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'The Hamptons' 101:

Discovering Long Island's South Fork



Where does your mind wander when you hear the term “The Hamptons”?  Often, people who’ve never been there envision The Hamptons as a singular destination outside of New York City that is predominantly inhabited by the ultra-wealthy who own exclusive seaside mansions tucked safely behind giant hedgerows. While it’s true that there are plenty of mega-rich folks around, The Hamptons, in eastern Long Island, nearly 90 miles from the hustle and bustle of the city, are home to people from all walks of life and have been a popular retreat for generations. 

Every summer, the population swells with families flocking to this storied enclave. Why? Well, the overarching attraction is the beaches, for they are simply some of the best!  Steve Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach for his renowned coastal expertise for 25+ years, evaluates our country’s beaches and ranks them annually for water and sandy quality, safety and other important criteria. Several Hamptons beaches, including Cooper’s Beach in Southampton and Main Beach in East Hampton, are regularly on his “favorite picks” list.

Villages and Hamlets Together Equal “The Hamptons”

First, it helps to understand that “The Hamptons” is a collection of quaint, historic villages and hamlets that are part of the towns of Southampton and Easthampton. Southampton Town is comprised of over a dozen hamlets/villages such as Westhampton, Quogue, Hampton Bays, Southampton, Water Mill, a portion of Sag Harbor, and Bridgehampton. East Hampton Town consists of Wainscott, East Hampton, Amagansett, a portion of Sag Harbor and Montauk. Spanning about 50 miles along the South Fork, each locale has its own sense of community and its own unique vibe, yet each shares the same incredible asset: the continuous white Atlantic Ocean beaches with their rolling dunes and the calm waters of the surrounding bays.

Beaches Are Plentiful!

Unlike many resort towns, The Hamptons hasn’t allowed much commercial development along its shorelines. High-rise hotels are non-existent and beachfront retail establishments are scarce. So, if you don’t rent a home or cottage on the sea or stay at a motel, inn or Bed and Breakfast with waterfront property, don’t fret. There’s no shortage of public beaches from which to choose. When traveling with kids, be mindful to select beaches with lifeguards, concession stands and bathroom facilities and go early because parking is limited. As a visitor, you’ll need to purchase a parking pass (applications are available online). 

Popular family-oriented beaches include Southampton’s Cooper’s Beach and Ponquogue Beach on the ocean side and Meschutt’s Beach on Peconic Bay. The Town of Easthampton is home to Main Beach, Indian Wells, Amagansett and Ditch Plains, Montauk (where surfers take on the larger waves).

Where To Play

Pre- and post- beachcombing, visitors enjoy touring historic sights and landmarks including water mills, 17th-century homesteads and lighthouses. Other outings include The Bridgehampton Children’s Museum or a chartered boat ride for fishing or whale watching.  Sensational shopping is available throughout the region and Southampton Village, Sag Harbor and East Hampton offer the most chic variety.  When hungry, there’s no shortage of delicatessens, pizza joints, seafood shacks and ice cream shops as well as fine dining with literally “fresh off the boat” catches of the day. Additionally, well-established wineries and New England-style farm stands sell fresh produce, flowers and homemade pies along Rt. 27, the main road that connects the communities.  

Where To Stay

Motels, hotels, B&Bs, and vacation rentals are plentiful but fill up fast, often requiring reservations many months in advance. I, personally, like The Hampton Maid in Hampton Bays for its family-friendliness, casual nature and central location. Consider the Southampton Inn, which has been renovated in recent years, or Montauk’s historic Gurney’s Inn, an oceanfront mainstay that’s been adored for decades. 

What’s the Best Time To Go?

The summer season is crazy crowded but the weather is best for swimming and water activities.  However, hotel and lodging rates drop significantly after Labor Day, so, if possible, a September or October visit can be ideal. Autumn is a terrific time, when farm stands offer hayrides, corn mazes and apple and pumpkin picking. Fall foliage is at its peak late October and the color combinations with the sky, land and sea together make for some amazing eye candy.

Seeking Simplicity and Serenity

The Hamptons have become a special place for peeling back the layers of life’s complexities and getting back to some of the basics like sharing family time at a slower pace. I’ve been privileged to embrace this every summer, thanks to a family tradition ignited by my grandparents who understood how this special spot could foster closer family connections made during times of simplicity and serenity. Today, my family is four generations deep into enjoying time together, with Hampton Bays as our anchor. 

No matter which town you choose as your family’s foundation for fun, you, too, can experience this.  You can hop from town to town and village to village as you explore The Hamptons (being mindful of summer traffic; especially on weekends).  See www.discoverlongisland.com, www.southamptonchamber.com, and www.easthamptonchamber.com for more details.

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