Long Island 101
June 16, 2009 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Moving to Long Island: what should I know?

I am about to move to Port Jefferson. What do I need to know about the area? I would love to know about any cool places to visit (and places to avoid), events, restaurants & cafes, and anything else you think is important to know. I would love to hear about any local parks with walking paths, hiking trails, etc.

In general - what are your favorite - and least favorite - things about this area, and what do you think I should know? All advice welcome!
posted by pemberkins to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm from LI, though I haven't lived there for a few years. But here are some suggestions to get you started:

- Check out the funky shops near the docks in Port Jeff.
- Go to Massapequa, eat at All American Burger, then get ice cream at Krisch's
- Go to some of the south shore beaches. Robert Moses, Tobay are good. Jones is your all-purpose beach, gets crowded though.
- Go to Caumsett State Park, and keep walking north until you reach the rocky cliffs overlooking Long Island Sound.
- If you have a 4WD vehicle, and can get a fishing permit (or know someone who does), drive onto the beach at Democrat Point.
- Check out the scenes in Bayville, Huntington, Long Beach, the Hamptons and find what suits your tastes.
- Keep an updated schedule for the IMAC Theater in Huntington. (Not a 3d movie place...it's the Inter Media Arts Center. Great live music.)
- If you like wine, there are a some great wineries out on the forks.
-If you like beer, Canterbury Ales is a great spot. Blue Point Brewery and Croxley Ales also very good.
- Go to Oysterfest every year. Have a friend in Oyster Bay who can let you park at their house though.
- Eat pizza, well, pretty much anywhere. Bagels too.
posted by edverb at 10:44 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, I just got here, so I don't have a ton of advice, but I've had tons of luck just getting on one of the major-but-not-too-major roads (the yellow ones, in Google Maps, generally; Hwy 25A is a good example) and just seeing where it goes. The towns here have been around for 350 years, so they all have a pretty solid amount of character and you can wander between/in/around them and see a lot, especially on the north shore -- but I'm biased, since I'm in Huntington (and I think it's a great little place.)

I'll be watching this thread for ideas of places to go though. (Canterbury Ales will be getting a visit asap.) Unfortunately the IMAC Theater is closed down, and that must have just happened because I swear I saw a poster for a show there just a couple of weeks ago. :(
posted by Super Hans at 11:46 PM on June 16, 2009

Best answer: I grew up in Stony Brook, one town over to the West, and lived in various places on LI for many years. Spent a LOT of time in PJ. Lovely town. It will take months to explore all the shops and whatnot there. I will try to come up with as much as I can right now, sticking to the immediate area.

Parks: very local: you can walk ALL the way out along PJ harbor to the bluffs and "pirate's cove" walk out on the sand past Danford's Inn and along the beach (long walk)

Avalon park in downtown Stony Brook-- avalon.

West Meadow Beach is amazing--it's over in Stony Brook (SB from now on here) 25a West to SB train station, right turn on Quaker Path, all the way down to intersection with Tustees Rd, left, you can't miss it. It is a great little local beach but the sunsets are amazing-- due to the westerly orientation of the beach, the sun goes down over the water three seasons of the year. CONSISTENTLY GORGEOUS. There is a road open to walking and biking that runs the length of the spit--estuary on left, sound on right. There is a little house about halfway down, used for nature classes and whatnot-- there is an Artesian well on the side, all the locals get water from there. Cold and delicious and free.

Sunken Meadow Park in King's Park, about five towns West of PJ/SB. Beach, bluff, estuaries, woods, kettleholes--LI is a giant flattish sandbar, a terminal moraine from ice ages. Good place to see that. The Nissequogue river empties into the sound at the far east end of the park. the headwaters are south, in smithtown, and you can rent canoes and kayaks there to run the river.

In Port Jeff, the Village Pub, Billie's are good bars. Port Jazz too.
Tiger Lily Cafe, is nice for good food, off main st.

Velvet Lounge/ Curry Club: Indian restaurant and bar, great local music great vibe great food. Corner of 25a and Nicholls Rd.

Rte. 112 and Nicholls Rd are the best main N/S arteries around you, Rte. 347 (Nesconset Highway) and the LIE are the best W/E arteries, at least on the north shore/ center of the island. These will get you everywhere. Smithhaven Mall is the big local one, about 12 miles west or so on 347.

Ask the locals in PJ-- they'll tell you all the favorite spots! There is SO much that I'm not even thinking of-- I'll try to post more later. Please MeMail me if you have any questions-- like I said, I lived there for most of my life (I live upstate, in New Paltz now) but my parents live down there, and I'm on LI still once every few weeks anyway.

The north shore runs like so, from East to West: Mt. Sinai/ Wading river --> Port Jefferson --> Stony Brook / Setauket --> St. James --> Smithtown --> Kings Park --> Ft. Salonga --> Huntington. All of these are reachable by the PJ train line, but car is better. Public transportation on LI sucks, as a rule.

The Film Festival is still going on at SUNY Stony Brook, I think, and they have all sorts of other stuff going on, year-round. The theater at Staller Center there is great. 25a to Nicholls, head south, can't miss the school on your right. The University hospital is to the left. Great for trauma. For other things, go to Mather (one of the two hosps in Port Jeff, the other is St. Charles)

Again, if you have any questions, need recommendations for doctors, banks, shops, food, whatever, MeMail me.

Good luck, and enjoy-- it's a great time of year to be settling in over there!
posted by exlotuseater at 12:22 AM on June 17, 2009

There's also a car & passenger ferry from Pt. Jeff to Bridgeport, CT - a good way to avoid the city when heading for points north.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:35 AM on June 17, 2009

Best answer: I grew up in Port Jeff Station. The north shore is beautiful, but Long Island can be a difficult place to find things to do. I don't want to rain on PJ's parade or anything, but the shops in Port Jeff can be completely covered in one day, not months as exlotuseater suggests. I personally don't think Port Jeff has the same charm it once had when I was growing up, but it's still a lovely place to spend an afternoon. I like watching the ferry come in.

Some thoughts:

- Long Island, despite its overcrowding, can be a beautiful place. Explore the east end: North Shore along Sound Ave (be sure to pick up a Briermere pie) and the South Shore PAST the Hamptons. (The Hamptons are best left to the winter months.) In the summer, go straight to Montauk (Hither Hills State Park). Montauk is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

- Close and quiet is the Mill Pond in Setauket. Great place for a jog.

- Find a place to rent a kayak. I used to rent them from Eastern Mountain Sports, but that store closed. Not sure where to get them now, but Kayaking in the little inlets on the north shore is a lot of fun, and if you're brave (crazy?), you can kayak on the Long Island Sound.

- For ocean beaches, don't bother heading west (i.e. Robert Moses), just head south to Smith Point. You can get there most directly by taking 112 south to the LIE and then getting off at exit 68 South (William Floyd Parkway). William Floyd ends at the beach. Around $10 for parking. Beautiful ocean beaches, not too far away.

- I find that the Village Pub, Billie's and Port Jazz are the hangouts for the people with whom I went to HS and who never did anything with their lives. True locals, in the worst sense of the word. (On second thought, this may just be personal.) I would instead check out Velvet Lounge/Curry Club as suggested above, and head to the Checkmate down the road from there instead. Tara Inn is not in the nicest part of town (by the PJ train station, a few doors down from what was and what might still be Bada Bing's) but they have dollar burgers and good beer. They've been around forever and I still enjoy going there. (I recommend avoiding any bars in Smithtown or Long Beach.)

-Restaurants are not the greatest on LI, especially in this area. Check the boards at ChowHound to get a better sense.

-It's not a cultural hotbed to say the least, but SBU (as mentioned above) as well as the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington are good places to go. For culture and entertainment, NYC is your best bet. (And for getting there, I always preferred driving to the Ronkonkoma station instead of taking the LIRR from Port Jeff or Stony Brook.)

- For exploring New England, I prefer taking the ferry at Orient Point. An hour's drive east along the beaches beats an hour's drive east on 95 through Connecticut. You can get to Providence, Boston and Portland, ME very easily from LI via the ferry.

- Smith Haven mall is much nicer now than it used to be. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are right there too.

Where are you from? Long Island might be a culture shock for you depending on where you grew up. The north shore has more money, and the university's right there, but we Long Islanders are a breed unto ourselves. This may feel like New England, and look like New England, but it's not.

On preview, I feel like I may be a debbie downer. I just don't have the ra-ra-Port-Jeff-is-awesome feeling that others do. It may be a symptom of having grown up there; not sure. Feel free to memail with questions.
posted by anthropoid at 7:19 AM on June 17, 2009

You can park at my house when you come for the Oyster Festival ;)

We've been here a little more than a year, and I can't speak to the specifics of Port Jeff. But in general, I've found the North Shore a very pleasant place to live. However, the first thing we noticed is that people drive very aggressively and have little regard for pedestrians.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 7:40 AM on June 17, 2009

Virtually any Greek diner will provide a super meal.
posted by teg4rvn at 8:48 AM on June 17, 2009

Best answer: Seeing as how I'm the person who got in an argument with someone over which prepostition to use when describing living on Long Island...

There are certainly a few places out near Port Jeff for fine dining that are pretty decent.

Three Village Inn (I think its called Mirabelle at the Three Village Inn now)
I have friends who work in Commack who rave about the two Kitchen places.
There is also the North Fork Inn out in Southold that is excellent.

Of course at the end of the day it is the burbs. If you are looking for cheap food that's good troll chowhound but realize it'll come in three flavors - Italian, Pub Food, Recent immigrant/migrant populations (which in Suffolk means Mexican and Central American - El Salvadorian predominantly although Brentwood has a large Puerto Rican population). As a general rule everything else will suck.

Outdoorsy stuff -
Some great ideas already mentioned - but I'd also add the Pine Barrens which begin a little east of where you'll be as a great place to hike. An ecosystem of shrub oaks and small pines in sand soil. The famous Pine Barrens episode of the Sopranos takes place in the Jersey version. Lots of trails and a very active conservation effort means there are always events going on.

I'd also make an argument for learning how to sail. The sound is a great place to learn. Additionally fishing is a big activity in that part of the world.

I could go on for hours about the insanity that is Long Island but a couple of points.

-It is one of the most segregated places in the world. And segregated in ways you won't realize until you've been there for a while. I grew up on the North Shore in Nassau. The area I lived in was almost exclusvely Christian (mostly Catholic). The next town over was almost exclusively Jewish. As a kid we always socialized with kids from other non-Jewish, nearly all-white, predominantly upper middle class towns. When we played sports against other schools the teams were either all white or all black and hispanic. And its not a socio-economic issue i.e. there are relatively worse off all white schools as well. There is very little racial or socio-economic diversity in most towns. The one town I can think of that is racially diverse has property values probably 25% lower then neighboring towns and a school district that is generally considered second rate even though statistically it compares well to the "better schools".

A lot of this is driven I think by the way the schools were set up 75 years ago. You can pretty much stereotype towns by school district.

- Schools are a huge deal - Long Island produces a tremendous number of kids who go to the best colleges in the country (this is a function of population, wealth, an educated populace, and a de centralized state university system) and there is a tremendous amount of competition amongst parents to get their kids in the right place. That also means there is a tremendous correlation between perceived school quality and property values. Adding on to this is an absurdly inequitable funding system for school districts in NYS that ensures the wealthier towns are massively overfunded on a per student basis. The flip side of this is that relative to almost any place in the country high school sports are de-emphasized as a social event. They really are just for the kids.

-There are a lot of ostentatious displays of wealth from people who aren't that wealthy. Best to just ignore them. Its a peacocking kind of thing. I always thought it was weird the number of kids I knew who's 5000 ft^2 homes that had no furniture. Same goes with cars. The flip side of that is there are areas of Long Island that are incredibly wealthy and relatively low key. Lots of Subarus in the Green Vale School parking lot.

-Locational Snobbery. People on the North Shore look down on the rest of the Island. Fact. We mock their accents, we mock their miserable taste, we mock their flashiness. Even if indeed we share some of the same habits. That Daily Show piece - Those people are from the South Shore. For the purposes of someone from the North Shore - the South Shore begins at some combination of 25a, 25, and the LIE. So basically anywhere that isn't the North Shore is the South Shore if that makes any sense. Garden City of course is a little island of "our people" of course. This whole idea of NS> SS is absolutely mockable given some the cheesiest tackiest dumbest people I've ever met lived on the North Shore, but I'm just dealing in stereotypes here so I hope people don't feel a need to flame back.

I think South Shore people from Nassau look down on South Shore Suffolk county. Of course Piping Rock people look down on Creek people probably, and Hicksville people look down on Levittown people. Everyone wants to piss on someone. Just ignore it. You'll find your own niche of people through you activities and the only time you'll have to deal with these nightmares is when you go to the store or something.

-This all adds up to there being lots of people who live on Long Island who think they are more important then someone else. Undoubtedly they will think they are more important then you. The sooner you learn to laugh that off the less it will bother you.

Now that I've trashed the ancestral homeland (4th generation in fact) - The good totally outweighs the bad, and although I live in Manhattan today, and maybe I'll move out of the US again before my fiancee and I finally settle down - but when it comes time for us to have a family and move to the burbs I wouldn't consider any other place. Beautiful towns, good schools, beaches, close enough to day trip to Manhattan (or commute in my case), and some absolutely great people nestled in amongst the assholes.

Plus there is nothing more fun then being able to mock the Strong Island stereotype and have people think you are being self-deprecating.

And yes people drive like lunatics. My favorite sign on the LIE is "NYS law requires the use of turn signals" They are telling people that for a reason.
posted by JPD at 9:50 AM on June 17, 2009

It is one of the most segregated places in the world.

For a stark example of the truth of this statement, drive eastbound on Stewart Ave in Garden City, towards Hempstead. See if you can determine where Garden City ends and Hempstead begins. Bet you get it right on the first attempt.

A lot of that has to do with historical housing bias on Long Island...for example, see this article that states the first 17,400 Levittown deeds were restricted to non-Latino white families. That was immediately following WWII, yet you'd be hard pressed to find many minorities in Levittown even to this day. Similar unspoken policies were (and are) commonplace.
posted by edverb at 12:05 PM on June 17, 2009

Yes that is a fantastic example.

Garden City police have been know to throw black children in their patrol cars and drive them back into Hempstead without actually finding out if they live there. After all what would one of them be doing there if they had not crossed the border.

Its also a good example of the property tax issues I mentioned. Look at where Roosevelt Field is. All those tax revenues go to Fund the Garden City schools. Virtually none of it goes
to the surrounding nabes. Guess which is wealthy and white. Guess which aren't.
posted by JPD at 12:58 PM on June 17, 2009

My friend's father owns a Greek deli right across from the train station. I ate there once and it was excellent. Try the rice pudding!
posted by AquaAmber at 1:54 PM on June 17, 2009

Best answer: I live in Port Jefferson now, and have for the past 4 years or so. You've gotten a lot of answers already so I'll try to stick with what hasn't been mentioned already.

First--if you're moving to the Village (not PJ Station) make sure to get a resident parking permit as soon as you can. This will allow you to park anywhere downtown for free (almost all of the lots now have parking meters which aren't expensive, but are sort of a pain). It will also allow you to park at the Village beaches. The library downtown is not bad either so I recommend getting a card--they have lots of movies, and they can order pretty much anything from other libraries on the Island if they don't have what you're looking for.

Second--Get used to many, many layers of government. For example: if you're moving to the Village of Port Jeff, you will also be in the Town of Brookhaven as well as Suffolk County. Certain beaches are only for Brookhaven residents; others only for Suffolk residents, etc. West Meadow Beach, mentioned above and a wonderful place, will require you to have either a Brookhaven sticker or driver's license if you want to park there during the day from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Third--The New York State DEC has a pretty extensive system of state lands that are open for public use for hiking, fishing, hunting, etc. You'll need an access permit; they are free and good for 3 years. This map shows you the areas that are available--many are small, but nice.

Fourth--People have given you lots of good suggestions for interesting towns on the Island to explore. Indeed there are many, but traffic can be brutal; what looks like a short 25-mile jaunt may actually take over an hour to drive to. Personally, I would never go all the way to Huntington for dinner unless it was a special occasion. Ditto for movies, etc.

Fifth, related to above--One of the worst things about living here (apart from the high cost of living) is the fact that it can be hard to leave it. Physically, that is. The drive to D.C., for example, is under 300 miles, but I've never made it there in under 7 excruciating hours of driving. To get off the island you must drive through some combination of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan. So even a quick trip to go camping upstate has to be planned carefully to avoid Friday afternoon traffic--good luck with that. Of course, the ferry to Bridgeport is right downtown and that can save you a bunch of time, but to take a car on that is not cheap.

Overall I have grown to enjoy living here. It was a culture shock at first, but I've come to appreciate many aspects of Long Island life. The beaches are great, and being able to take the train to Manhattan whenever I want to is wonderful. If you have any specific questions about Port Jefferson, feel free to mefi-mail me. Welcome to the neighborhood!
posted by Jemstar at 3:42 PM on June 17, 2009

Oh--just read JPD's favorite Long Island road sign, so I will add my own: out in Southampton they have a sign at a lighted intersection that says "Wait for Green Light". Yes, drivers are crazy. You will learn to keep up with them, the sooner the better =)
posted by Jemstar at 3:47 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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