For many New Yorkers, summer means weekends on Fire Island — it’s what gets them through the work week, the heat and humidity, the subway and the crowded city streets. Closer than the Hamptons — and pleasantly lacking in pretension and a social caste system — this barrier island off the coast of Long Island is made up of 17 communities that have each developed their own personality. Ocean Beach is its commercial and tourist center with much of the shopping, restaurants and nightlife here. Partiers may head off to Kismet or Ocean Bay Park, home of the legendary Flynn’s, while families opt for kid-friendly Saltaire or Fair Harbor. With something for everyone, a visit to Fire Island is a must this summer.

Getting There
Be advised, there are no cars allowed and no paved roads on Fire Island. From the city, take the Montauk Branch of the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station to one of three Long Island towns that offer ferry service to the island — Patchogue, Bay Shore and Sayville. Taxis and shuttle vans are available to transport passengers to the ferry docks.

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Sailors Haven Visitor Center & Marina
Fire Isle Pines, NY 11782
(631) 597-6171

This scenic and safe beach along the main boardwalk is bordered on the west by the Sunken Forest, a favorite for hikers, nature lovers and families out for the day. This maritime holly forest offers Fire Island’s best bird and wildlife watching, and the visitor center provides nature exhibits, a gift shop and snack bar. Pleasure boats dot the marina and bay while park rangers and volunteers host a balance of recreational and educational programs for kids.

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Maguire’s Bayfront Restaurant
1 Bay Walk
Ocean Beach, NY 11770
(631) 583-8800

For the best sunset views, fine food and drink, Maguire’s deck over the bay is the place to be. The signature salads here are a must, the seafood is fresh and tasty, and the drunken pork chops are a favorite. It can get pretty chaotic during the dinner rush, and the bar gets packed from happy hour on as a DJ and karaoke pump up the volume at midnight on weekends. For a more relaxed vibe, try Maguire’s for a pleasant lunch on the deck instead.

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The Palms Hotel
168 Cottage Walk
Ocean Beach, NY 11770
(631) 583-8870

Price: roughly $495 on weekends/two-night minimum stay

A cut above the Fire Island standard — with a room rate to match — The Palms offers accommodations ranging from a standard room to suites to a cottage that sleeps 10. It promises central air conditioning, and every room has flatscreen TV and satellite, WiFi, iPod docking stations and a refrigerator. Just a short walk to the beach, close to the lively nightlife and shopping district, this hotel is the perfect place to crash no matter your party plans.

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Houser’s Hotel
781-85 Evergreen Walk
Ocean Beach, NY 11770
(631) 583-8900

Price: roughly $275 per night on weekends/two-night minimum

Operating since 1921, Houser’s is an island institution for weekenders, boaters and residents alike. The waterfront bar is a big attraction, and The Hidewaway restaurant is one of the best on Fire Island. Guest rooms, which offer bay views, won’t break the bank either. Ask about its midweek special, which includes a $50 certificate for The Hideaway.

Photo Credit: Flynn’s Fire Island/Facebook

Flynn’s Fire Island
1 Cayuga St.
Ocean Bay Park, NY 11770
(631) 583-5000

The party is always on at Flynn’s, a legendary eating and drinking establishment on the bay with a large marina for day trippers to dock their boats. The menu is standard casual fare of burgers, seafood and salads, but start things off with a platter of delicious baked clams. Happy hour on the party deck is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day, and Sunday Fun Days feature Reggae on the Bay all summer long beginning at 3 p.m. The bar is open for drinking and dancing till 4 a.m. daily.

CBS New York Insider’s Tip
On the livelier parts of the island, the party scene starts early, goes through happy hour and on until 4 a.m. But there are plenty of other activities and attractions to check out. Most of Fire Island is National Seashore property, and visitors may enjoy Robert Moses State Park, tour the Fire Island Lighthouse or go hiking through the Sunken Forest at Sailors Haven.

Michael Browne is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City, specializing in travel and the hospitality industry. Browne is the former managing editor of Travel Agent magazine. His work can be found on