Escaping the Big Apple for a Long Weekend
Just beyond Manhattan's hardscape and sea of yellow taxicabs is a region steeped in history and natural beauty, from sand dunes and migratory bird flyways to some of the country's oldest lighthouses and notable estates.
See for yourself on a four-day escape that hits recreation areas in New Jersey and Queens, a beloved national seashore and historic homes on Long Island. It's all within 70 miles of Manhattan.
Pack a picnic lunch, apply plenty of sunscreen and head to the beach! Sandy Hook, New Jersey, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, is a mere 30-minute ride from Manhattan on a SeaStreak ferry (from Memorial Day through Labor Day), but it might as well be another hemisphere. Take a shuttle bus to Sandy Hook Light, the oldest operating lighthouse in the country, and soak up expansive views of New York City from the top of the 103-foot-tall beacon.
Enjoy your lunch on the North Beach Observation Deck, which has picnic tables and views of the New York Harbor. Then shuttle over to Fort Hancock, a military base during World War I and II and now a national historic landmark. Don't miss History House, a restored officer's home and the country's first disappearing gun battery (canons mounted on retractable mechanisms, which allowed them to be undetectable).
Before taking the ferry back to Manhattan, walk along one of Sandy Hook's six sandy beaches as the sun dips low in the sky. If you want to stay overnight at Sandy Hook, you can reserve an overnight camping tent for a fee. Just be sure to bring your own tent and sleeping bag!
Rise and shine and head to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, composed of 18,000-acres of wetland estuary and the surrounding land. This part of Gateway National Recreation Area lies on the south shore of Brooklyn and Queens, about a 23-mile drive from Manhattan over the Cross Bay Bridge. Tour Hangar B at Floyd Bennett Field, where visitors can watch as volunteers restore historic planes.
Weather permitting, rent a kayak and paddle out into the bay. The summer months are ideal for kayaking near the shore in search of birds and breezes. In the cooler months, stroll the nearly 2-mile West Pond Trail, which circles West Pond, home to turtles and an array of birds — ospreys, swans, geese, glossy ibis, snowy egrets and herons among them. In the winter months, try cross-country skiing at Floyd Bennett Field’s North Forty Natural Area.
As the sun begins to set, head out of the park for dinner. Taste some of the area's seafood specialties in nearby Long Beach, a summer vacationer’s destination on Long Island that has drawn visitors since the early 1900s.
About 55 miles west of Long Beach lies Mastic Beach and the William Floyd Estate, where eight generations of Floyds lived for 250 years, including William Floyd, a Revolutionary War general who signed the Declaration of Independence. Tour the 25-room mansion for a glimpse of original décor (which dates from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries), books, art, and even a Civil War uniform.
While in Mastic Beach, pick up picnic supplies before heading over the bridge to the Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Center, which offers brochures and maps of Fire Island National Seashore. Follow the trails through Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, the only federally designated wilderness area in the state. Keep your eye out for critters. Hikers often come upon deer, snowy owls, and red foxes nestled in the dunes and salt marshes.
Spend the night camping in your trailer or tent amidst the wilderness. Settle your campsite early so you’re ready to enjoy the park’s incredible star gazing.
Start the day with gusto! Hop back in the car and drive about an hour northeast to Oyster Bay on Long Island's north shore. Theodore Roosevelt resided in what is now Sagamore Hill National Historic Site from 1885 until his death in 1919. The 23-room Victorian also served as the “Summer White House” between 1902 and 1908. Tours offer a glimpse into Roosevelt's inner sanctum, including countless books, paintings, rugs, animals he hunted himself, and fascinating gifts from Rear Adm. Robert Peary, the Russian czar, and others.
Grab a bite to eat and then stop by nearby Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park. A small fee allows you to take a peek in Coe Hall, the historic Tudor Revival-style mansion. The terraces surrounding Coe Hall were designed by the Olmsted Brothers Firm, whose founder was none other than famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The 409-acre estate invites long walks among its lush lawns, walking trails, and formal gardens.
Explore the many historic buildings in nearby Oyster Bay (first settled in 1653). Then bunker down for an evening meal. It's the perfect topper to the weekend before the hour drive back to Manhattan.
SeaStreak ferry service to Sandy Hook Beach is contingent upon the season and the weather, so call ahead to confirm schedules. Cash only tickets include shuttle services to other Sandy Hook attractions. For the rest of the trip, you'll need a car. All major rental agencies have outlets in New York City.
Many of these sites have seasonal programs and hours. For information on Sandy Hook, Fort Hancock and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, contact Gateway National Recreation Area. The William Floyd Estate and Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness are both part of Fire Island National Seashore. It's best to get to Sagamore Hill National Historic Site early to book tours, which sell out quickly. Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park is open year-round and with an additional parking fee between May 1 and October 31 and on holidays and weekends year-round. Be sure to check the park or concessionaire’s website for up to date pricing.
New York City is clamoring with life — a city that never sleeps. But if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, you’ll find plenty of great spots to #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque throughout the surrounding area. This guide is just a start.