenty of each at Catapano Dairy Farm (33705 North Rd., Peconic; 631- 765-8042; catapanodairyfarm.com). Or, have you ever been to a lavender farm? There’s one of those, too: Lavender By The Bay (7540 Main Rd., East Marion; 631-477-1019; lavenderbythebay.com). Your nose will thank you. Love oysters? Visit Southold Bay Oysters (10273 N. Bayview Rd., Southold; 917-232-5152; southoldbayoysters.com) for an informative and delicious diversion.

A farmstand in Peconic, New York, on the North Fork of Long Island, displays a bounty of pumpkins for Halloween and Fall decorations.

EYE FOR ART

The North Fork’s visual appeal inspires a love of art that’s palpable in its communities. For one, a can’t miss stop for photography fans is the Alex Ferrone Gallery (25425 Main Rd., Cutchogue; 631-734-8545; alexferronegallery.com), renowned for its stunning displays of Long Island photos. The gallery exhibits and sells contemporary works by mid-career and emerging photo artists; it also hosts special events like public receptions, gallery talks and workshops.

From there, you can branch out into other media at the Old Town Art and Crafts Guild (28265 Main Rd., Cutchogue; 631-734-6382; oldtownartsguild.org), a nonprofit facility offering a gallery, historical art collection and gift shop, as well as special events like art classes, artist receptions and art fairs. Its Guild House displays member works throughout the year in juried competitions, regular shows and artist of the month exhibits.

Continue on your North Fork art adventure by visiting Jamesport, home of the William Ris East Gallery (1291 Main Rd., Jamesport; 609-408-5203; williamris.com), owned and directed by Mary Cantone, a dedicated collector of original art and supporter of local artists. The gallery showcases an extensive selection of original contemporary works by East Coast artists, particularly from Long Island.

Orient Point lighthouse at the point where the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay meet.

A HISTORICAL HAVEN

The North Fork holds some of LI’s oldest hamlets, so historical tourism is also embraced. To delve deep into North Fork history, especially its maritime past, spend an afternoon at the Horton Point Lighthouse and Nautical Museum (Lighthouse Rd., Lighthouse Park, Southold; 631-765-5500; southoldhistoricalsociety.org/lighthouse). The 1857 lighthouse and its accompanying museum offer a unique collection of marine artifacts, like sea chests, paintings, maps, scrimshaw and photographs. The tower is 58 feet tall and once held a third order Fresnel lens; in 1990 the tower was repaired and relit.

Another splendid source of exhibits is the Oysterponds Historical Society (1555 Village Lane, Orient; 631-323-2480; oysterpondshistoricalsociety.org), home to an extensive collection dispersed throughout a number of historic buildings and green spaces. OHS’ free exhibits include art and manuscripts, as well as historical objects donated by local residents. OHS also hosts annual seasonal exhibitions, programs and community events. This summer’s displays spotlight Orient and East Marion.

The North Fork’s love affair with local history doesn’t end there, either. Stop in at the Southold Historical Society museum (54325 Route 25, Southold; 631-765-5500; southoldhistoricalsociety.org), which contains a large archival collection of original diaries, letters, documents, ledgers, daybooks, genealogies, photographs, drawings and other related historic materials. The society also maintains more than a dozen buildings in Southold, ranging in date from 1750 to 1900; it opens many of these buildings to the public throughout the year.

Star trails at Custer Observatory at the Custer Institute in Southold, NY, caused by the Earth’s rotation_ approximately 1.5 hours. Vega creates a very bright streak in the middle.

NATURAL PURSUITS

All one needs to do is view a map of the North Fork, and it’s pretty clear that the region’s extensive waterfront is one of its main charms. And fortunately, a good portion of that shoreline is still freely accessible for the public to enjoy.

To enjoy the refreshing salt air and all the picturesque scenery the North Fork has to offer, start with Orient Beach State Park (40000 Main Rd., Orient; 631-323-2440; parks.ny.gov/parks/106), with 45,000 feet of frontage on Gardiner’s Bay and a rare maritime forest with red cedar, blackjack oak trees and prickly-pear cactus. The park was dubbed a National Natural Landmark in 1980. It was also deemed an Audubon Important Bird Area due to its prevalent populations of great blue herons, egrets, blackcrowned night herons and osprey.

Another North Fork seaside favorite is Goldsmith’s Inlet Park (Soundview Ave., Southold), a relatively quiet, lengthy stretch of pristine North Shore beach with water on both sides, adjacent to a narrow inlet connecting the LI Sound to a large salt pond. Watch the small inlet become a swift-moving river as the tide changes. Bring flip-flops for walking; North Shore beaches are notoriously rocky, and this spot is no exception. A Town of Southold parking permit or day pass from town hall is required to use the parking lot.

And don’t forget a recent addition to the North Fork’s bounty of public open space: the Hallock State Park Preserve (6062 Sound Ave., Riverhead; 631-315-5475; parks.ny.gov/parks/181), a 225-acre shorefront park preserve with nearly one mile of gorgeous North Shore beachfront on the Sound. It’s a serene spot for hiking, nature walks and bird watching.

Finally, with all of the dazzling scenery in front of you, don’t forget to occasionally look up, too; one of the great unsung draws of the North Fork is its breathtaking views of the nighttime sky. You can take that stellar experience up still another notch with a trip to the Custer Institute & Observatory (1115 Main Bayview Rd., Southold; 631-765-2626; custerobservatory.org), Long Island’s oldest public observatory (circa 1927). Open Saturday evenings from dusk to midnight, the staff offers tours of the facilities and allows guests to view the night sky through its powerful telescopes. It’s the perfect ending to an ideal North Fork day.

WHERE TO DINE

The Jamesport Manor Inn
370 Manor Ln, Jamesport, 631-779-3488, jamesportmanorinn.com

Legends
835 First St., New Suffolk, 631-734-5123, legends-restaurant.com

Southold Fish Market
64755 Route 25, Southold, 631-765-3200, facebook.com/southoldfishmarket

Jedediah Hawkins Inn
400 South Jamesport Ave., Jamesport, 631-722-2900, jedediahhawkinsinn.com

Touch of Venice
28350 Main Rd., Cutchogue, 631-298-5851, touchofvenice.com

WHERE TO STAY

The Duncan Inn
1399 Main Rd., Jamesport, 631-722-4024, duncaninn.com

The North Fork Table & Inn
57225 Rt. 25, Southold, 631-765-0177, northforktableandinn.com

The Blue Inn At North Fork
7850 Main Rd., East Marion, 631-496-1630, theblueinn.com

Heron Suites
61600 Route 25, Southold, 631-596-4521, poemarine.com/heron-suites

Jamesport Bay Suites
67 Front Street, South Jamesport, 631-722-3458, jamesportbaysuites.com

Hotel Indigo Long Island – East End
1830 West Main St., Riverhead, 631-369-2200, indigoeastend.com

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Brendan Manley is an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and content development/marketing professional. He has extensive experience in newspaper and magazine publishing, as well as digital media, covering topics including arts and entertainment, sports, lifestyle, news, technology, travel and history. He is an ongoing contributor to Military History, Hotel News Now.com and HOTELS magazine, as well as the Long Island Press, where he formerly served as Managing Editor and Lifestyle section head. He is currently developing several of his original scripts for Hollywood, and consults on various film and scripted TV projects for studios, producers and financiers. Brendan is based in upstate New York's southern Adirondacks region.