LI Spotlights: Tour the South Shore of Long Island’s Nassau County


One thing Nassau County offers visitors is access, especially from the city.

You can enjoy fine dining, shopping, concerts large and small, and some of the best beaches in the U.S., all within a short drive from the five boroughs or neighboring Suffolk County to the east.

The Nassau border is located some 21 miles from midtown Manhattan, or as comedian Samantha Bee once put it on the Daily Show, three hours by car.

We’d say the traffic situation depends on the time of day, but we’d be lying to you.

So if you’re headed to the beaches on a summer Saturday, leave early. Earlier than the early risers. If you’re heading to Nassau County around 5 p.m., just forget it.

The best time is after 10 a.m. to about 1 p.m., but it’s still a crapshoot. The traffic here is historically tough, as we’ve packed nearly 1.4 million people into 284 square miles, and the vast concentration of that population happens to live south of I-495.

But when you’re here, you’re family. Nassau County boasts what could objectively be described as the best Italian food in the U.S., as this is now home to the immigrants who moved from Manhattan and Brooklyn over the course of 70 years to raise families. And they have set up shop.

Other fine dining options on the South Shore rival those of New York City. The food is exceptional. But there’s so much more to offer than food. Scroll down for a list of things to do, eat, watch, see, and just experience on the South Shore.

Ocean beaches

Because let’s face it, this is likely why you’re here.

Jones Beach State Park

The West Bathhouse, which has an open pool, at Jones Beach State Park at sunset. (Bernd 📷 Dittrich)

At an estimated 6 million visitors each year, this is the most frequented beach on the East Coast, and it’s maintained that title ever since NY power broker Robert Moses invented it, basically, by laying out a vision for a never-before-imagined beach and state park over what was then swampland.

People thought he was crazy. But Jones Beach was considered a wonder of the world when it opened in 1929, offering 6.5 miles of white, sandy beaches and plenty of amenities for the public. It’s only evolved from there.

Where else in America could you relax on the beach or swim in the ocean or a pool all morning, go golfing, stroll the boardwalk, watch an air show, fish, play miniature golf and drink and dine while looking at the water and then go see Jason Aldeen, Maroon 5 or Dave Matthew’s Band at nighttime? Nowhere else.

Tobay Beach

The Surf Shack on the Atlantic Ocean is one of two restaurants at Tobay. (Credit: Surf Shack/Facebook)

If you’re looking to go where the locals go, Tobay Beach is the spot. But you better have a local in the car, more specifically a Town of Oyster Bay resident, because this is residents-only.

It’s accessible by boat or car and just a short drive east from Jones Beach State Park along Ocean Parkway, which runs the entire length of Jones Beach Island into Suffolk County.

Tobay, short for Town of Oyster Bay, which owns and manages the beaches, offers something that Jones Beach State Park cannot, especially if you’re a parent worried about your kids in the surf. And that’s a beautiful beach on the Great South Bay.

But there’s an ocean beach as well. Both sides offer restaurants, waterfront dining and entertainment options, with several concession stands. There’s also a state-of-the-art spray park for kids of all ages. And boaters can cruise up to the park’s full-service marina, which has over 150 slips for transient docking. The ocean restaurant is called The Surf Shack, and The Boatyard is on the bayside. You can tap those links for live music schedules for summer.

Long Beach Island

A surfer enters the waters off Long Beach, N.Y., Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Long Beach Island, just west of Jones Beach Island, across from the inlet, comprises Point Lookout, Lido Beach, Long Beach and Atlantic Beach.

Long Beach is the biggie and its renowned for its boardwalk. There’s even hotels along the strip.

But this island is nothing like that of Jones Beach, which is nearly entirely parkland. These are neighborhoods on the ocean, which means plenty of shops and restaurants. The LIRR heads right into the center of it all, making the City of Long Beach accessible by train from points east and west.

The nightlife is plentiful, too, with much of the youth favoring what’s referred to as “the West End,” of Long Beach, where they’ll often shack up together and share houses year-round.

Parking can get tricky in Long Beach. According to the city, parking is available at the Long Island Railroad Parking Deck, via Centre Street and West Park Avenue. A limited amount of free parking is also available from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Broadway between Edwards and Riverside boulevards. And, free legal street parking is available throughout town, just look at the signs.

The Town of Hempstead’s Point Lookout and Lido beaches are the better and easier choices for families, with parking access available to non-residents as well, albeit at a hefty fee of $55 per car.

Bay beaches

The picnic areas at Hewlett Point Park in E. Rockaway. (Credit: Town of Hempstead)

As previously mentioned, the South Shore bay beaches can make for a relaxing day for parents of young kids, or even older kids, because they don’t have to worry about Atlantic Ocean riptides or undertow.

If you’re looking for calm waters, pools, playgrounds or splash pads, here you go:

  • Hewlett Point Park (E. Rockaway)
  • Philip B. Healey Beach (Massapequa)
  • Harbor Isle Beach (Island Park)


Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall photo from Facebook.

The South Shore isn’t exactly a mecca for music and professional theatrical performances. For that you’ll have to head east into Suffolk County, or up to Nassau’s North Shore.

But there are a few great options for locals and visitors alike, outside of the aforementioned Jones Beach Theater, where you’ll find a lineup of national acts every June through September.

The South Shore’s premiere spot for musical performances is Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall in Wantagh, which is great because it’s quite literally below the LIRR train platform. You could arrive here from points east or west, stay all night and not have to worry about driving a car.

And Mulcahy’s attracts some big acts.

Then there’s the Cultural Ats Playhouse Merrick, and Merrick Theatre and Center for the Arts. But you’ll also be in short driving distance to the more centrally located Westbury Music Fair to the north.


The Allegria Hotel at 80 West Broadway in Long Beach, as seen from the boardwalk. (Credit: Facebook)

Most looking for hotels on the South Shore are here for weddings, and the Allegria Hotel on the boardwalk in Long Beach is the favored spot for those staying or partying far south. There’s also the new Rockaway Hotel & Spa to the west, in Queens, as well as the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport, which is a sight to see. But if we’re being honest, you’ll likely need to head north toward the hotels around Roosevelt Field in the Westbury, Carle Place and Garden City areas, where you’ll also find the storied Garden City Hotel.


Photo credit: Borrelli’s Italian Restaurant on Facebook.

While the South Shore of Suffolk’s restaurant scenes are concentrated around its downtowns, the best dining options in Nassau can be found along Sunrise Highway, the county’s huge east-west thoroughfare, along with Merrick Road, which runs parallel to Sunrise. Basically, anywhere. And the type of food you could grab runs the gamut.

Since we’re in America’s oldest suburb, some of the restaurants have been in business here for upwards of 50, 60 and 70+ years. Take Borrelli’s in East Meadow, which opened in 1955. Jimmy Hays Steakhouse has been operating in Island Park for over 50 years. Bigelow’s clam bar opened in Rockville Centre back in 1939. And, the Nassau County fast food institution known as All-American Hamburger Drive-In has been serving the folks of Massapequa, and well beyond, since 1963.

The Nautical Mile

No list about dining and nightlife on the South Shore would be complete without mention of Freeport’s famed Nautical Mile, a year-round strip for eating, drinking and dancing. But it really comes to life in the summer months, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and even in the early fall.

There are over two dozen restaurants along this strip, which is much more reminiscent of a Gulf Coast town in Florida than anywhere else on Long Island. And it’s a must-stop for anyone spending a few days. You could take a pleasure cruise, go charter fishing or even rent Jet-Skis.

The Discover the Nautical Mile is a great resource to help map out a day, and night.

State parks

Valley Stream State Park is a favored spot for family picnics and hiking. Photo by Satty Singh.

Just north of the barrier beaches you’ll find two inland state parks that are right in the heart of the South Shore: Valley Stream and Hempstead Lake. But there’s also Bethpage State Park, which is slightly to the north, in the center of the Island. Bethpage offers some of the best golfing in the U.S.

That includes Bethpage Black, an expert-level public course that’s played host to the 2002 U.S. Open2009 U.S. Open and the 2019 PGA Championship. The 2025 Ryder Cup is on the schedule, too.

Valley Stream State Park is the perfect place for a day trip with the family, offering picnic facilities, playgrounds, horseshoes, volleyball, basketball and other courts and fields, as well as plenty of nature trails in the warmer months that are also good for cross-country skiing in the winter. Many great memories were made in this park.

At Hempstead Lake, you’ll find more of the same, but you could also ride horses and there’s huge emphasis on tennis and pickleball, along with fishing and canoeing. The bodies of water here, Hempstead Lake, McDonald Pond, and South Pond are stocked with trout in the fall but you could fish all year-long, according to the state. Hempstead Lake is also Nassau County’s largest.

Museums & historic sites

There are plenty of historic sites to visit, as well as museums that are both new and old, with the Old Bethpage Village Restoration being the crown jewel. It’s a 209-acre recreated living museum village that’s located in Old Bethpage to the north of the South Shore, but not far. Below are others.


Photo Credit: Roosevelt Field on Facebook

We’re big into supporting local here, to be sure, but there are way too many small boutiques to name, and they’re scattered across the South Shore.

If you’re looking for big brands, with plenty of dining options, head to Roosevelt Field, just a short drive north up Meadowbrook State Parkway. (We say a short drive, but it depends on the traffic.)

Roosevelt Field is the 11th largest shopping mall in the U.S.

You’ll find what you need here.

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