Long Island, in geological time, was born yesterday. Glaciers that created this 120-mile long, fish-shaped pile of rock and sand began retreating some 22,000 years ago. Sea levels rose in concert with the thaw, completely encircling the land mass 11,000 years later. Today, it's one of the most densely populated areas in America, home to more than 7.5 million people, and Suffolk County, in the easternmost section, is now the recreational playground of choice for many affluent New Yorkers.
Sagaponack Harbor, or Sag Harbor as it's known today, teemed with people and ships from exotic locations in the 1800s, with the volume of its shipping activity rivaling that of the port of New York. Because of its central location in Suffolk County, charming ambiance and 300 years of history, Karen and I make Sag Harbor our home base for touring "The Hamptons" and other points of interest. Early on a clear and cool summer morning, we launch our Long Island road adventure on the Kymco Xciting 500cc scooter.
Powerboats and sailboats dot the seascape of Sag Harbor and its bay, and while cruising down Main Street, I immediately notice the expensive automobiles parked on the street: Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, Bentley… And when pulling onto the pier, we're treated to even grander displays of excess in the squadron of private yachts arrayed in the harbor. The Kymco scooter certainly won't be turning any heads in this well-heeled community, but we're quite happy with its park-anywhere versatility and motorcycle-like handling, not to mention its gas-sipping proclivity.
North on SR 114, there's an expansive view from a bridge of Noyack Bay. South Ferry takes us across to Shelter Island, which, as the name implies, shelters the Peconic Bays from the open sea to the east. The first Europeans settling this island in the 1600s were wealthy sugar merchants from Barbados, who harvested the stands of white oak trees primarily for shipping barrels. The year-round population of the island today is about 2,500 residents. Continuing on SR 114, the ride becomes curvier and the traffic lighter. The kickstand drags on a fast left-hander, but the fun is over all too soon when the North Ferry gate comes into view.
North Fork Wine Country
There are more than 20 vineyards on Long Island and most are located in the ideal weather and soil conditions of the North Fork. Many of them offer tours and winetastings in their facilities. We pull off the road to visit Duck Walk Vineyards and, after the tour, buy a bottle of blush for consumption later. It's now past noon, but none of the restaurants on SR 25 strike our fancy, so we dash south to The Hamptons.
Beach communities situated along the South Fork include Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays, Bridge Hampton, Southampton, and East Hampton. Some of the villages are larger than the others, but all of them seem to have one thing in common: quaint shops selling very expensive merchandise.
Stopping in Westhampton Beach, we're soothed by cool Atlantic breezes as we enjoy a delicious salmon sandwich on the Margarita Grille's patio. A tranquil scene unfolds before us on Main Street: shoppers stroll lazily along the tree-lined sidewalks, occasionally stopping to peer into the windows, and convertibles filled with beachgoers cruise by in search of empty parking spots. From our table we can see The Westhampton, a beautifully restored movie palace that's still showing first-run movies. Revived, we remount and ride through one Hampton village after another, each with its own assemblage of incredibly tony shops.