Just east of New York City is the eleventh largest island in the United States. It is beautiful Long Island, and it has been my home for the last ten years. Known for its gold coast and gorgeous beaches, Long Island also offers many cultural, historical and science-based attractions for families. Proximity to Manhattan makes Long Island a great day-trip for both visitors and New York natives! Here are my favorite family destinations:
1. CRADLE OF AVIATION MUSEUM – When you visit Long Island’s Air and Space Museum your family will be able to explore eight exhibit galleries that are home to over seventy-five air and space crafts. Kids and adults will enjoy learning about the major role Long Island has played in aviation and historic flights like Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis”. Many interactive exhibits and short films make the experience a lot of fun. The Junior Jet Club is a great place for children under six to explore. Older children will enjoy the Giant Screen Dome which offers a great selection of movies like “Legends of Flight.”
2. FIRE ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE – For many travelers that crossed the Atlantic Ocean back in the 19th Century, the Fire Island Lighthouse was the first evidence of land. Your family can enjoy learning about the whaling industry, shipwrecks, and Long Island’s fishing industry by visiting the interactive exhibits. Families will also enjoy the guided lighthouse tower tour where you can climb 156 steps to the top of New York’s tallest lighthouse. The lighthouse and tours are offered year-round. For the tour, information visits the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society.
3. SAGAMORE HILL – Sagamore Hill was the home of President Theodore Roosevelt. The Summer White House is one of my favorite places on Long Island. The Roosevelt Museum at the Old Orchard House has great exhibits and several short movies which highlight many aspects of President Roosevelt’s political and family life. Families can also enjoy the outdoors on the Sagamore Hill Nature Trail. If your family enjoys the nature scene, make sure to visit the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary & Audubon Center which is down the road from the President’s home. Visit the sanctuary’s website for great family events like “Dancing Under the Stars” and the famous “Owl Prowls.” Adjacent to the Sanctuary, you can also visit Theodore Roosevelt’s Gravesite.
4. SHINNECOCK NATIONAL CULTURAL CENTER AND MUSEUM - The Shinnecock National Cultural Center and Museum is the only Native American operated museum on Long Island. Since I am not a native New Yorker, I didn’t know too much about the Algonquin heritage until my son studied the history of the state of New York in the 4th grade. Visiting this museum is an excellent way to enhance your families knowledge about the history and culture of Native Americans. Two permanent exhibits span over 10,000 years of Shinnecock history, educational programs, and workshops. The museum is located in Southampton, New York and is open from Wednesday through Sunday.
5. OLD BETHPAGE RESTORATION – Old Bethpage Village Restoration is a living museum that recreates a Long Island Village in the pre-Civil War era. Families will be able to roam 200 acres and visit historic buildings like a church, school, farmhouse and general store. Costumed guides give demonstrations and kids can learn what life was like in the mid-1800s. There are many seasonal events like the Civil War Battle in July and the Fall Harvest Fair in September. Old Bethpage Village Restoration is open from March 31st through mid-December.
6. SUFFOLK COUNTY FARM AND EDUCATION CENTER - The Suffolk County Farm is a real working farm where families can get close to the farm animals and participate in special events that are available all seasons. Events like “Yesterday’s Family” will have your kids learning how to churn butter and make candle holders out of metal. Other fun events are the St. Patrick’s Day Scavenger Hunt in the spring, the Ice Cream Social in the summer and the Sunset Wagon Tour in the fall. In the summer, kids can also participate in garden sessions on Wednesdays for eight consecutive weeks where they can grow their food in the Children’s Garden. The farm is open seven days a week from 9 am to 3 pm.
7. COLD SPRING HARBOR FISH HATCHERY AND COLD SPRING HARBOR WHALING MUSEUM – Cold Spring Harbor is a quaint seaside village that dates back to the 1600s. For a small village, a lot is going on! The Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium is a great place to visit with kids. Families can learn about the freshwater ecosystem of New York and check out the largest existing collection of freshwater reptiles in New York State, amphibians, and fish. There are two aquarium buildings and eight outdoor ponds where visitors can feed the trout and experience “Catch & Keep” fishing. Make sure you check out the website for feeding demo and tour schedules. Admission for adults is $6.00 and children between the ages of three and twelve is $4.00.
Two minutes down the road on Main Street you can also visit the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum. My son and I enjoyed learning about Long Island’s whaling history. The museum offers to change exhibits, films like “Flubber” that will show during President’s week and special programs that often revolve around holidays. Admission for adults is $6.00 and kids between the ages of five and eighteen is $5.00.
8. WALT WHITMAN BIRTHPLACE & INTERPRETIVE CENTER- In the 1800s, Walt Whitman was born and raised in West Hills, Long Island. This Long Island native is one of America’s greatest poets. I love visiting the homes of literature greats so I can learn about their experiences that lead to their words living on for centuries. Step back in time by taking a guided tour of the home. Families will also be able to enjoy changing exhibits that consist of memorabilia books, photographs and excerpts of Whitman’s writing at the Interpretive Center. In addition to the exhibits, the center also has a bookstore, museum shop and a multimedia area where you can hear Whitman’s voice on a videotape. Make sure to check the website for special events like poetry readings, the Victorian Tea Party, and events for children. When the weather is nice, families can also enjoy picnics and hiking tours of the beautiful grounds.
9. LONG ISLAND CHILDREN’S MUSEUM- The Long Island Children’s Museum is a hands-on museum that will inspire children’s creativity. This award-winning children’s museum has twelve galleries, art exhibits, and a theater. Some galleries that were a hit with my family was” Bubbles” where the kids could step inside a giant bubble and “Communication Station” where my son did a news broadcast. Theatre presentations consist of music, dance, puppetry and theater that is interactive and explores both cultural and educational experiences. Admission is $11. Please see the Long Island Children’s Museums website for museum hours and special events.
10. ATLANTIS LONG ISLAND AQUARIUM & EXHIBITION CENTER - This is one of the best family attractions on Long Island! Kids will be able to see a 120,000-gallon shark tank, an all-living coral reef display, sea-lion shows and over 100 exhibits that offer interactive experiences and touch tanks. Also, there are several aquatic adventures that families can participate in like the Penguin Encounter, Scientist for a Day and Sleepover with the Sharks. The new Exhibition Center is now open, and the Butterflies & Birds Flying is the current exhibit and is a limited engagement. Atlantis Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center is in Riverhead, NY. The new Hyatt Place East End Hotel has recently opened next door if you would like to extend your day trip into a weekend getaway. Admission is $22.50 for adults and $19.50 for children. A little pricey for a family, but so worth it!
11.NASSAU COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART – This museum offers great programs for families and children. Every Sunday at 1 pm, the museum host art activities, family gallery talks, and family-friendly gallery guides. Check out the website for more family events like Show us Your LEGOS®. The Outdoor Sculpture Gallery is also a fun place to check out with the kids. The museum is in Roslyn, New York which is only 25 miles east of New York City.
12. CUSTER INSTITUTE AND OBSERVATORY - Amongst private homes in Southold, you will find one of Long Island’s most amazing experiences. It is not a “day-trip,” but I have to mention the Custer Institute which is only open on Saturday evenings for stargazing. Far from the city lights, star-gazers are allowed to use the powerful telescope to check out the night sky from 7 pm until midnight (weather permitting) and tour Long Island’s oldest observatory. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children under 14. For more information, call (631) 765-2626.