Summer's here in full steam, bringing beach-ready weather and (for the lucky few) shorter weeks for the work-weary. But though some of us waste all this sunshine by stationing ourselves directly in front of a floor fan, season 3 of Orange Is The New Black queued up for repeat watching, it's best to use this time to take advantage of some of the nearby non-urban spaces that will be out of reach (or at least less pleasant) once tights season rolls around again. Here are our favorite outdoor escapes from the city; as always, leave yours in the comments.
CITY ISLAND: This little island located at the very western end of the Long Island Sound is technically part of the Bronx, though getting there requires a number of subway transfers and a bus (you can also bike or drive). Once you've made it up there, though, there are a wealth of activities at hand, many of which involve eating and/or trying to convince locals to let you hang out on their private beaches.
Though City Island's official borders mark it in Yankees territory, it's remarkably akin to a tiny New Island town, both in terms of architecture and jargon—people born here are even called "clamdiggers," which is nomenclature more commonly found in Maine than within cab distance of the 4 train. But the most New England-esque thing about this spot is its cuisine—City Island boasts some truly excellent seafood, with restaurants like The Black Whale and City Island Losbter House specializing in crustaceans and mollusks a-plenty.
Once you've stuffed yourself with lobster, wander down City Island Avenue for some antiquing, and if you're there on a Saturday or Sunday, stop by the City Island Nautical Museum to check out some fascinating maritime artifacts.
SPRING LAKE, NJ: Nearly three years after the Jersey Shore was walloped by Hurricane Sandy, there are plenty of spots still thriving and fit for a wild summer trip—Seaside Heights, Wildwood, and Long Beach Island, to name a few. But the borough of Spring Lake, located along the water in Monmouth County, is not so much a place to relive MTV-sponsored antics as it is a prime location for rich-people watching, beach-strolling and bed-and-breakfasting.
Obviously, a big draw here is the beach, which stretches about two miles long and is paired with a serene boardwalk that lacks the cheesy tourist shops you might find elsewhere. There's also a beautiful Catholic church, St. Catharine, located a little further inland, if you like beautiful architecture and religious art.
OCEAN CITY, MD: For a beach trip below the Mason-Dixon line, this seaside Maryland town lives up to its name, with miles of Atlantic Ocean and shoreline at its disposal. Ocean City is about a four hour drive from New York, and though there are buses, you're better off getting there by car. In terms of finding a place to stay, there are plenty of shared houses and the like, but for truly lovely accommodations, your best bet is Atlantic House Bed & Breakfast, which is located just one block from the boardwalk. Rooms run about $250-a-night on summer weekends, there's a big breakfast spread every morning and a snack in the afternoon, and innkeepers Brian and Josephine McCarthy are incredibly kind and accommodating.
There are lots of outdoorsy beach activities in OC, including (but not limited to) renting bikes for rides along the boardwalk, taking a trip over to Assateague Island to hang out with wild ponies, and bar-hopping to hear various cover bands, considering there are about a million of those in Ocean City at any given time.
In terms of food and drink, beachside fare's the name of the game here. Go for all-you-can-eat crabs at outdoor eatery On The Bay, get beer in a Mason jar at Backshore Brewing Company or throw shots back at (briefly shuttered) dive bar Peppers Tavern. Most importantly, you MUST go to De Lazy Lizard and drink an Orange Crush, which just so happens to be Ocean City's signature drink. Sit at the outside with your booze and feel your sunburn sting as the Great Big Fireball sets in the distance.
Photograph of Beacon Falls by brightgarden
BEACON, NY: It may or may not be a turnoff that this funky little city just an hour or so north of Manhattan was once dubbed the Brooklyn of the North (or, for the infuriatingly affected, "NoBro"). But Dia:Beacon, which boasts a significant collection of pieces by fundamental 1960s and 1970s artists like Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois and Richard Serra, has drawn artists and creative types to the area since opening in 2003. Now, Beacon's got more contemporary art galleries, cute cafes, and artsy performance collectives to balance out Dutchess County's endless supply of antique stores. Though, if that's your thing, there are plenty of those on Beacon's Main Street, in addition to the shops in its surrounding towns, hamlets and villages.
To get there, you need only purchase a ticket for Metro-North's Hudson Line at Grand Central Terminal; the ride is about an hour long, and passes through idyllic Hudson Valley spots like Cold Spring and Garrison, which are worth their own walk-through if you've got the time and the inclination. Once you're there, there are a number of charming inns and bed & breakfasts available for lodging, though Beacon will suffice as a day trip as well.
If you've got time to spare post-museum (or are skipping the art altogether), you can take a tour of nearby Bannerman Island, which boasts the crumbling Bannerman Castle. You can also hike up Mount Beacon, gallery hop, or feast at local eateries like Poppy's Burgers and Homespun Foods.
Courtesy Polish Sausage Queen's flickr
BEAR MOUNTAIN: Those lucky dogs in Los Angeles can go for a hike any damn time they want to, but New Yorkers aren't totally devoid of solid natural spot. Bear Mountain State Park is located only about 45 minutes outside New York, easily accessible via the Metro-North Hudson Line coupled with a quick cab ride to the park itself. Once you're in, you can opt for everything from short hikes to a twisty section of the Appalachian trail, plus you can take in all the natural flora, fauna, and tranquil lake life the park has to offer, since it contains both Hessian Lake and Lake Stahahe.
Individuals looking for places to stay can either camp outdoors or book a spot at the Bear Mountain Inn, which recently underwent extensive renovations—rooms run about $229 on weekend nights, and the rustic spot boasts a spa and restaurant, among other amenities.
Courtesy ixtayul's flickr
FIRE ISLAND: There's no lovelier summer spot within a stone's throw of NYC than this outer barrier island, which offers beaches, sand dunes, nightlife and bungalows a-plenty. Your best bet here is to get a group together, ideally 7-8 friends, to pitch in for a weekend cottage rental. In terms of communities, Fair Harbor's a solid spot if you're looking for something a little more tranquil, Ocean Beach is where the fratastic party rages, and Cherry Grove and The Pines each boast stellar lesbian and gay scenes.
To get to Fire Island, you'll have to take a ferry. There are three companies that run to the Island—Sayville Ferry, Fire Island Ferry and Davis Park Ferry—and each goes to different parts of the island. You can either drive to the ferry terminals, which are in Bay Shore, Sayville, and Patchogue, or you can take the LIRR followed by a shuttle to the ferry. Both methods of transportation take about two hours. Once you reach the island, blessedly, no cars are allowed. Instead, you make your way around by foot or by bike, and all the houses are connected by boardwalks instead of streets.
As for things to do, aside from beachside lounging with a beer in hand, there are plenty of restaurants and drinking holes around, and if you end up in Cherry Grove, you should check out a drag show at the Cherry Grove Hotel. And of dining note are Surf's Out in Kismet, Matthew's Seafood House in Ocean Beach and Sand Castle, also in Cherry Grove.
NORTH FORK, LI: North Fork is just a two-hour drive from Manhattan (less from Brooklyn and Queens—just get a ZipCar or beg a motor-owning pal), making it a wonderful quick retreat from the city.
I've been going to North Fork for the past few years, and the best part is just discovering new places to relax and enjoy. I've been going to the Clovis Point Wines in Jamesport every year, and they focus on having delicious wines more than having a fancy gimmick. You can start strolling into their vineyard while sipping your wine or you can stay on the patio, where there will probably be live music. Another winery I've started to really enjoy is McCall Wines in Cutchogue. Their tasting room is an old horse stable-turned potato barn that spills onto a bucolic grassy lawn with picnic tables.
If you're heading further east into North Fork, you might want to stop in Riverhead for a lobster roll at The Lobster Roll and then pick up pies at Briermere Farms (pro-tip: wear elastic pants because you won't be able to choose just one delicacy). If you're staying for a weekend, Mattituck has a big grocery store (Waldbaum's) for supplies, but more charming is Love Lane, where there are boutiques and restaurants (Love Lane Kitchen is a popular choice). My heart is broken that Bookhampton closed, so I'll probably drown my tears at the Magic Fountain with ice cream. There are more boutiques and restaurants in Greenport, which is nearly the most eastern point—there's also a carousel.
There are some picturesque beaches, most of which require fees for vehicles. However, one "hack" is that if you get a rental through Airbnb or VRBO, some of the homes will offer permits as part of the rental. If you're looking for a B&B experience, check out the lovely Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport. The North Fork Table & Inn has rooms as well as an excellent, fancier restaurant plus a casual food truck in the parking lot. Just make sure you have room in the car for all the wine and produce you're bringing back. (Jen Chung)