The ultimate vacation getaway, Fire Island offers pristine beaches without a hint of pretention. Nestled in between the Great South Bay and Atlantic Ocean the Island has been a haven for generations of beach-goers, outdoor enthusiasts, and water sport lovers. Free of cars and chaos this unique island seems like a world away from its neighboring New York metropolitan way of life.
A weekend at Fire Island gets you back to nature. With all the biking, hiking, swimming, surfing, beach volleyball, kayaking, and tennis, you can finely break free of that monotonous gym routine. The following are some exciting activities that you can dive right into as soon as you disembark from the Fire Island ferry.
Boating and Sailing
With over 101 miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that boating is an integral part of the Fire Island lifestyle. Sailing is a Fire Island legacy that is proudly upheld by clubs in Point O’ Woods, Saltaire, Summer Club, and Dunewood. Bitter rivals, Point O’ Woods and Saltaire compete in the annual regatta for bragging rights over Fire Island sailing mastery.
The Appalachian Mountain Club, Fire Island Cabin branch maintains a fleet of boats for member use and hosts sailing lessons for beginners. Contact Captain Michael Miller for more information: 845-494-4093.
Looking for a break from the beach? Locals will have you know there is much more to this island than soaking in the sun. Residents of this eco-friendly island take advantage of country club living without the snob effect. Tennis associations are offered in nearly every Fire Island community, but a 9 am court reservation might be a tall order. When it comes to dress code we are more likely to channel our inner Agassi than stick to those conservative whites.
With the wind at your back, freewheeling across the boardwalks by the beach is a must. Biking is an integral part of every Fire Island community, woven into culture as the primary mode of transportation. Seasoned locals will tell you the more beat-up and rusted out bike the better, and we agree. In the peak season the walkways are crowded, please remember that pedestrians have the right of way. Proper biking etiquette is much appreciated. Use your bell and alert the pedestrian that you will be passing.
Clams are to Fire Island what maple syrup is to Vermont. Abundant and delicious, clamming has become a common practice for islanders. While many use the rake and boat approach, longtime locals are more familiar with the foot and toe method. Just walk out in the bay, dig your feet into the sand, and when you feel that smooth, hard rock-like shell, reach down and pull it out. Gather like-minded seafood lovers and cook up mean chowder.
Swimming and Water Activities
After basking in the hot sun, plunging into the cool Atlantic waters on Fire Island is incredibly refreshing. Please use discretion and swim in lifeguard surveyed zones. Sea kayaking and canoeing can offer a great high intensity workout on the ocean side or a calm cruise on the bay side. Take advantage of the easterly winds and head out windsurfing in the Great South Bay. Waterskiing, tubing, and wake boarding behind a private boat are always a popular activity on weekends.
This barrier island set in the Atlantic Ocean has access to some of the best surf on the northeastern seaboard. The remote location adds to the appeal, as surfers can enjoy a clean wave without the crowd. A series of sandbars and jetties contribute to the island’s varying surf-conditions.
The best breaks
Sandbar breaks can be found in Atlantique, Point O’ Woods, and Smith Point. For a steeper, faster wave, surfers head to the Ocean Beach jetties. There is an east and west jetty, both with quality waves.
When visiting Fire Island beaches, it’s best to bring a few boards since the conditions change rapidly. A longboard, fun shape, or fish is a necessity when the waves are small (3′ and less). When Fire Island waves get big and break on the sandbars, a 6’4”+ surfboard will do the trick. Water temperature in the summer ranges from 50 to 70 degrees.
Local surfers are found belly up at the bars. The summer brings long flat spells and overcrowded beaches. Expect water temperatures in the 60s in June and the 70s in July and August.
Reminiscent of Christmas morning, Mother Nature brings the gift of frequent and exceptional swells as the pleasant autumn air caresses clean tubes and creating warm water temps. The unofficial, hurricane season brings the best surf on the island in August and September. If you’re a seasoned Spicoli this is the time to visit Fire Island.
The winter season is reserved for die-hard northeastern surfers who can tolerate the freezing air temps and bone chilling water temps. If you can stand the brutal conditions then you’re in for the sweet treat of groundswells and uncrowned lineups. A sealed 4/3 with gloves, boots and hood are required.
A mixed bag in terms of waves, the spring season is all about brushing the dust off the board and getting back your paddle. The weather is a toss-up; one day it could be a sunny 70-degree swell, and the next day, a gnarly overcast 30-degree bummer.
Best tide: mid
Best swell direction: SE
Best size: head-high
Best wind: NW
What to wear in the water
May through July
3/2 millimeter spring suit
July through October
Surf trunks and a vest or top for windy days
October through November
3/2+ millimeter full suit
November through March
4/3 – 5 millimeter full suit with booties, gloves, and hood
March through May
3/2+ millimeter full suit
If you need wax or equipment you must pick it up on the mainland. Fireisland.com recommends:
Bunger Surf Shop, Babylon, 631-661-1526, BungerSurf.com
Fire Island Surfing Pictures We have a great gallery of surf photos taken exclusively on Fire Island by long time locals and world-traveled surfers. Please feel free to share your surf photos with us. Check out the surf here.
Fire Island fishing draws anglers from far and wide, seeking to haul in their share of bluefish and bass from Fire Island shores. Fire Island fishing, both sport and recreational, does not require a permit. Whether you are a novice bobber or advanced angler, everyone can land a lunker on Fire Island. Surfcasting is a popular technique, as you can cast directly into the swift-moving schools of blues and stripers right off the ocean breaks.
Though surfcasting is one method, taking a private boat into the bays will yield the best Fire Island fishing results. If you don’t have a boat, there are many charter services that will provide you with excellent offshore fishing around the Fire Island bays. Deep-sea offshore fishing, via charter boat, can yield an exciting array of tuna, shark, and marlin. See the Fire Island business directory for more information on charter boats.
Fire Island offers several options for hiking, including shorter (2 mile) stretches of boardwalk at Watch Hill and Sailors Haven, and longer (5+ miles) courses into beach, salt marsh, and forest terrain of Otis Pike. No matter where you hike, please be aware of wildlife species and take all necessary precautions against the sun and heat.
The Sunken Forest in Sailor’s Haven is one of the few remaining maritime forests on the eastern seaboard and spans over 40 acres of wildlife. Serious hikers, bird watchers, and ecologists find this part of Fire Island to be absolutely fascinating. The forest features holly, bayberry, blueberry, sassafras, and shadblow trees that are estimated to be well over 200 years old and have been twisted and shaped by the constant salt spray. Maintained by the Fire Island National Seashore, Sunken Forest earned its name because it appears to be below sea level. Guided tours are available during the summer months.
Fire Island Lighthouse
The Fire Island Lighthouse is the oldest and most significant landmark associated with Fire Island history. This magnificent lighthouse was built in 1857, and served as the guiding light for many European immigrants sailing into New York Harbor. The Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society has restored the lighthouse and it is open to the public as an observatory and museum. The lighthouse is open from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM daily during the summer and guided tours are available. The Fire Island Lighthouse observatory offers amazing views of Long Island, the Atlantic Ocean, the Great South Bay, and Fire Island beaches. On a clear day, the Fire Island Lighthouse offers views of the New York City skyline – a truly spectacular vista that must be experienced to be believed.
For more info visit the links below:
History of the Fire Island Lighthouse
Fire Island Lighthouse Area
Fire Island National Seashore
If you prefer to sleep under the stars, then Fire Island campsites located at Watch Hill, Otis Pike, and Smith Point are your destination. Just off the beaten path, Fire Island features miles of indigenous wildlife.
The Watch Hill campsite is a ½ mile hike from the ferry. Each of the 26 sites at the Watch Hill Campground includes a grill, picnic table and nearby water source. Tents must be staked in a sandy area with no vegetation. Since grills are provided at site, wood and open ground fires are prohibited. Pets are allowed, but they must be kept under restraint on a leash no longer than 6-feet and may not be left unattended. Watch Hill is open from mid-May to mid-October. Visit www.watchhillfi.com for more information.
Fire Island is one of the best places in the New York metro area for bird watching. Its diverse habitats support a great variety of birds throughout the year, and it is a prime “rest stop” for birds on migration. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded on this thin strip of land, around 1/3 of all the birds found in North America!
Just For Kids
Here on Fire Island, summer is synonymous with the sound of a slamming screen door. Both kids and adults agree Fire Island is a giant playground with an endless amount of freedom. Friendships are forged building sand castles on the beach, boogie boarding, and bike riding. Though kids are quick to find their own entertainment at the beach, here are some kid friendly activities that are uniquely Fire Island.
Seashell decorating is a time-honored tradition for Fire Island kids. Beached treasures are snatched up, decorated, and sold out of red radio flyer wagons in town. This has been a long-standing Fire Island pastime and is the root of some of the most original souvenirs.
Fire Island is famous for the radio flyer wagon trademark used to haul all goods from the ferry to the house. If you’re new to the ways of the island, don’t sweat it. Local kids will schlep your stuff in their wagons in exchange for a few bucks. It’s our small town way of teaching these kids the value of a dollar.
Youth Group and Camps
Fire Island offers several children’s camps and youth groups. The most widely recognized Fire Island camps are the Ocean Beach Youth Group and Saltaire Summer Camp. These camps offer instruction in sailing, swimming, windsurfing, canoeing, arts and crafts, and wildlife exploration. For contact information, see the FireIsland.com business directory.