If you’ve ever spent any time in one of the cozy coastal towns on Nassau County’s North Shore, you may have gotten the sense that the entire area was born out of the pages of some great American novel. In fact, the opposite is true: The northern shores of Nassau County inspired the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic 1925 novel The Great Gatsby.
The Port Washington area in particular was the inspiration for Gatsby’s opulent oasis across the water: East Egg. This picturesque waterfront community began as one of the earlier English settlements on the island when it was purchased from the Matinecock people in 1644 and given its original title of “Cow Neck.” It was once known as an important sand-mining and shellfishing hub but is now more notable for its well-preserved small-town appeal, its beautiful harbor, and its various wonderful restaurants.
“There’s a lot to do in Port Washington. Whatever people are interested in we probably have it here,” executive director of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce Bobbie Polay tells us, adding that its shining feature has to be the waterfront. “We’re surrounded by Manhasset Bay on one side, Hempstead Harbor on the other, and Long Island Sound. It’s just a beautiful and relaxing place to be.”
If you’re planning on visiting Port Washington sometime soon, be sure to add some of these can’t-miss spots to your itinerary.
An Endless Array of Restaurants
Another one of Port Washington’s most notable features include its abundant dining options.
“Port Washington is known for its restaurants,” Polay tells us. “We have over 50 international restaurants. They serve Asian, Mediterranean, Irish, Mexican, French, Italian, and, of course, seafood and American. We have something for everybody.”
There is a head-spinning number of other great spots, but you can’t go wrong by grabbing a bite from any of the following:
Long Island isn’t exactly renowned for its barbecue spots, but Hickory’s BBQ Grill (674 Port Washington Blvd., 516-883-7174, www.hickorysbbq.com) is certainly renowned by pretty much anyone who has ever been there. That’s probably because founder Eddie Pappalardo learned his trade in a place that’s legendary for its barbecue: Amarillo, Texas. If you’re in the mood for something smoked, you won’t be disappointed by this iconic spot.
Taking in the beauty of Manhasset Bay is an essential part of any trip to Port Washington (or “Port,” as the locals call it), and one of the best ways to do that is by grabbing a meal at Butler’s Flat Clam Shack (86 Orchard Beach Blvd., 516-883-8330, www.butlersflat.com). Indulge in some fantastic fresh seafood and enjoy the view.
Dimaggio’s Trattoria (706 Port Washington Blvd., 516-944-6363, www.dimaggios.net) has been providing the Port Washington community with top-shelf Italian food since 1978 and it still remains a local favorite. Their Italian-American standards are grounded in Old World Italian style and their brick oven pizza is beloved by many.
The building it resides in is over 110 years old and while the eatery itself isn’t nearly as old as that, Finn MacCool’s (205 Main St., 516-944-3439, www.finnmaccoolsny.com) has still stood the test of time in Port Washington. They’ve been providing customers with a well-balanced menu containing all kinds of familiar favorites in a cozy but classy setting since 1984.
An Eclectic Shopping Experience
The best shopping experiences are the ones when you’re surprised by what you find. That’s become a lot less common today with the cookie-cutter offerings of all the big-box stores, but they can still be found in carefully preserved downtown areas like the one in Port Washington.
You will almost certainly be surprised by what you’ll find at Impulse Boutique (29 Main St., 516-439-5055, www.impulseny.com). Owner Cheryl Feld gears her products towards women of all ages and always aims to provide shoppers with something unique.
“Places like this, a local business, I think you’ll find brands that you can’t find anywhere else,” she tells us. “We do a lot of trunk shows and a lot of giveaways. It’s just always a fun experience.”
Feld believes that she owes part of Impulse’s success to the Port Washington community’s belief in the power of small business.
“We’ve been in business 12 years and that’s a testament to what the community is all about,” she says, “It’s a very supportive community and it always has been.”
For even more uncommon offerings, check out Bubba Brown’s Treasures (302 Main St., 516-767-6200). This beloved antique and gift shop fittingly resides in a 19th century building complete with ornate tin walls and ceilings that give shoppers the sense that they might find some kind of treasure from a bygone time…and they likely will.
Another shop that favors the eccentric and offers the eclectic is Wit & Whim (6 Carlton Ave., 516-944-9200, www.wit-and-whim.com). A self-described “treasure house filled with curiosities for people of all ages,” Wit & Wim offers all kinds of unusual vintage finds as well as an array of different items that were handmade by local artists.
Indoor and Outdoor Activities
Even in cooler weather, Port Washington offers fantastic outdoor experiences. The area is filled with beautiful waterfront views, serene hiking trails, and other fun fresh-air activities. And if it’s too chilly for that, there’s plenty to do inside as well.
One of the crown jewels of the Greater Port Washington area is Sands Point Preserve (127 Middle Neck Rd., Sands Point, 516-571-7901, www.sandspointpreserveconservancy.org). This 216-acre park offers hiking, biking, dog parks, gardens, picnic areas, a playground, a beach, and four breathtaking early 20th-century mansions once occupied by the Guggenheim family.
If you’re looking for a way to enjoy the beauty of Manhasset Bay, you can’t do better than Bay Walk Park (Shore Road, 516-883-5900). Take a long stroll along the bay, launch a kayak, relax and enjoy the views from a bench or the gazebo, and then take your pick from one of the countless amazing eateries right across the street.
If indoor entertainment is more your thing, check out Wharf Sports (403 Main St. #1, 516-472-7854, www.wharfsports.com). They offer virtual sports simulators where you can play everything from golf to basketball to Home Run Derby to Zombie Dodgeball and more. They’ve also got a brand-new game room with tons of vintage arcade games.
On Saturday, Nov. 26, Small Business Saturday becomes Port Holiday Magic, on which businesses throughout the community offer specials to their customers. There will be a free trolley to transport shoppers, live entertainment, costumed characters, Christmas carolers, Santa Claus on a firetruck, and more.
Places to Eat in Port Washington
Nikkei of Peru (55 Shore Rd., 516-439-4201, www.nikkeiofperu.com)
La Piccola Liguria (47 Shore Rd., 516-767-6490, www.la-piccola-liguria.edan.io)
The Wild Goose (75 Main St., 516-441-5505, www.thewildgooseli.com)
Restaurant X (170 Main St., 646-698-2423, www.restaurantxli.com)
Places to Stay in Port Washington
Hilton Garden Inn Roslyn (3 Harbor Park Dr., 516-626-3600)
Fathoms Hotel & Marina (433 Main St., 516-883-5800, www.fathomshotel.com)
A Community of Art Lovers
You’ll likely be shocked by how many art studios, painting schools, music schools, dance centers, art galleries, and more you’ll find in Port Washington. The community not only supports the arts, it actively engages in them, and invites you to do so too.
The Jeanne Rimsky Theater (232 Main St. #1, 516-767-6444, www.landmarkonmainstreet.org) also known as Landmark on Main Street hosts concerts, comedy, plays, and kids’ events all throughout the year. If you want an intimate encounter with immense talents, just pick any date on their event calendar and go. You won’t be disappointed.
The Art Guild (200 Port Washington Blvd., 516-304-5797, www.theartguild.org) is a great place to learn about artistic expression of all kinds and hone your creative capabilities. They offer weekly adult and kids’ workshops in various disciplines and host exhibits and events throughout the year.
Haven Art Studio (29 Haven Ave., 516-883-8344, www.havenartstudiony.com) aims to provide creators of all ages with an authentic artistic experience and foster a creative community.
“It’s a place where artists come to create and be around other creative people,” says owner Heidi Rabman. “We’re not arts and crafts, we are a real artists’ haven.”
The studio covers every star in the art constellation including drawing, painting, fashion, ceramics, and jewelry design. They offer adult classes all day long, six days a week, as well as after-school art classes for children and teens, and more.
Port Washington isn’t overly crowded with places to stay overnight, but there are at least two solid options available.
For a boutique experience that can really capture the essence of Port Washington, stay at Fathoms Hotel & Marina (433 Main St., 516-883-4800, www.fathomshotel.com). There are only six rooms available, so you may have trouble finding an open bed, but if you do you’ll get an incredible personalized experience and some beautiful one-of-a-kind Manhasset Bay views during your stay.
There are far more than six rooms available at the Hilton Garden Inn Roslyn (3 Harbor Park Dr., 516-626-3600) which should make booking it quite a bit easier. There are no waterfront views, but you’ll have all the amenities you need otherwise.