Sea fog rolls into Southampton

Like its neighboring North Fork communities, the South Fork of Long Island — or as more popularly known, “the Hamptons” — started out as a colonial haven for agriculture and fishing, with close ties to New England, as is still seen in its surviving period architecture. That all changed in the late 1800s, though, when the region began its transformation into a summer playground for the wealthy — a distinction that continues to this day.

It’s easy to see why the rich and influential have been flocking to the Hamptons for more than a century: The area is an oceanfront paradise, with miles of exquisite coastline. And these days, there’s a wealth of other attractions too, from historical sites to fine dining to a robust local arts community.

“We’re close to New York City, we have great beaches, great schools, great theater and a summer and winter community that has supported my businesses for over 32 years,” says Elyse Richman, who owns several Westhampton businesses under the “Shock” moniker. “Raising my son in a small community where everyone knows your name is a step back in time. It’s a warm and friendly family oriented community.”

Unlike Richman, not all of us are lucky enough to live in the Hamptons, but we can certainly still visit. So, for an unforgettable South Fork experience, here are some can’t miss starting points:

A woman carries her surfboard from the beach in the Hamptons.

THE SALT LIFE

As you may have heard, the Hamptons are world famous for pristine beaches, where countless visitors and residents flock every summer. There are enough in the Hamptons area to fill an entire travel column on their own, but in Westhampton, one perennial favorite is Cupsogue Beach County Park (906 Dune Road, Westhampton Beach, 631-852-8111, suffolkcountyny.gov), a 296-acre barrier beach park ideal for swimming, sunbathing, surfing and striped bass fishing. There’s frequently live music to enjoy during the summer, as well as a tiki-themed food bar.

Also high on the list of East End beachgoers is Ponquogue Beach (Dune Rd., over Ponquogue Bridge, Hampton Bays, Southampton, 631-283-6011, southamptontownny.gov), known for its gorgeous scenery, clean and well-maintained public facilities and walk-up snack bar. A non-resident day parking pass will run you $25, which is a bargain, considering the cost of full-time residency.

Further down Dune Road, another popular beach choice is Pike’s Beach (765 Dune Rd, Westhampton Beach, 631-288-0143) with parking available to residents with permits or visitors who spring for a $40 day pass. It tends to be one of the quieter Hamptons beaches, since it is located past some of the more highly frequented spots on Dune Road. The beach offers only basic services (bathrooms, showers and lifeguards), but maximum relaxation.

Visitors at Montauk Point.

NATURAL SPLENDOR

The beaches aren’t the only worthy outdoor excursion on the South Fork. There’s also idyllic scenery to enjoy a little more inland, like at East Hampton’s LongHouse Reserve (133 Hands Creek Rd, East Hampton, 631-329-3568, longhouse.org) a 16-acre garden with lush lawns, ornamental borders, plant collections and outdoor sculpture, planned by textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen, who assembled a collection of more than 70 sculptures for the gardens.

Some spots are so scenic, they’re mandatory for all visitors. Moving closer again to the water’s edge, for a truly breathtaking view of the coastline, there’s no substitute for a jaunt out to LI’s absolute eastern end, Montauk, where the Montauk Point Lighthouse (2000 Montauk Hwy, Montauk, 631-668-2544, montauklighthouse.com) has welcomed travelers since 1796, making it the oldest lighthouse in New York State and fourth-oldest active lighthouse in the nation. Its museum, gift shop and tours round out the experience.VIBRANT ARTS SCENE

The arts are alive and well in the Hamptons, too. An anchor for area development over the past 20 years is the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, 631-288-1500, whbpac.org), offering a year-round program featuring world-class performers, its World Cinema series and its arts education program. Upcom-
ing performances include Josh Ritter (Aug. 12), Rufus Wainwright (Aug. 18), Arturo Sandoval (Aug. 19), John Hiatt & The Goners (Aug. 26), Eddie Izzard (Sept. 2) and Howie Mandel (Nov. 10).

In Sag Harbor, the Bay Street Theater (1 Bay St, Sag Harbor, 631-725-9500, baystreet.org) also offers year-round entertainment, in its 299-seat venue. In addition to the mainstage productions, Bay Street programs include its Comedy Club, workshops, special events and educational initiatives, like Literature Live!, theater workshops and kids theater camps and classes. The main-stage will present Evita from July 31 through Aug. 26.

A rapidly rising newcomer is the Southampton Arts Center (25 Jobs Ln., Southampton, 631-283-0967, southamptonartscenter.org), a local favorite due to its ever-changing array of exhibits, concerts, films an special events. Bring the kids for the popular puppet shows, view special film screenings and outdoor movie showings, enjoy exhibitions like “Counterpoint: Selections from The Peter Marino Collection” (through Sept. 23) or get/stay fit at one of its many wellness workshops. That’s a lot under one roof.

There’s also art that you can literally hold in your hand, such as the exquisite handbags crafted by Judith Leiber, whose creations are now dis-played in the Leiber Collection (446 Old Stone Hwy, East Hampton, 631-329-3288, leibermuseum.org) along with works created and collected by her husband, Gerson Leiber. The museum grounds and sculpture garden are equally eye pleasing.

Intersection at Main Street in Southampton.

HISTORICAL HABITATS

There’s long been an allure to the South Fork, so to immerse oneself in this rich oceanfront heritage, start at the Thomas Halsey Homestead (249 S Main St, Southampton, 631-283-2494), whose namesake cofounded Southampton in 1640. Halsey purchased the homestead in 1648; the Halsey House was built by his son, Thomas Halsey Jr. in 1683, and a two-room extension was added in 1730. The museum features historic furnishings indicative of a 1750 farm family and an exhibit on the native Shinnecock Tribe, complete with a recreated Woodland period village.

But to learn still more about the area’s indigenous Shinnecock Tribe, don’t skip past the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum (100 Montauk Hwy, Southampton, 631-287-4923, facebook.com/ShinnecockMuseum), located on the Shinnecock Reservation. The museum’s main building is a log structure containing Native American artifacts and exhibits on the Shinnecock and Woodland Indian cultures, while an adjoining living history village conveys 1700s-era life for Woodland Indians, with tribal members dressed in period garb and demonstrating aspects of Native American life before European settlement.

From there, move ahead by about a century and visit the Southampton Historical Museum (17 Meeting House Ln., Southampton, 631-283-2494, southamptonhistory.org), where its Rogers Mansion Museum Complex — featuring the Greek-revival Rogers Mansion built in 1843 by whaling captain Albert Rogers — offers 12 historic buildings focused on the area’s 19th-century development. The one-acre campus also contains a carpenter’s shop, blacksmith shop, dry goods store, paint shop, one-room schoolhouse and two barns.

Whaling was such a huge part of the region’s past, you could spend hours discovering more about it. If that strikes your fancy, there’s the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum (200 Main St, Sag Harbor, 631-725-0770, sagharborwhalingmuseum.org), housed in the 1845 home of Benjamin Huntting II and family. Explore the majestic mansion — a certified National Treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places — as well as its fine collection of historical objects from the village’s whaling past, plus contemporary exhibits reflecting the culture of the village today.

Finally, for perhaps the most unique South Fork experience, continue on your historical journey further eastward, jumping ahead yet another century, until you reach Camp Hero State Park (1898 Montauk Hwy, Montauk, 631-668-3781, parks.ny.gov). The park’s 415 wooded and beachfront acres once held a U.S. military base long rumored to be linked to mysterious research projects and a series of underground tunnels. Today you can enjoy hiking trails and world-class surf fishing there, or explore the ruins of the base, which still includes bunkers and massive radar dishes. Like the South Fork, Camp Hero has some- thing for everyone — even for us daytrippers.

Folks enjoy a casual meal at a clam shack in East Hampton

WHERE TO DINE ON THE SOUTH FORK

Starr Boggs
6 Parlato Dr, Westhampton Beach, 631-288-3500, facebook.com/StarrBoggsRestaurant

1770 House Restaurant
143 Main St, East Hampton, 631-324-1770, 1770house.com/restaurant

Rumba
43 Canoe Place Rd, Hampton Bays, Southampton, 631-594-3544, rumbahamptonbays.com

Cowfish
258 E. Montauk Hwy, Hampton Bays, Southampton, 631-594-3868, cowfishrestaurant.com

Harvest on Fort Pond
11 S. Emery St, Montauk, 631-668-5574, harvestfortpond.com

WHERE TO STAY ON THE SOUTH FORK

Aqualina Inn Montauk
20 S. Elmwood Ave, Montauk, 631-688-8300, aqualinainnmontauk.com

Bowen’s by the Bays
177 W. Montauk Hwy, Hampton Bays, Southampton, 631-728-1158, gobowens.com

The Drake Inn
16 Penny Ln, Hampton Bays, Southampton, 631-728-1592, thedrakeinn.com

Baron’s Cove
31 West Water St, Sag Harbor, 844-227-6672, baronscove.com

Gansett Green Manor
273 Main St, Amagansett, 631-267-3133, gansettgreenmanor.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.