Are you ready for a day at the beach now that summer is finally here? If a little adventure and sand between your toes sounds like a sweet escape, trade the concrete jungle for the beaches of Fire Island. One of Long Island’s most unique destinations is a doable day trip for the whole family that, with a little planning, might just become one of your annual summer traditions. With gorgeous beaches, a small town feel and national park access, Fire Island truly embodies the idea of “getting away from it all.” Read our guide to learn the ins and outs of going to this beachy island.

So Close, but So Far Away

Those visiting Fire Island for the first time are often left dazed for a few minutes, as it’s hard to believe such peaceful tranquility can be found so close to New York City. Yet there it is, located on Long Island’s south shore, a tiny stretch of land which only measures 32 miles long and about a half mile at its widest point. Small in size does not mean short on personality, however, and Fire Island, even for just a day, will not disappoint.

Insider tip: Bring plenty of cash with you. There are few ATMs on the island, and water taxis and many businesses are strictly cash-only.

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Getting There

MTA all the way, baby. Simplify the planning process by purchasing a special one-day pass, which includes a roundtrip ticket on the LIRR, ferry passes and water taxi rides. Running daily from May 26th through September 3rd, the package will cost you at most $36 (children under age 5 are free of charge, $15.50 for ages 5-11) depending on which beach you’ll be throwing down your towel. Small strollers are allowed on water taxis, just don’t try and use it as a luggage cart (passengers may also carry 2 pieces of hand luggage – up to 25 lbs – free of charge). In a nutshell, travel as lightly as possible. Once you’ve arrived (the ride is approximately 1.5-2 hours), transportation gets a little tricky, as cars are not allowed on the island (with the exception of emergency vehicles). The best way to get around is on foot, bike or water taxi (see list of resources below). A pretty swell map of the island can be found here.

Insider tip: Download the Fire Island iPhone app for the latest ferry and train schedules and up-to-the-minute travel alerts for all 17 Fire Island communities.
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Best of the Best

Often called the “heart and soul” of Fire Island, Ocean Beach is our top pick for a family day at the beach. This “crown jewel” of Fire Island’s 17 communities will make any New Yorker happy, because even when we’re “getting away from it all,” we still want access to great restaurants (check out Rachel’s Bakery (325 Bay Walk) and Matthew’s Seafood (935 Bay Walk) complete with a kid’s menu, for starters), right? Enjoy lunch in town (the beaches stay pristine because food is a no no once you hit the sand) before heading to the calming waters of the  lifeguard-attended bay beach. Plus, there are several public bathrooms available in Ocean Beach.
We also like Davis Park (home to Casino Cafe, the only ocean-front restaurant on the island), Saltaire (positively serene but close to other busier communities) and Fair Harbor, which has a bohemian vibe and a festive arts and crafts fair every year.
Insider tip: Some villages are bigger than others and it’s not always easy to pick up goods on the fly depending on where you go. So bring the essentials with you (water, towels, hats, sunscreen and snacks) just in case. You’ll also probably want to pack a change of clothes for the ride home.
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Once you’ve had your fill of sand castle building, there’s still plenty to do. In fact, what’s a summer holiday without a trip to a lighthouse, right? Fire Island is proud of its very own beacon of light (4640 Captree Island). If you visit during the week, call ahead of time for the tour schedule; weekend tours are given all day until 5:00 pm. If you’ve got younger tots, be aware that children must be 42” tall to participate.
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Get close to nature in the Sunken Forest, a well-developed secondary dune system and rare maritime holly forest, located in the Sailors’ Haven section of Fire Island. Considered by most to be the “crown jewel” of the island, you can explore the area by walking the one and half mile long boardwalk, or take a guided tour by a ranger from the National Park Service. A variety of programs take place for children throughout the summer months.

Insider tip: Comfortable shoes for the whole family are a must! Given that you are out in the middle of nature, in addition to sunscreen you should also bring insect repellent. And while you’re at it, couldn’t hurt to check for ticks when you get home.

Davis Walkway

So what are you waiting for? If time is of the essence and a quick getaway to a slower pace filled with salt air and a view of the Atlantic sounds tempting, Fire Island is closer than you think. We’re already packing our beach towels…

Island Resources
Photo credits:
— Ellen Schmidt