Photo by John Wisniewski

Those who grew up in central Long Island on the South Shore during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s likely spent an inordinate amount of time shuttling back and forth on Sunrise Highway to Massapequa, a long-standing area hub for retail, restaurants, and more retail. Between the venerable Sunrise Mall and the flea-market charm of Busy Bee Mall nearby, Massapequa was the essential place you went to shop and people-watch, and for dietarily adventurousness, maybe even grab some White Castle.

Today, Busy Bee is long gone, and the Sunrise Mall — while still standing — has since been renovated and turned into Westfield Sunrise, but Massapequa’s importance as a regional center for commerce, dining, and recreation remains. The hamlet and neighboring Village of Massapequa Park, part of the larger Town of Oyster Bay, also offers an often overlooked bounty of parks, beaches, nature preserves and other public resources, making it one of the most diverse neighborhoods around.

When visiting Massapequa, start by cruising Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road, stopping off upon finding the perfect spot for that pair of jeans or sneakers. After the shopping is done, here are some of the other fine attractions and excursions Massapequa has to offer:

environment
Massapequa Preserve (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

PENCHANT FOR PARKS

Considering the Massapequa census-designated place (CDP) encompasses only 4 square miles, the hamlet offers an excellent array of public spaces. Once summer rolls around, Massapequans and enlightened visitors flock to Tobay Beach (Ocean Pkwy., 516-679-3900, oysterbaytown.com), a private beach for Town of Oyster Bay residents that also welcomes nonresidents during weekdays, for a $50 daily fee. Why so pricey, you ask? Tobay offers both bay and ocean fronts, as well as a Spray Park and playground for the kids, a miniature golf course, and several restaurants. There are also live music events held there at various times during peak season.

While at Tobay, check out the adjacent John F. Kennedy Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary (Ocean Pkwy., 516-679-3900, oysterbaytown.com), featuring 550 acres of protected wetlands that are accessible by a trail. It is free to both Town of Oyster Bay residents and nonresidents; however a permit (free) must be obtained through the town’s Beach Division, either in person or by mail. It is open year-round, but with limited hours during summer months.

And hey, nonresidents who don’t want to drop the $50 to visit Tobay Beach can always head over to the Philip B. Healey Beach at Florence Avenue (30 Florence Ave.) instead. This little-known local favorite is small in size but large in relaxation, with ample parking and a playground for kids. It’s a quiet spot that’s popular with families, so please, behave.

Amid all of Massapequa’s retail and restaurant bustle, there are also still some open, green natural spaces where you can find peace and solace, like the Peter J. Schmitt Massapequa Preserve (Merrick Rd. and Ocean Ave., 516-572-0200, nassaucountyny.gov), featuring 423 acres of remarkably diverse wild habitat, including freshwater swamps, marshes, streams, lakes and sandy bogs. It is a favorite of local walkers and joggers, and fishing is permitted in several of the lakes and streams (license required). You can also access the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail there, which runs the length of the preserve, continuing onward to its termination at Cold Spring Harbor.

Next to the Massapequa Preserve is Brady Park (Lake Shore Dr. and Front St.), a well-trafficked location for baseball and basketball players, also offering bocce courts, shaded picnic facilities and a concert stage used for community events and live performances. There is also a senior community center located on the grounds and a top-notch playground that was just built in recent years, including eight swings, a rock climb, bar pull and a geo-dome climber.

Another gem among Massapequa’s outdoor offerings is Marjorie R. Post Community Park (Unqua Rd.), boasting a wide assortment of diversions, including a pool/aquatic center, ice skating rink, roller hockey court, playgrounds, picnic areas, barbecue pits, handball courts, tennis courts, walking trails and gazebos for special events. With so much to do in one neighborhood space, the park is an essential spot for residents, as well as guests who only wish their hometown had a space this great.

Downtown Massapequa Park’s offerings include the must-visit independent coffee shop Massapequa Perk.

INDOOR EXPERIENCES

Even though it is great visiting Massapequa, visitors still may want to spend some of that time trying to escape from it. Or more specifically, they could end up trying to think up ways out of captivity at Just Escape (529 Broadway, 516-809-8980, justescapeli.com), where six different 60-minute escape-room challenges await. Choose from the Carnival Conundrum, Sweet Revenge, Underworld, The Illusionist, Pirates of the Dark Sea, and Prey, all with varying levels of difficulty and scare factor. Bring your wits, because you’ll need them!

After the escape room proves how intellectually unprepared many were for the challenge, consider unwinding and rethinking the failed exit strategies over a few drinks with friends. On top of all its many other assets, Massapequa also boasts a vibrant bar scene, catering to a range of tastes. For craft beer lovers, it’s mandatory that you stop at Ziggy’s Corner Pub (1 Central Ave., 516-541-5400, ziggyscornerpub.com), which offers 10 rotating tap options and 40 different bottled options each day, and also hosts live music, comedy and karaoke (check the online events calendar).

Or, those those who prefer nightlife with a Gaelic twist, hunker down for a spell at Paddy’s Loft (1286 Hicksville Rd., 516-798-7660, paddysloft.com), where you can bank on obtaining a properly poured Guinness and peruse a mouthwatering menu that features an eclectic mix of gourmet creations alongside Celtic-themed edibles like Irish spring rolls, chicken Killarney, bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage, and of course, shepherds pie. There is live music on Tuesday nights, as well as other special events throughout the year.

No trip to the area would be complete without a walk through Park Boulevard, home of the Village of Massapequa Park’s quaint downtown. Besides the array of shops is one must-visit English-style pub, The Good Life (1039 Park Blvd., 516-798-4663, thegoodlifeny.com), a popular watering hole known for drawing craft beer lovers from miles around.

And before the journey through Massapequa comes to a close, do not even consider leaving town without a detour to All American Hamburger Drive-In (4286 Merrick Rd., 516-798-9574, allamericanhamburgerli.com), an iconic Long Island burger joint that has been the stuff of legend since 1963. The prices can’t be beat, the menu is delightfully simple and the house-made potato products — namely the french fries and knishes — are second to none. Get a sack of All American’s salty, greasy goodness to fully know the definition of bliss. As much as Massapequa has changed over the decades, fortunately some things remain the same.

Live Crawfish Boil
Live Crawfish Boil at Big Daddy’s Restaurant in Massapequa (Photo courtesy of Big Daddy’s Restaurant)

WHERE TO DINE

All American Hamburger Drive-In
4286 Merrick Rd., 516-798-9574, allamericanhamburgerli.com

American Beauty Bistro
24 Central Ave., 516-590-7477, americanbeautybistro.com

Big Daddy’s
1 Park Ln., 516-799-8877, bigdaddysny.com

Ginza
45 Carmans Rd., 516-882-9688, ginzali.com

Giovanni’s of Massapequa
5612 Merrick Rd., 516-799-7326, giovannisofmassapequany.com

Hudson’s Mill
5599 Merrick Rd., 516-799-5394, hudsonsmill.com

Krisch’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour
11 Central Ave, Massapequa, 516-797-3149

Salumi Tapas and Wine Bar
5600 Merrick Rd., 516-620-0057, salumibarli.com

Saverio’s Authentic Pizza Napoletana
929 N. Broadway (A&S Pork Store), 516-799-0091, saveriospizza.com

Taco Joe’s
4267 Merrick Rd., 516-308-3311

Tai Show Hibachi & Sushi Restaurants
4318 & 4320 Merrick Rd., 516-798-3958/516-798-1119, taishow.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.