I have to admit: I’m a bit surprised how common it is for travelers to search about a Long Island day trip. New York City‘s biggest (or, rather, longest) neighbor doesn’t have a great reputation, at least not among tourists.
This is deeply unfair, of course. What Long Island lacks in NYC’s glitz, glamour and high-rise buildings, it makes up for it natural beauty. This is to say nothing about how much cheaper it is to enjoy the restaurants, beaches and other attractions on offer in Long Island.
Irrespective of what your opinions about Long Island were before you arrived at this site, I have a feeling you’ll be excited about the place’s potential as a day trip destination by the time you finish reading.
Why Long Island is the Perfect Day Trip Destination
New York is one of the most amazing cities in the world, but it’s also full-on. The city that never sleeps is also the city that never breathes or takes a break! Traveling here can be invigorating and exhilarating; it can also be downright exhausting, particularly if you come from a city in the US or abroad that’s not as high-octane as New York. (This is pretty likely, given that only a few other cities in the world are even in the same league as NYC!)
Of course, there’s also the appeal of Long Island itself. While I don’t imagine that most people will be browsing Long Island houses for sale and plotting a move here, it is conceivable that you’ll want to stay overnight—more on that in a second. From cuisine, to culture, to surprisingly great beaches, Long Island ends up impressing most people who visit, even those who never thought they’d love the place.
What to Do on Your Long Island Day Trip
Take a Great Gatsby tour
Most people associate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby with New York City, but in fact, it was on Long Island where many of the excesses portrayed in the book occurred. This makes sense, of course, given the propensity of modern NYC’s high society to party in The Hamptons (which, in case you weren’t aware, are on Long Island). Famous places along the “Gatsby Gold Coast” include Oheka Castle, the Vanderbilt Museum and Old Westbury Gardens.
Hit the beach
Many people don’t realize what incredible beaches the New York area has, which makes sense on one level (NYC is the ultimate concrete jungle) but is also shocking, given that the city is composed of islands, long and otherwise. Popular Long Island beaches include Jones Beach State Park and Montauk Point State Park. Fire Island is also very popular among the LGBTQ+ community when taking a Long Island day trip, although all are welcome on its sandy shores.
Have a farm day
If you’ve ever watched the Food Network’s iconic “Barefoot Contessa” program, you’ve probably fantasized about cooking with Ina Garten in her Long Island farmhouse. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to visit the legendary chef or visit her studio on a day trip from NYC, you can definitely have the farm experience. Sample Italian wines at Pellegrini Vineyards, or visit Lavender by the Bay to feel like you’re walking through the fields of Provence (or Hokkaido).
Enjoy a different shopping scene
Who says Fifth Avenue and Times Square are the only places in the NYC area to shop? Trade the name brands of high street for unique boutiques on Long Island. If you’re on the hunt for unique souvenirs, consider a trip to Kline’s, which is just steps from the sea in Ocean Beach. Want to take some unique furnishings back home with you? Good Westhampton (which, as its name suggests, is located in Westhampton) offers design, decor and more.
Discover understated culture
The bad news? You won’t find an art museum with the scale or range of work you see inside MoMA anywhere on Long Island. The good news? Long Island knows what it is—and it doesn’t pretend to be anywhere else. Art lovers will enjoy the understated offerings on display at the Parrish Art Museum in Watermill. Want to explore history instead? Consider a trip to the African-American Museum of Nassau County.
Should You Stay the Night on Long Island?
On one hand, Long Island beckons you to stay overnight. Hotels here, both beachside and in Long Island City itself, tend to be much more affordable than where you’re probably staying in New York City. This is to say nothing about the fact that your room in Jones Beach will almost certainly be larger than your one on the Upper West Side, or in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Travel, so often, is less about raw price and more about value.
On the other hand, while both the hotels on Long Island and the general ambiance here are conducive to an overnight stay, this isn’t always possible in real life. I sort of think of this as analogous to one of my other favorite megacities in the world: Tokyo. Specifically, while I love traveling up into the mountains and visiting the enchanting Tosho-gu shrine of Nikko, I’ve never really felt compelled to stay overnight there.
Other FAQ About Taking a Long Island Day Trip
How do you get to Long Island from Manhattan?
If you don’t have a car (and let’s face it: You probably won’t if you’re staying in Manhattan or Brooklyn as a tourist), the best way to get to Long Island from downtown New York is by train or bus. In particular, you will want to start your trip at Grand Central Station; buy a ticket for Ronkonkoma, which is the central transit hub of Long Island.
How much is a train ticket from Long Island to NYC?
Depending on which train service you take and whether or not you can score a deal (for example, by booking online and in advance), you can expect to pay between $12-20 for a one-way train ticket between Long Island and NYC. As far as travel time, you will likely spend about two hours in transit, although this depends somewhat on traffic and other factors.
What can you do for free on Long Island?
Many of the Long Island activities I’ve listed in this post are free, in particular the beaches, or walks around various town centers. Do keep in mind, however, that while enjoying Long Island is often free (or, at the least, very affordable), you shouldn’t shy away from spending where necessary, in particular on delicious seafood meals.
The Bottom Line
What do you imagine your Long Island day trip looking like? For some travelers escaping the hustle and bustle of NYC, an excursion here is simply an opportunity to hit the beaches. For other travelers, it’s an opportunity to enjoy delicious cuisine and unique New York-area culture without the stress and pressure of traveling in the city. I’ve spoken with many travelers who end up turning what was supposed to be a day excursion into an overnight or weekend trip! Of course, even if you ultimately end up preferring the streets of Manhattan to the sand of Montauk Point State Park, one thing is for certain: Long Island will defy most expectations set for it.