Downtown Ocean Beach offers small-town charm a short walk from the shore. (Photo by Lauren Chenault)

The 30-mile-long, half-mile wide stretch of Long Island barrier beach known as Fire Island is divided into some 17 communities, many with their own unique identities, and Ocean Beach — Fire Island’s largest village — is no exception. 

For many, Ocean Beach is the heart of Fire Island, a bayfront paradise where sun and surf offer endless relaxation. A sizeable assortment of restaurants, bars and boutiques give visitors a great reason to reach for their wallets.

The incorporated Village of Ocean Beach was first formed in 1921, when the John A. Wilbur tract merged with Stay-A-While Estates. Previously, in 1918, Ocean Beach had already become home to Fire Island’s first elementary school, and the village seems to have grown, while retaining its character and charm, ever since. Over the years, numerous celebrities, including Fanny Brice, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks, have made Ocean Beach their vacation haven of choice, while a good number of locals still remain all year. You can hardly blame them.

Whether you’re a Fire Island “noob” or veteran, time at Ocean Beach is always time well spent. Here are some crucial ingredients for an Ocean Beach getaway across the bay:

GETTING THERE

To reach Ocean Beach, you’ll likely need to zip across Great South Bay on a private boat or water taxi, or hop on one of the ferries that make daily 30-minute trips back and forth from the Bay Shore ferry terminal (99 Maple Ave., Bay Shore, 631-665-3600, fireislandferries.com/schedules/ocean-beach). It’s a quick cab ride from the Bay Shore Long Island Rail Road train station if you’re arriving by rail; for drivers, there’s daily, overnight and long-term parking at the terminal, as well as additional parking at the end of Maple Avenue.

SUN & SAND

Of course, the main draw at Ocean Beach is the beach. You’ll find perfect oceanfront scenery wherever you roam at the village’s namesake Ocean Beach (Ocean View Walk), where paths, boardwalks, docks and a glorious stretch of sand await. Many of the local restaurants, bars and shops line the border on the bay side, providing the ideal respite from working on your tan on the oceanfront. Stroll along the boardwalk promenade for a superb view of Great South Bay, perhaps while taking in a picturesque sunrise or sunset.

Deer are not afraid of people on Fire Island (Getty Images)

ON TAP

When not swimming and sunning, Ocean Beachers can often be found at one of the village’s popular watering holes, which provide another classic Fire Island diversion. A perennial favorite among these decadent haunts is CJ’s Restaurant & Bar (479 Bay Walk, 631-583-9890, cjsfireisland.com), where tight surroundings make it all the easier to make new friends. CJ’s has become legendary thanks to its house drink, a frozen concoction known as the Rocket Fuel, which is essentially a piña colada with additional shots of amaretto and overproof rum, like Bacardi 151. The beverage is so popular it’s also made elsewhere and is considered Fire Island’s signature drink.

Another always-booming hangout is Housers Bar (785 Evergreen Walk, 631-583-7805, housershotel.com), which offers a comfy surf-shack vibe you can enjoy even when the place is bursting at the seams. The key here is that they do the basics right, from the finely curated summer music selection to its backyard “beach” hideaway, where you can step outside and relax. There’s also some killer food for hungry patrons, including a 1 ¼-pound lobster special. Although not as famous as the Rocket Fuel, their special drink is the refreshing Zippy Cooler. Housers is also the only bayfront bar in Ocean Beach with a sandy beach out back.

You may also crave a “locals” night spot; you know, the kind of place where people “in the know” kick back. In Ocean Beach, that esoteric place is Matthew’s Seafood House (935 Bay Walk, 631-583-8016, matthewsseafood.com), a small restaurant, fish market and waterfront bar where you can lay low and sip a few on the deck to properly start off the evening. Wednesdays are Wine & Tapas Night, Thursday offers late-night Margarita Madness and Happy Hour Fridays feature drink specials and live music.

Although Coleridge’s infamous Ancient Mariner wasn’t a fan, don’t leave Ocean Beach before hanging around for a spell at Albatross (320 Bay Walk, 631-583-5697, dontswingthelights.com), where it’s all about mood lighting. Take note of the lanterns above the bar; they start to spin as the night progresses, and it’s not because you’ve had too many! The food is also first-rate and the bar serves drinks until 4 a.m., in case you’re in for the long haul.

And if you do find yourself staying after the last ferry and closing down the town, you can’t go wrong by wrapping things up at Maguire’s Bay Front Restaurant (1 Bungalow Walk, 631-583-8800, maguiresbayfrontrestaurant.com), which is a storied Fire Island last-call meetup spot. Scores pack the place by day for the killer grub, but nighttime is all about the party, beginning with its Countdown to Sunset Happy Hour, held Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

RETAIL THERAPY

When you eventually rise the next day from your post-bar-crawl slumber, it’s always fun to spend the daylight hours shopping at some of Ocean Beach’s fine shops, boutiques and souvenir stands. For starters, Fire Island visitors of the female persuasion frequently rave about Bambootique (318 Bay Walk, 631-583-5180, fireislandapparel.com), primarily a women’s clothing, footwear and accessories shop. The kiddie clothing here is also a big hit.

Fire Island’s women also love the Ocean Beach installment of Ooh la la Boutiques (621 Bayberry Walk, 631-583-8590, oohlalaboutiques.com), which prides itself on helping its clients develop their own one-of-a-kind look. To achieve this, shoppers can mix and match from a range of items and styles, from vintage to modern, dressy to casual, sexy to feminine and modern to classic. There’s truly something for all here, so don’t be shy about asking.

If your fashion tastes range more toward the tropical, pop in at Hanalei & Kula’s (472 Dehnoff Walk, 516-220-1903, hanaleiandkulas.com), where “Hawaii meets Fire Island.” There’s everything from island-themed tops, bottoms and dresses to wellness products and perfume oils, sure to move you — or your significant other — into a happy place. Mahalo.

In some families, it’s a cardinal sin to leave a vacation destination without souvenirs, and customized apparel is always a sound choice. To this end, Ocean Beach visitors of both sexes can find some quality threads at Fire Island Outfitters (637 Ocean Breeze Walk, 631-583-0146, fireislandapparel.com), especially if you’re in the market for souvenir Fire Island hats, hoodies, T-shirts and sweats. There’s also a solid selection of beachwear, and the end-of-season closeout sales are not to be missed. Fill up a bag, head to the ferry, and dream of your next Ocean Beach visit.

With no cars on Fire Island, wagons are a common sight, as are kids selling trinkets and painted seashells on the streets. (Getty Images)

Where To Stay 

Blue Waters Hotel
642 Bayberry Walk, 631-583-8295, bluewatershoteloceanbeachfireisland.com

Clegg’s Hotel
478 Bayberry Walk, 631-583-9292, cleggshotel.com

Housers Hotel on the Bay
785 Evergreen Walk, 631-583-8900, housershotel.com

The Palms Hotel Fire Island
168 Cottage Walk, 631-583-8870, palmshotelfireisland.com

Seasons Bed and Breakfast
468 Dehnhoff Walk, 631-583-8295, bluewatershoteloceanbeachfireisland.com

Where To Dine

Albatross
320 Bay Walk, 631-583-5697, dontswingthelights.com

Bocce Beach
927 Evergreen Walk, 631-583-8100, boccebeach.com

CJ’s Restaurant & Bar
479 Bay View Walk, 631-583-9890, cjsfireisland.com

Castaway Bar & Grill
310 Cottage Walk, 631-583-0330, castawaybarandgrill.com

Hideaway Restaurant
785 Evergreen Walk, 631-583-5929.

Housers Bar
785 Bay View Walk, 631-583-7805, housershotel.com

The Island Mermaid
780 Bay Walk, 631-583-8088, islandmermaid.com

The Landing at Ocean Beach
620 Bayberry Walk, 631-583-5800.

Maguire’s Bay Front Restaurant
1 Bay Walk, 631-583-8800, maguiresbayfrontrestaurant.com

Matthew’s Seafood House
935 Bay Walk, 631-583-8016, matthewsseafood.com

Rachel’s Bakery and Restaurant
325 Bay Walk, 631-583-9552, rachelsfireisland.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.