Fair Harbor, Fire Island

This enchanting, family-oriented town is our absolute favorite New York City area summer daytrip for families with young children.

Your kids will love:

* The shallow, calm bay. Every time we visit, our two boys (age 5 and 11) spend the entire day paddling around in an inflatable boat; using nets to catch spider crabs, hermit crabs, pike fish and minnows; or jumping, Huck-Finn style, off one of the two diving platforms.

Location: Turn left as you exit the ferry dock. The bay beach is just steps away, right after the water front playground.

* The ocean. Need we say more? This is the Atlantic, with its great swimming or boogie-boarding waves and beautiful white sand for endless digging and sand castle building.

Location: A less-than-10-minute walk from the bay, on the other side of the island.

You will love:

* The view—water, sky, and a day-long mini parade of ferries and sailboats, and your kids having so much fun—is endlessly captivating.

* Having time to read, relax, and talk to your significant other. Your kids will be so happy playing in the water with other children that the only time you will hear from them is when they want so show off a crab they caught or when they get hungry.

* The time-stood-still charm of this town. There are no cars allowed on Fire Island, so you will find gaggles of young children bicycle riding alone, or with friends along the narrow wooden boardwalks that serve as sidewalks here. Adding to the Norman Rockwell feeling is the fact that most of the kids (for some inexplicable reason) ride their bikes barefoot and without helmets. We don’t recommend that, obviously, but where else can you find a town where your kids, and you, don’t have to worry about cars?

INSIDER’S TIP: The passenger ferry does not allow you to bring bikes of any size onboard. Since bikes need to be shipped on the freight boat they are not worth bringing for a daytrip.

Things to do besides the beach:

Shopping: You can pick up anything you need to make your day even nicer—terrific water toys, T-shirts, sunscreen and cold drinks—at Corliss on the Bay, a variety store located directly across from the ferry dock.

INSIDER’S TIP: Corliss has an air pump outside the store that you can use to blow up any inflatable boat you may be tempted to purchase. (We highly recommend buying one. Ours has added immeasurably to the fun our kids have in the bay.)

Picnic on the beach: Takeout-only Dock Pizza is located at the end of an alley behind Le Dock restaurant. You can also get sandwiches and salads at the Pioneer General Store, just a few doors over.

Food Locator: All the shops in Fair Harbor are located in an L-shaped row, just across from the ferry dock.

INSIDER’S TIP: The general store can get quite pricey so if you have the time, you may want to bring a picnic lunch and some cold drinks from home.

Take the kids for ice cream. Unfriendly’s ice cream shop does not live up to its name. The teenagers working there are perfectly pleasant and the ice cream is a must-have for our kids every time we come. Try the Moose Tracks: it’s one of the best renditions of that flavor we’ve ever had.

Have dinner at Le Dock. This is the town’s only restaurant so make reservations if possible. Eat at an outdoor table where you can enjoy the sunset. Entrees: $18.50 to $32. Side dishes such as mashed potatoes or French fries are $6.

INSIDER’S TIP: The residents of Fair Harbor always head to the pier parallel to where the ferry pulls in to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. It’s a sight worth staying for so try to plan your departure time at sunset, or slightly after.

Bathroom locator: To get to the public restrooms from the bay beach: step off the beach and turn left. Walk the few blocks to where the street ends. Turn right onto Fifth. Walk one block to Central. Turn left onto Central. Bathrooms are a few buildings in on your left. Take the only ramp you see and walk up it to the grey shingled (very clean) men’s and women’s restrooms.

INSIDER’S TIP: The bathrooms are locked promptly at 5 p.m. so make sure to time your last bathroom trip accordingly. The only other public restroom is at Le Dock and they are very strict about only letting customers use it. If you’re not having dinner here, you can still be a customer by buying a salad to go and enjoying it with your picnic on the beach.

GETTING THERE: The ferry leaves from Bayshore, Long Island. See for a schedule and driving directions. You can also take the Long Island Railroad to Bayshore and then grab a cab or walk to the ferry terminal.

PARKING TIP:  Paid parking is avaiable at the ferry terminal. This fills up quickly and is expensive. If the lots are full, or too expensive for your taste, park in of the free municipal lots in Bayshore. Allow an extra 15 minutes for this. You can drop off the rest of the family and your stuff at the terminal, then go park while your significant other buys the ferry tickets.