Fire Island is much a feeling as it is a meal. If you grew up visiting the barrier island off the coast, you know what I mean. Unfussy, a little wild, sand always on your toes, delicious food, surrounded by friends and family in a too-small beach house. It’s summer all year round —pure, joyful and simple.
“Growing up on Fire Island was a dream,” says our local guide Ryan Flynn, whose family opened the iconic Flynn’s in the 1930s. “No cars, phones, TVs or shoes. We got around by boat or bike and lived a carefree life. Through the decades it was a wild place, but nonetheless, provided a pure lifestyle. We spent most days in the ocean or clamming on the bay and then started working when we were 12 years old.”
As we start to emerge into our post-COVID world, the Island beacons. Its familiarity is comforting in these new times in which we find ourselves. I’ve known Fire Island as a kid and as a teenager on weeks-long beach vacations with my family; as a twenty-something on the Island with my girlfriends. Yet, the Island is still made for adventures, ones I’m starting to discover now as a mom. It’s a place that has something to offer no matter what type of vacation you seek. And it’s worth noting that while Fire Island makes for an easy day or weekend getaway (and yes, I do encourage you to sneak away on a weekday), you need at least a week (maybe even longer) to really check out all of the Island’s offerings. Here’s where I’d start.
You’re on vacation; start the day with a chocolate croissant. At least that’s my motto. In Ocean Beach, this bakery and restaurant is a must. It’s the place you can grab a sweet treat and coffee for a morning walk or an egg sandwich if that’s your thing. There’s never a wrong thing to order, and if you happen to be on the Island for a special event, they have custom-made cakes that will make your party swoon.
It’s impossible to be on Fire Island and not come across Rocket Fuel. The iconic drink is an upgraded piña colada, boasting amaretto and overproof rum. It reportedly originated at CJ’s, the bar inside of the Palms Hotel, but you’ll find most bars on the Island have it.
When the restaurant also has a seafood market, you can bet you’re going to get good seafood. Matthew’s Seafood House has been an Island staple since 1974. I’m getting a lobster roll, but if that’s not your thing, you’ll find all sorts of options, including clams on the half shell, a seafood cobb salad if you want a lighter choice, even some items for landlubbers. Cooking? The market has you covered with fresh seafood as well as some prepared options.
Dinner and drinks at this Fire Island mainstay are one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when consumed while watching the sunset. You’ll be able to get that rocket fuel at Flynn’s or opt for another tropical-inspired cocktail, pair with Shrimp tacos, and you’ll feel like you’re in the Caribbean. “It has a great boating scene because the marina holds 50 slips,” says Flynn, whose father Tim Flynn and his cousin own the place today.
This oceanfront spot in Cherry Grove is known for its Sunday morning breakfasts, and if you manage to be on the Island on a Sunday, Sand Castle should be your first stop. You’ll find pastries, avocado toast and more. Didn’t make it for Sunday? Head there for dinner where you’ll be impressed by the creative seafood dishes, or if, like me, you have a young child, lunch is a bit more casual.
This family-friendly eatery is the spot you need. The views are gorgeous, the staff is friendly, and the menu is full of options that will please everyone, from your picky dad to your even more persnickety toddler. If you aren’t dealing with any cranky, starving family members, wait for a table on the water. The views are worth it. Then order up the Sundowner, one of their most popular cocktails made with grapefruit infused vodka, basil from their garden, lemon and seltzer.
A cone with a scoop or two (or three) decked with sprinkles is sacrosanct on a beach vacation. Luckily, Fire Island has plenty of options. From the adorable Ice Castle in Ocean Beach to Sweet Licks in Cherry Grove, you’re sure to find a spot dishing out your favorite flavor. Yes, most are a bit pricey, but honestly, are you even on an island if you haven’t walked with a dripping cone?
Getting to, Where to Stay + What to Do When You’re Not Eating
Seventeen communities make up Fire Island—each with its own personality. And while the Island is just a short hop and skip of a ferry ride away, you’re going to need to know which village you’re headed to in advance. Personally, I’d opt for Ocean Beach, Kismet or, if you want something quieter, Atlantique. Take the Fire Island Ferries out of Bay Shore to arrive in Kismet, Saltaire, Dunewood/Atlantique, Fair Harbor, Ocean Beach, Seaview, and Ocean Bay Park. If you’re headed to Fire Island Pines, Cherry Grove, Sailors Haven or Water Island, you can take the Sayville Ferry Service. Remember to pack light; you’re on Island mode now. Plus, there are no cars allowed during the summer months, and you can be charged extra for lots of luggage.
Skip the hotels; there’s not a ton of them anyway, and book a beach house. Rentals go quick, so better get on that, but they come in a plethora of options with various amenities.
When you’re not eating and drinking, you’ll be at the beach or paddleboarding or kayaking or surfing. Or at least I would be. If you need a break from the sand though, check out serene and beautiful Sunken Forest Preserve or spend a day wandering in and out of the shops in Ocean Beach.
Go on, live the salty life for a bit.