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A nine-square-mile barrier island that sits adjacent to the South Shore of Long Island, Fire Island was first settled in the late 18th century. Part of Suffolk County, it is separated from Long Island by several bays that interconnect with one another, including Great South Bay, Patchogue Bay, Bellport Bay, Narrow Bay, and Moriches Bay. Residents and visitors reach Fire Island from either end by two causeways, but automobiles – with the exception of utility and emergency vehicles – are not permitted to drive on the rest of the island for much of the year. The island is also reachable by private boat or a number of public passenger ferries.
Fire Island was a vacation destination as early as the mid-19th century, when the first hotels were erected. In addition, the first state park was established on the island in 1908. However, Fire Island suffered much devastation in 1938 due to a direct hit by a massive hurricane. Most owners decided to rebuild, fortunately, and the island continued to grow in popularity, attracting visitors of all ages and walks of life, including many gays who would annually head to Fire Island for vacations.
Today, more than half of the island – except for about 4 miles in the west - is protected as the Fire Island National Seashore, established in 1964. The remaining portion is the Robert Moses State Park, which attracts people from all over the Greater New York City area. With 5 miles of beach and a historic lighthouse, this park provides room for swimming, surfing, and fishing, and there’s also a small par 3 golf course, playing fields, and picnic areas.
The Town of Islip, which is technically on the Long Island mainland, includes part of Fire Island. There are two incorporated towns that are part of Islip, Fire Island: Ocean Beach and Saltaire. These sit within Fire Island National Seashore and are car-free during the tourist season, with limited driving in the winter.
Ocean Beach is a popular vacation destination and is full of restaurants, boutiques, B&Bs, nightclubs, and more. There are about 150 full-time residents in the community, most under 60 years of age, according to a recent census. There’s plenty there to keep anyone of any age busy, especially in the summer. During the remainder of the year it remains quite tranquil.
Similarly, Saltaire has a population of only about 50 individuals, but the numbers swell during the summer. This quaint town with its boardwalks and sandy paths sit on the widest part of the island.
The towns of Brookhaven and Babylon also incorporate a sizeable piece of Fire Island. Within both of these towns are a number of unincorporated hamlets. Some of these locales, like Dunewood, are popular locations for full-time residents. Most of the other hamlets, however, are seasonal and are ideal for those seeking a vacation home not too far from Manhattan. Some have as few as 25-50 homes and are self-contained. Many attract young weekenders from the city while others cater to families.
Because it’s largely a vacation destination, the lifestyle on Fire Island is about as laid back as one can find. Furthermore, the island seems to promote a healthy lifestyle. Thanks to the absence of automobiles for a large portion of the year, bicycling and walking are encouraged. Water activities – including boating, swimming, surfing, and fishing – are never more than a few minutes away. Kids are entertained as well with camps and other fun youth activities.
In all, living on Fire Island – even for just a portion of the year – provides an opportunity for rest, relaxation, and reinvigoration. Combine that with the beauty of the island and you get a mixture that simply can’t miss.
When the weather warms, there are a plethora of restaurants and bars that open their doors, beckoning locals and visitors to come in and enjoy their bounty.
Like many of the restaurants on other parts of Long Island, those on Fire Island take advantage of the natural resources in the vicinity. For example, seafood restaurants are abundant and offer fresh catches-of-the-day just pulled from the sea a few hours prior. Additionally, much of the produce used in Fire Island restaurants are grown in Suffolk or Nassau County and the wines are often vintages from Suffolk’s North Fork vineyards.
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