It's summer of 2021 and we've been through more than a year of pandemic-living. We first published this guide in 2020 and though the rules keep changing, our desire to go to the beach, spend time wandering beautiful grounds, watch movies under the stars, and eat whatever's fresh from the farm remain the same,
Lay of the Land / Rules at Play
The Hamptons has long been a refuge for New York City's hot and tired (and rich!). In just under two hours (when traffic co-operates), travelers can go from Manhattan’s dense urban jungle to Eastern Long Island’s breezy, quiet seaside homes, surf spots, and clam-bake dinners. Or something like that.
Over the years, Long Island’s South Fork has become increasingly popular and busy, even all the way at The End (Montauk). The single main highway, 27, is a logjam — even on the best of summer days — and, at this stage of pandemic living, the traffic flow is no lighter. But once you get out here, it really does feel like you can take a deep breath (through a mask, please!) and relax a little.
Covid infection rates are currently low, save some spiking as a result of July 4 parties, so let’s keep it up. It’s easy to spend most of your time outdoors (which experts repeatedly tell us is the best way to socialize, if we must socialize). And given the landscape — beautiful, sweeping farmlands, wooded enclaves, bustling main streets, marshy preserves, and grassy dunes overlooking the epic Atlantic Ocean — there really is no reason not to be outside.
Just don’t let the vacation vibes keep you from being careful and vigilant about protecting others. Rules and guidelines are evolving, as are our appetites for controlled risk. As of June 25, 2020, people traveling to New York from any state that has an infection rate above 10 per 100,000 on the seven-day rolling average (here's looking at you, Florida, California, Texas, North Carolina, and at least 14 other states) are required to quarantine for 14 days. For inquiries and resources, call the Suffolk County hotline at 311. You can find all your Covid-related case trackers and information for Suffolk County here.
Heading East? Check out The Ultimate, Everything-You-Need-to-Know Guide to the North Fork This Summer.
The Healing Powers of Water (Get to the Beach, Already)
Hampton beaches are truly a state treasure. Seventy miles from the city, they are extremely wide, sandy, clean, and quiet. Large grassy dunes protect the beaches from erosion and give the migrating birds, endangered toads and snakes, and piping plover privacy and protection from the elements.
Many beaches along the East End require a permit (seasonal for residents, year-round renters, and non-residents). But there are a few public beaches visitors can enjoy, particularly in state parks, which may also have lifeguards, bathrooms, and concession stands. Each Hampton has its own rules, and they are known to be strict — especially during this time of coronavirus, wherein most daily permits are not on offer — so check before you pad out to the sand. Your best bet? Have a local drive you, get dropped off, or ride your bike.
Starting west and moving east: West Hampton, Hamptons Bays, Watermill, and Bridgehampton all fall under the Southampton jurisdiction for things like beach permits, which you can find out more about here. East Hampton’s villages include Sag Harbor and the village of East Hampton. Its hamlets are Wainscott, Springs, Napeague, Amagansett, and Montauk. The town is not currently selling daily parking passes to any village beaches. There are no restrictions preventing people from arriving at the beaches via bike, foot, or drop-off. But you will definitely get ticketed if you park on neighborhood streets surrounding the beaches.
Here's a handy guide:
A nice spot at the beginning of Dune Road, the famous stretch of ocean front beach addresses — and the mansions that stud them.
Ponquogue, Hampton Bays
A big, broad beach with a great breeze over the bridge cutting across the Shinnecock inlet. You’ll need to buy a permit for the day (currently available in limited supply, Monday-Friday), and it’s also close to lots of waterside restaurants for quintessential summer dining.
Meschutt Beach Hut, Hampton Bays
Just off the Shinnecock Canal, the bay water is mellow for kids, with hokey live music at night and an extremely laid-back, all-day snack bar.
Shinnecock East County Park, Southampton
A good Dune Road spot for striped-bass fishing, (self-contained) camping, and driving all-terrain vehicles. The undeveloped barrier beach park includes both ocean and bay beach recreation areas, which is a really nice setup for families with kids.
Road D, Southampton
Head down some of the town’s prettiest streets to this small beach and parking lot, the only one available for about 30 cars without permits.
Coopers Beach, Southampton
Just on the other side of Lake Agawam in Southampton town is the extremely wide and well-known beach that offers plenty of room even on the busiest of days. Normally, there are concessions, picnic tables, bathrooms, and freshwater showers, but not this summer. Car passes are not being sold on site. Be sure to take a peek at the mansions behind the grassy dunes and note the gorgeous St. Andrew’s Dune Church next door, which has been operating as an ecumenical gathering place for 142 summers. There’s a lovely butterfly garden, too.
Big Fresh Pond, Southampton
It feels like something out of a classic camp movie and a contrast to the open, airy, and bright beaches the area is known for: Lush and piney Tuckahoe Woods surround an unusual freshwater lake. You can walk around the lake, stopping for a taste of wild blueberries and honeysuckle, or to say hello to canoe paddlers and slow-moving snapping turtles at the water’s edge. There are trails on the northeast side of Big Fresh, in Emma Rose Elliston Memorial Park.
Flying Point and The Cut, Water Mill
These two beaches are just down the block from one another — past the old potato fields and beyond the roads that wind around Mecox Bay. They are peaceful, quiet, and clean, with expansive sandy stretches for miles. Permits are required and lifeguards are on duty at Flying Point. The Cut is great for kids, as the beach straddles the chill bay on one side and is a safe haven when the ocean side is rough. Locals love surfing here in the shoulder seasons because there’s not much of a summer swell. If you’re coming by car, make sure you show a parking permit.
Elizabeth A Morton National Wildlife Refuge, Sag Harbor
This serene wooded bluff overlooking the Bays is home to long-tailed duck, piping plover, painted turtles, osprey, and other elegant sea birds who peck among the salt marsh, rocky beach, and lagoon. It’s open from a half hour before sunrise until a half hour before sunset and is open to the public (but not pets). It’s a wildlife refuge, so beware of poison ivy and ticks. Bring the bug spray.
Havens, Sag Harbor
A pretty, quiet, calm bay cove good for kids and beachcombers looking for interesting shells. Parking passes are needed for this one.
Sagg Main Beach, Sagaponack
The town is offering limited daily beach permits to this beach in close proximity to Pierre's (the former General Store on Sagg Main), a convenient go-to for picnic provisions and the best baguettes on the beach. (Loaves and Fishes at the corner of Sagg Main and 27 is the place to go if you like your lobster salad to cost more than a mortgage payment.)
Georgica Beach, East Hampton
Lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on this pristine bit of shoreline, a remote-feeling village beach past winding roads of stunningly manicured homes. The area surrounding nearby Georgica Pond, a coastal lagoon, is a habitat for fancy celebrities.
Wiborg, East Hampton
Further east from Georgica is another local spot where you’ll need to display a beach sticker, but it’s also wide and relatively quiet compared to East Hampton’s Main Beach. Close to Maidstone Club, too.
Two Mile Hollow, East Hampton
The old-school center of gay life in the Hamptons, with a not-so-discreet parking lot pick-up scene which may — or may not! — be disrupted by Covid. Feel free to report back.
Ditch Plains, Montauk
Well-known as a surf mecca (mostly tourists in the summer; fall and winter bring out the hardcore surfers) and Ditch Witch food truck hang, this beach requires an East Hampton Town beach sticker for entry with a car, though if you arrive on a bike or by foot, it’s free.
Other Ways to Stay Outdoors
Peconic Land Trust has been working to save Long Island farms since the 1980s. The nicely organized website highlights places to hike, birdwatch, bike, study nature, sail, fish, and, of course, become a farmer.
Laurel Crown Farms is an indoor/outdoor equestrian center in a shiny new facility with a Grand Prix-size field in Quogue. Lessons and specialized riding programs are available for kids and adults.
Southampton Arts Center is hosting outdoor movie screenings in the evenings and cultural events and socially distanced programming like immersive sound baths, outdoor art installations, and the Unity Fest to celebrate Afro-Indigenous culture on the East End.
Hamptons Film's summer series drive-in includes new, independent, documentary, and revival films at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. Films are announced a week ahead of their screenings, and you have to order tickets in advance (it’s $50 per carload) on the Hamptons Film website beginning on Tuesday afternoons. Sound is transmitted through the car radio.
Sag Harbor Cinema is also doing a drive-in series of movie classics at Havens Beach Park. Films start around 9:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Parrish Art Museum, a beautiful space in Water Mill, has been rolling out nice outdoor programs — short film screenings, evening art projections, and painting en plein air on Friday mornings.
Sagaponack's Madoo Conservancy recently reopened by appointment with new safety guidelines for its horticulturally diverse garden, established by artist and gardener Robert Dash in the 1960s.
Timed, ticketed reservations can be made to tour the magical grounds of LongHouse Reserve, textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen's personal homage to experiencing art outdoors. Treasures are around every corner, including a Kara Walker among the ivy, a Japanese-inspired pond, an enormous Yoko Ono chess board, and a big and bubbly Buckminster Fuller Fly Dome.
Eat Something Good to Make It All Feel Better
Every summer season brings a slew of new restaurant openings (often terribly trendy places), but this summer we encourage you to promote the local standbys and down-home joints — plus the farmers, fishermen, vintners, bakers, and makers who give this strip of Long Island its charm.
New Moon Cafe, Quogue
Tex-Mex out East for 30+ years and very much from the heart. There’s outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery for daily specials, meal kits, and weekend breakfast. Think: ribs, chili, mac and cheese, smokehouse burgers, and margaritas.
Canal Cafe, Hampton Bays
Super laid-back seafood spot for bowls of mussels, generous lobster rolls, and fish sandwiches. Find it somewhat off the beaten path in a boat lot beside the Shinnecock Canal (it kind of feels like a secret). Currently open for take-out only.
Sip ’n' Soda, Southampton
The old-school, family-run diner in town has been open since 1958 (the original menu — and prices — are in the window) and is currently open for takeout. The standard diner fare isn’t going to blow your mind (though Monday burger nights are fun), but the fam has been churning homemade ice cream for three generations (local peach and strawberry!) and their shakes, sodas, and sundaes are classically delicious. It’s worth a few calories to support this local gem. Their Instagram feed will keep you up to date.
Channing Daughters, Bridgehampton
Innovative, sustainable, small-batch grape growers have an experimental vineyard block, planted sculpture garden, and tasting garden that’s all currently closed to visitors. But you can make pre-purchase pick-ups.
Wölffer Estate, Bridgehampton
An American winery with European vibes currently open by reservation for wine and small bites outside. By now, their Summer in a Bottle is chilling in practically everyone’s fridge, but there are fun ciders to try, too. Wölffer Kitchen is doing takeout from their Sag Harbor and Amagansett bistros.
Babinski’s Farm Stand, Water Mill
Regular harvests of produce are displayed in wire baskets and wooden crates at this lovely outdoor shop currently operating at the whim of the weather and the world (call ahead or drive-by to check hours).
Round Swamp Farm, East Hampton
A family of fishermen and farmers selling fresh catch, prepared foods, and pies in a charming country market. You can order online for local delivery. Hours are currently limited for in-store shopping.
Carissa’s Pies, East Hampton
The inventive Carissa mills local wheat for her dough, resulting in a nuttier and heftier crust, which she fills with all sorts of interesting ingredients for her pies. She makes beautiful sandwiches, cakes, and pastries, too — special stuff that would up-level any celebration during this bummer Covid time.
Balsam Farms, Amagansett + Montauk
A beautiful market bursting with colorful local crops, farm eggs and dairy, and local preserves which you can order online for pick-up or delivery.
Clam Bar at Napeague, Amagansett
Rustic, 30-year-old roadside shuckin’ shack. All outdoors, all the time, with first-come, first-serve table service and lots of rock and roll.
Amber Waves, Amagansett
Another beautiful farm, educational center, market, and (now open!) cafe showcasing the best the land has to offer. Order on-site then take it to go or stay and eat at spaced-out picnic tables with farm views.
Eye the Summer Transplants
Delicious Hospitality Group, the folks responsible for the gloriously delicious Italian food at Charlie Bird, Legacy Records, and Pasquale Jones, is making deliveries in the Hamptons. Orders need to be placed by Wednesday at 10 a.m. for drop-off Thursday night between 8 and 11 p.m.
NYC-based somms Parcelle East are collaborating with Highway Restaurant to do same-day deliveries of “beach wines” (screw tops! white burgundies! summer reds!) from Southampton to Montauk.
Decadent Amorino gelateria (by way of NYC, by way of Italy) is delivering their natural, gluten-free desserts on Thursdays.
The rabid fans of Carbone in NYC will appreciate popular menu items like Caesar alla ZZ, Spicy Rigatoni Vodka, Mario’s Meatballs, and prepackaged grill kits — ready for takeout Wednesday through Sunday near the Southampton train station. Online orders should be placed one hour before contact-free pickup time. Food is prepared ready to eat.
One of the most notable characteristics about this vacation area is the absence of chain hotels. It has made for several unique and interesting places to stay — from sustainable new builds to retrofitted bungalows to grand old homes. Take a look at our full Hamptons hotel list. Below are three relative newcomers who deserve some extra time in the sun.
Shou Sugi Ban House, Water Mill
The year-old wellness retreat reopens. Conditions are perfect for an escape here, as the grounds are open and airy with beautiful landscaping, outdoor spa pools, and a focus on centering and taking care of the self. Guests booking custom stays can work with the team to curate an itinerary with spa and healing arts treatments, wellness and fitness activities, workshops for self-care, and beautifully tailored meals.
Room at the Beach, Bridgehampton
There’s a two-night minimum at this bungalow retreat, once owned by Martha Stewart and Donna Karan, but you may want to stay longer in one of the ten eclectic rooms. Things have been reconfigured this summer so that guests have private outdoor space and to make social distancing easy. The hotel has a pool, bicycles, and beach passes. The yard, with its cozy seating arrangements, is the real star, particularly the table nestled under twinkling lights and a row of slender redwoods. It’s only a ten- or fifteen-minute walk from the Jitney or train, making it a nice option for those without a car looking to stay put.
Exciting news for Montauk: Justin Smillie of NYC’s Il Buco is bringing Italian specialties (and delicious breads and salumi from Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria) seaside this summer at the beachfront hotel. The serene boutique spot is particularly well-suited for socially distant travel, with spacious, open-air common areas with fire pits, easy access to the water and nearby nature trails, and 96 Zen-inducing guest rooms, many with private ocean-facing patios.
Shop the Hamptons While Staying at Home
Support local brands, Black-owned businesses, and places with a mission.
Hidden Gem is a cute Southampton homewares and gift shop literally tucked into a charming (and somewhat hidden) courtyard behind Jobs Lane. Run by a local sister set (with creative pursuits in photography, fine arts, fashion) the space is beautifully decorated with handmade items from all over the world and sprinkled with a dash of the sisters’ Antiguan heritage. Until you can peruse the store yourself, support their online shop.
The proprietor of Sag Harbor’s crazy cozy indie bookshop Berry & Co also procures herbs, makes teas, administers advice on CBD, and delivers herbal face steam kits and cross stitch kits — as well as books, obviously — through her online site and Instagram feed. A partnership with Libro.fm makes it possible for you to buy audiobooks directly through the local bookstore.
Matriark, a store on the ground floor of a Victorian mansion on Main Street in Sag Harbor, carries clothes and accessories from women-owned brands and donates a percentage of profits to causes that advance womens' rights. Among the pricier but more charming options are Kilometre's travel-themed dresses dedicated to such trendy summer destinations as Montauk, Capri, and Paris and embroidered with local monuments and latitude and longitude coordinates on the cuffs; and Mariko Ichikawa's stunning upcycled kimonos hand-embellished with feathers and beads.
Children’s Museum of the East End
Promoting play to spark imagination and foster learning for children from all backgrounds and abilities in Eastern Long Island, the museum offers Zoom playdates, workshops, and activities for little kids.