GREENPORT, N.Y. — I'm going to ignore my selfish instincts here and go ahead and share with you a summer secret I've been keeping for almost 20 years.
If you're a New Yorker looking to escape the city and want to really revel in the nearby sun, sand and salt water of Long Island, then skip the Hamptons — that over-hyped, over-priced, traffic-choked string of hamlets on the South Fork.
Unless of course, you like to stand around at exorbitantly priced events where you can see and be seen with bold-face names. In that case, head east on the LIE and when you reach Riverhead, where the mass of glacial till that is Long Island splits in two, stay to the right.
But if you're like me and you'd prefer instead to drop all pretense and spend your time actively exploring the prodigious, serene and scenic terrain the East End has to offer, then get off at exit 71, hang a left and head north to the Anti-Hamptons — the North Fork of Long Island.
My husband Steven and I visited both forks on our honeymoon 19 years ago and we have been North Fork regulars ever since, returning to the South Fork only under duress to visit aging relatives.
We establish a home base in Greenport and bike, hike, swim and kayak by day. By night we enjoy local wines and beer, dine at low-key, highly rated restaurants and watch the sun tinge the clouds with Technicolor precision as it sinks into the Long Island Sound. The sleepy, historic fishing village, with the frayed blue-collar feel where we quickly became known as "the honeymoon couple" that first weekend in 1994, has matured gracefully into a more sophisticated but still friendly town from which we mount our daily fitness excursions.
At the risk of ruining the North Fork's hidden, off-the-beaten-path purity, DNAinfo New York offers this insider's take on three worthwhile outings and favorite haunts:
Where to Stay
► We stay at the friendly, family-owned (for three generations) Sunset Motel on Route 48 ($110-$365/night) because every room has a screened-in porch with a view of the Sound and most have kitchenettes. There's an oversized central lawn, tailor-made for Frisbee playing, and a private beach that Steve and I cherish.
► If you need fluffy towels, a tub or sleek decor, however, you'll be happier at The Greenporter ($189-$369) on Front Street, which has a pool and restaurant, but no water frontage.
► The Harborfront Inn ($249-$759), also on Front Street, is the only luxury hotel on the North Fork. It has a heated pool and rooms with balconies and harbor views.
► There are also plenty of B&B's to choose from, starting from about $200 a night. The only B&B we've ever stayed at on the North Fork has closed, but The North Fork B&B Association maintains a list of excellent options.
On the drive out, stop along the way for tastings at a few of the scores of wineries that have been instrumental in bringing positive attention to the region in recent decades. On a weekend jaunt in early May, we stopped at Castello Di Borghese Vineyard and Winery, formerly Hargrave, which was the very first winery in the region.
While I sipped and chatted with the assistant manager, Evie Kahn, she invited us to attend their 40th anniversary celebration the following night, featuring opera music from Belle Voci and light fare from Noah's. Politely declining, tongue in cheek, Steve said he hadn't brought his tux. "No tux necessary here," Kahn assured us. "You could wear one of those tuxedo T-shirts to this event. We like to keep it simple out here."
If you aren't bringing your own bicycle, call Brian at Eagle's Neck Paddling as soon as you arrive and he'll drop off rental bikes to any location in the area, usually within the hour. Then head to town to stock up on supplies. After picking up breakfast staples at IGA, we always hit Bruce's Cheese Emporium for an assortment of cheeses from all over the world, to pair with the wine I chose on the way out and the beer Steve fills his growler with at the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company.
Once stocked up and ready to roll, head out to discover the natural beauty of the (formerly) best-kept summer secret in downstate New York. Enjoy your stay, but do me a favor and keep it to yourself, OK?
Bike and Hike — Greenport to Orient Point County Park
Start this trip with a bike ride to Orient. This 9.1 mile, easy-to-moderate ride will take about 45 minutes and will carry you along a stretch of Route 25 that is water bound on both sides, past farm stands, osprey nests, and breathtaking views of the bay to the south and inlets to the north. Birdwatchers will revel in the abundance of waterfowl.
Have lunch at Orient By The Sea. Bob Hasse and family have been serving fresh seafood from this super-friendly, prime location for 35 years. My favorite is the Orient Chowder ($8), New England style with a little kick, but everything on the menu is reasonably priced, simply prepared and delicious.
After lunch, cross the street and take a nature walk at Orient Point County Park, 48 acres at the tip of Southold Town, with a mile-long stretch of beach front. An easy 1/2-mile walk through woods will take you to the end of the island where the Long Island Sound meets Gardiners Bay (known as the Race). Scramble on the rocks, enjoy the scenic views surrounding the purportedly haunted Race Rock lighthouse and watch the Cross Sound ferries head out to Connecticut.
The ride back to Greenport is always harder than the ride there. Not only will you have a full belly, but you are also peddling against the wind. So when you get to Manhasset Avenue at the edge of Greenport turn left and reward yourself with a short detour to happy hour and live music at Billy's By The Bay. Billy's is a casual place in the Brewer Yacht Yard, known for its "Oyster-Mania," all day, every day. Appetizers are $3 to $15. Don't get carried away, though. You still have to ride back to wherever you are staying. After a shower, return to Manhasset Avenue for an elegant, delectable Italian dinner on Sterling Harbor at Porto Bello, owned and operated by Diana DiVello and her mother for 17 years.
Bike and Kayak — Greenport to Shelter Island
For this excursion, you'll bike through the town of Greenport and take your bike on the North Ferry to Shelter Island ($5 round trip per person). From there, bike to the boat ramp at the end of Burns Road on Shelter Island and rent kayaks from Shelter Island Kayak Tours. Call ahead to reserve your kayak or book a guided tour. Shelter Island's hilly terrain will provide a much more challenging workout than biking out to Orient did. The ride from the ferry to the boat ramp will take about 30 minutes.
Once in your kayak, head to Taylor's Island and beyond to Mashomack Preserve. Home to a log cabin built around 1900, Taylor Island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The grounds, open to the public, are the perfect spot for a picnic and a dip in the water.
A nice spot for a casual lunch is The Dory ($8 to $25), just up the road from the North Ferry on Route 114. It's been there for 80 years and is the oldest and most famous watering hole on the island.
If you want to add a bonus hike to this excursion, check out Inlet Pond County Park on Route 48 when you get back to Greenport. The North Fork Audubon Society offers nature programs in this 55-acre preserve with 1.6 miles of groomed trails leading to the Long Island Sound.
Kayak-Hike — Orient Point State Park and Dam Pond Preserve
Drive or bike to Orient Point State Park. This is the same route that starts the first excursion above, but now you will go into the state park on the south side of the road when you reach the end, instead of the county park on the north side. From the entrance of the park, it's another couple of miles into the parking lot, beach and kayak launch. You may want to stop along the way as you head into the park and rest on one of the benches along the road, pausing to soak in the peaceful surroundings.
Leave the parking lot and hike west along the beach (an unmarked trail) at the edge of Gardiners Bay. When you reach the end make a U-turn to your right, heading back east on the other side of the peninsula along Long Beach Bay. Returning by the same route, you'll log a tad over 5 miles. Enjoy the solitude, since you probably won't pass more than a few fellow hikers. Dip in the water as needed to cool off.
After the hike, rent a kayak from the Eagle's Neck Paddling outpost near the parking lot. Then head east into Little Bay or west through Long Beach Bay toward Orient Harbor and Gardiners Bay.
Once back on shore enjoy a well-deserved meal and cocktail at Orient By The Sea, adjacent to the park entrance.
If you're still yearning for more nature and exercise, on your way back to Greenport stop at Dam Pond Maritime Preserve for a hike through 36 acres of woods along trails that lead to a protected bay, sound front and several distinct habitats. Even the locals are largely unfamiliar with this tranquil hideaway, frequented mostly by birdwatchers in the spring and fall.