Most of us only know the Hamptons, NY from watching Sex and the City, which focused on adult summer pursuits. So it’s not surprising that parents often ask me what there is to do out there with kids.
The East End of Long Island is an ideal mix of rural farms, beaches and upscale towns. From museums to farmstands and wineries, there’s quite a bit for families to do.
Only two hours from New York City, it’s an easy weekend destination. With kids it can be easier, cheaper and more fun to visit in the spring or fall, when nothing is crowded, street-parking rules are relaxed and the beaches are yours to run around on.
I used Riverhead, where the North and South forks meet, as my base to explore the Hamptons over a spring break when Tiny Traveler was young. We discovered a lot of fun activities.
Here are our best ideas for family fun in the Hamptons in the summer and the low seasons.
17 Fun Hamptons Activities For Families
Find Places To Play
1. Tiny Traveler loved the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton. Three hours after arriving I could only lure her out with the promise of ice cream.
A sizable indoor playground 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 told us there is a nice walking trail behind it.
3. I was lukewarm on the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. Tiny Traveler 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.
The bird room had just a handful of squawking parrots, though the kids did like petting the one perched on an interpreters hand.
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 delight both parents and kids.
5. In summer you can hop on the Shelter Island Ferry for an easy and fun day trip.
There are several wonderful family friendly restaurants; just choose the one that appeals to you.
After lunch, you can hit the links at Whale’s Tale Miniature Golf & Ice Cream Parlor. It’s an old-fashioned place and the ice cream is only Hershey. But kids love both the golf and a cone afterwards. They have frozen yogurt and pies. too, to keep parents happy.
Be a locavore
1. Gingerbread University is about 10 minutes north of central Riverhead. For $15 and up you can buy a giant, seasonally appropriate gingerbread cookie, a large pastry bag of icing and a pile of candy for decorating.
Tiny Traveler could choose a heart, flower or butterfly and went with the first. She really liked decorating and more candy went onto the heart than into her mouth, which is very surprising.
It’s the kind of activity that can appeal to kids in a range of ages. Even tweens can get their creative juices flowing when there’s candy involve.
2. 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 his or her gingerbread creation. There’s also a small play area out front and a lobster roll shack that’s probably hopping in the summer.
3. The North Fork is full of wineries and vineyards these days. If you’re feeling intrepid, some of them have sizable tasting rooms that are manageable with (well-behaved) kids, especially in the quiet off-season.
Uncork New York has a map and links to their websites. I recommend checking a few websites to get a sense of what they look like and if you can manageably bring kids.
Tiny Traveler 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 outdoor 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.
4. Seven Ponds Orchard in Water Mill (near Southampton) is not as well known as some of the other Hamptons farms but it’s a local favorite.
In the summer kids can pick raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. In the fall it’s apples and pumpkins.
There are also other vegetables and flowers you can pick, depending on the season.
When you’re done picking produce, there’s a playground and hayrides, and a small corn maze in the fall. The farm stand is a fantastic place to stock up for your beach house, even if you don’t explore the whole farm.
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.
4. The Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Preserve in Sag Harbor is open all year round and is a great, free outing for most ages. Bring birdseed. During most of visits, the chickadees and other birds will come and eat out of your hands (even little kids can do it!).
Keep your eye out for turkeys, chipmunks, and other local wildlife as you walk along any of several scenic trails. One popular trail leads you to a lovely bay beach where you can take a break and have a picnic.
5. During the summer months, Sag Harbor, Southampton, Easthampton and Montauk each has a weekly free outdoor concert in its park. It’s yet another place where we bring a picnic– or pizza if we’re feeling lazy.
The kids play and dance while parents sip local rosé and enjoy whatever the music happens to be that evening.
Hamptons Restaurants Kids Will Like
We were too early for all the wonderful farm stands to be open but did find other places to eat in both Riverhead and the South Fork towns.
1. 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.
2. 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, Tiny Traveler 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.
3. 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.
Note: We chose pretty casual places to eat, where jeans or shorts were fine. But Bridgehampton and Southampton have their stylish cafés and bistros.
If you plan to try any of those, pack something stylish and plan to leave your mom shoes home for the evening. And again, check their websites or call to find out how they feel about kids.
You can also find affordable vacation rentals for families both further out around Greenport, Shelter Island or Montauk, or in the towns just west of the forks like Rocky Point.
We stayed at the *Hyatt Place East End in Riverhead, which usually offers a package that includes aquarium tickets.
The indoor pool was chilly (there is an outdoor pool and grill in summer) but it was still filled with families like us who had come for a quick, easy getaway from NYC.
The room was roomy and set up to provide some privacy between living and sleeping area. And the breakfast was generous.
Want an easy 24-hour getaway? Stay at the Hyatt, visit the aquarium and have dinner at Jerry & the Mermaid. Next morning, have breakfast, take a swim in the pool and head home, maybe stopping at a beach or nature preserve on the way.
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I had help on this post from Jennie Magaro, co-founder of Hamptons Family Concierge, a travel-planning service that will customize itineraries, plan events and schedule services and activities for families visiting the Hamptons.