What the Heck Can You Do in the Hamptons With Kids?
By Eileen Gunn
The East End of Long Island is less than two hours from New York City and suprisingly rural, so parents often ask me what there is to do out there with kids. Unfortunately, everything I know about the Hamptons I’ve learned from watching Sex and the City and Revenge, which tend focus on adult pursuits like drinking, back-stabbing and adultery.
To find some better answers, 5-year-old Tiny Traveler and I headed out to the Riverhead and the South Fork over spring break. We discovered a lot of fun stuff, especially if you visit outside of the crowded summer season. Here are our best ideas:
1. TT loved the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton. Three hours after arriving I had to surgically extract her.
A sizable indoor playground (above) is great for rainy days. But the real draw is the pretend play the museum encourages with costumes and a collection of sets including a farm stand, soda shop, workshop, ship and library. A compact mock-up of a potato chip factory had her enthralled.
2. We didn’t get to the small Natural History Museum across the road, but we’ll check it out next time. A local parent tells us there is a nice walking trail behind it.
4. I was lukewarm on the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. TT enjoyed seeing the butterflies and penguins, exploring touch tanks and feeding tiny minnow to the rays. But it’s expensive relative to other regional aquariums and not nearly as well executed as similarly priced venues. The bird room (right) had just a handful of squawking parrots. I couldn’t decide whether the Dr. Zaius statue in the monkey habitat was mildly amusing or unbelievably cheesy.
4. We also didn’t get to the smallish Railroad Museum of Long Island in Riverhead. In the warm weather kids can ride scaled down outdoor train on the weekends. A collection of working Lionel trains should please both parents and kids.
Gingerbread University is about 10 minutes north of central Riverhead. For about $15 and up you can buy a giant, seasonally appropriate gingerbread cookie (TT could choose a heart, flower or butterfly), a large pastry bag of icing and a pile of candy for decorating.
The North Fork Tasting Room is next door. Should you visit on a weekend you can sample local beer or wine while your child makes her gingerbread creation. There’s also a small play area out front and a lobster roll place that’s probably hopping in warmer weather.
1. One advantage of visiting the East End off-season is that the parks, beaches and beach parking that are reserved for residents in summertime are open to the public. On a sunny March day we had the tide pools and dunes on the beach outside of Southampton all to ourselves. We ran around until we were cold and exhausted.
2. One thing you can only do in the wintertime is go seal watching. The Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island offers seal walks from December to early spring. Or you can try your luck on your own at Montauk Sate Park and Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton. Dress very warm and bring binoculars.
3. The Quogue Wildlife Refuge, which has seven miles of walking trails is open yearround. Indoors, you can visit native animals, including a bobcat, owls, falcons and eagles, that the staff has recued.
Eat and Drink
We were too early for all the wonderful farm stands to be open but did find other local food gems.
Jerry & the Mermaid, the clam bar next door to both our hotel and the Aquarium has burgers, decent fish & chips (with waffle fries!), good and generous salads and a few local wines. If you’re staying at the Hyatt Place they’ll deliver. It’s way better than the aquarium’s crowded and overpriced café.
The retro soda shop at the Children’s Museum (above) featured photos of real nearby counterparts. These led us to the Sip’n Soda, a 1950s luncheonette in Southamton. I had a burger, TT had a hot dog and we shared an excellent vanilla ice cream soda. She loved it and it was a bargain, especially for the Hamptons. There are similar retro soda fountains on the main streets in Riverhead and Bridgehampton.
The only downside to our ice cream lunch was that we didn’t get to eat at the Southampton Publick House, a large restaurant on the outside of town that offers pub food and well-regarded house-brewed beers.
Some of the many local wineries have sizable tasting rooms that are manageable with (well-behaved) kids in the quiet off-season. TT snuggled with me by a fireplace and had a snack while I tasted a flight of reds and whites at Roanoke Vineyards. Had it been a smidge warmer I would have sat on their patio and let her run around on the grass. Afterward, with permission from the staff, I showed her the rows of budding grape vines out back.
We stayed at the Hyatt Place East End in Riverhead, which usually offers a package that includes aquarium tickets. The indoor pool was too chilly to swim in for as long as we wanted to (there is an outdoor pool and grill in summer). But the room was family friendly and the breakfast was generous. Riverhead sits where the North and South forks meet, making it a good gateway to either.
If you stay the weekend, you can explore both.