LI Spotlights: Tour the North Shore of Long Island’s Suffolk County



Keith Dawson, licensed real estate salesperson

Greater Long Island’s North Shore Spotlight is brought to you by Keith Dawson of The Dawson Team of Signature Premier Properties. Click here to view the team’s current listings.

The best way to properly tour the natural beauty of Suffolk County’s North Shore is with a car ride on Route 25A, an absolute gem of a Long Island travel corridor.

This mostly four-lane road runs from Cold Spring Harbor, on the Nassau border, to Wading River in the east, taking travelers directly into some of Long Island’s most picturesque and historic downtowns.

Along 25A, you’ll see everything from harbors, to farms, to 17th and 18th century homes.

And plenty of CVS’s — as this is the 21st century.

But this place is steeped in history — most notably in and around Seatauket, the home base of operations for George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, which helped the U.S. defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. (And this history is carefully preserved.)

But if you’re looking to move or just visit here, a big issue with much of Suffolk’s upper North Shore, closest to the water, is that you could be a good 20-minute drive away from any major highway — but that’s how many like it.

Traffic also slows to a crawl during certain hours on 25A and other east-west roadways. So get comfortable. Grab a bite at some renowned restaurants. Take a hike. Take a dip.

There are plenty of lodging options, too, for a comfy stay-over.

Top: An aerial view of Northport harbor. (stock image)


The downtowns

Those passing through Long Island from New York to the Hamptons miss everything, other than maybe the strip malls they’ll see along the highway. The charm lies in our downtowns, and the North Shore boasts some of the prettiest ones. So let’s tour the more notable and visitor-friendly downtowns, from west to east.

Cold Spring Harbor

Cold Spring Harbor, NY. (GLI file photo/Mike White)

If you’re also looking to move somewhere, Cold Spring Harbor, with a population of just 3,000, ranked 2nd in a 2023 survey of the best places to live in Suffolk County. Niche, the ranking outlet, gave the community an overall grade of A+, with high marks for public schools, outdoor activities, health and fitness, and nightlife. For us, the commercial strip along 25A in Cold Spring Harbor is charming in any season, but especially summer, with some great dining options and views of the harbor.


The courtyard at Meehan’s of Huntington. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Downtown Huntington is a restaurant mecca that’s always felt more like the downtown of a medium-sized city. Our advice is to not make dining reservations. Just stroll the sidewalks and look at the menus posted outside, because there are dozens of restaurants to choose from — the most of any downtown on Long Island. There are plenty of eclectic shopping options, too. All that, and what’s widely considered the island’s premier downtown concert hall: The Paramount.

What’s more, a Hampton Inn & Suites was built in 2022 in what was Huntington’s old Town Hall, making a visit to the downtown that much better. Now you can walk back to a room instead of calling an Uber. And if you’re looking to take a stroll, Heckscher Park is the crown jewel of the town’s park system.


Cow Harbor Park. (Credit: The Northport Chamber on Facebook)

This waterside village boasts a New England-style charm that attracted writer Jack Kerouac, a Massachusetts native, to the area toward the end of his life in the 1960s. Historic photos of the village’s Main Street — and you can still see the trolley tracks — don’t look that much different than what you’ll find there today. That’s because the village’s history is carefully doted on and protected.

If you’re going to visit Northport, a stroll through Cow Harbor Park is a must — and that stroll must also include a walk along the dock to the village gazebo perched right in the harbor. Or maybe play some frisbee or chess in the shade. The village itself is also a great place for dinner, ice cream or custard. And there’s even a brand-new hotel. Lastly, sunset over Northport is an absolute delight.

Port Jefferson

Credit: Andrew Theodorakis/Yellow House Images

Here’s another big downtown on the Sound, surpassed in size only by Huntington, also with a historic hotel, Danford’s. The ferries run back and forth between Port Jefferson and Bridgeport, Conn. So you get a lot of day-trippers, especially in the summer. And it’s probably the island’s capital for grabbing ice cream. Dining options are plentiful, from Italian to Japanese, Indian to American. If you’re around in December, a must-attend event is Port Jeff’s celebrated, two-day Dickens Festival. There’s also the huge Harborfront Park, with ice skating offered most of the winter.


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Parks & Beaches

Sunken Meadow State Park probably has Long Island’s best boardwalk. (Credit: Facebook)

In this part of Long Island, every beach is a park, but not every park has a beach. And the North Shore of Suffolk County has some wonderful federal, state, county and town parks and facilities for hiking, jogging, camping, snow-shoeing, fishing, cross-country skiing, swimming, boating, horseback riding or just gathering with friends and relatives. Below are our favorites. Tap the links to learn more.

North Shore Rail Trail

This is a 10-mile recreational path from Port Jefferson to Wading River that had been in the works since the 1970s but officially opened to the public in 2022. It’s a multi-use trail built along the Wading River railway, which was abandoned in 1939 and is now owned by the Long Island Power Authority. 

This continuation of the Green Trail, which runs from Setauket to Port Jefferson Station, provides a safe outlet for people to run, walk, hike, or bike and will offer such amenities as bike depots in the future.

Waterfront dining

Harbor-front dining at Prime – An American Kitchen & Bar in Huntington. Credit: Facebook

The South Shore offers way more options for bayside or beachside dining, but these North Shore villages and hamlets (as we call unincorporated communities here on Long Island) all offer at least one option for indoor or outdoor dining with water views, if not necessarily directly on the water: Huntington, Centerport, Northport, Fort Salonga (Crab Meadow Beach), Kings Park, Port Jefferson, Wading River.

Museums & History

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium. (Credit: Facebook)

You could set aside an entire weekend visiting museums and historic sites on the North Shore and only see a fraction of them. But whether it’s a month or a weekend, here are some can’t-miss spots:


Historic Sites


The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. (Credit: Facebook)

There’s a range of live theatre and performance venues in the region, from those offering professional shows to really great community theaters and art centers.

The one professional playhouse on the North Shore is Engeman Theater in Northport. And Suffolk’s largest performing arts center, The Staller Center, is located on the Stony Brook University campus. The Staller Center also hosts one of the biggest film festivals in the Northeast each summer, the Stony Brook Film Festival.

Downtown Port Jefferson is home to what’s become a top community theater on Long Island in Theatre Three. (We highly recommend its annual performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.) But there’s also the Community Playhouse of Northport and the newer Smithtown Performing Arts Center.


The Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Co.

Credit: The Bridgeport and Port Jefferson ferry company on Facebook.

The hands-down best way to get on and off Long Island, especially if you’re out in Suffolk County or coming from New England, is the ferry.

It’s reliable, efficient, and you can enjoy a drink at the lounge area bar and watch time fly. People argue it doesn’t save time versus driving through New York City, but that’s only at 2 a.m. when there’s no traffic in the city. The rest of the time there’s tons of traffic and it’s just getting worse and worse.

The ferry company that runs between Port Jefferson and Connecticut also has a colorful history. One of its 1883 founders was the famous circus producer Phineas Taylor Barnum, of what would later become Ringling Bro. and Barnum & Bailey circuses. He was already in his 70s at the time.

 MacArthur Airport (ISP)

Credit: Town of Islip, Long Island, N.Y.

Friends don’t let friends pick them up at JFK or LaGuardia airports in Queens, because the entire experience is harrowing and nerve-wracking, as those are the only airports in the United States where you pull up and immediately start getting hollered and screamed at by police officers and airport workers, simply for being there. Not to mention the traffic getting back through Queens and Nassau and out to Suffolk County.

MacArthur Airport, located just south of Long Island’s major highway, the Long Island Expressway, is quite the opposite experience, and the only way to fly to Long Island if you’re looking to avoid major headaches. You can leave here, rent a car and be in Smithtown within a half hour. Airlines: Southwest, Frontier or Breeze.

Note: We would rather transfer twice to end up at MacArthur, rather than go to Queens.

 Long Island Rail Road

The Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in North America.(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The LIRR will take you from NYC all the way to Port Jefferson on the Port Jefferson branch, but that’s where it ends. The only way to get farther east by train is the Ronkonkoma branch out to Greenport, but that bypasses the rest of the North Shore.

The local trains to Port Jeff stop at every town on the North Shore so you could tour the region from your window seat! It might take awhile. But, fares just went up. Expect to pay around $15 off-peak, one way, and $20 for a peak-time ticket, one way. This is the busiest commuter railroad in North America. You might think all that volume would make it one of the cheapest, but it’s quite the opposite.


We favor Route 25A for site-seeing, but if you’re looking to get out to the North Shore quickly from New York City and other points west, take one of the major highways then work your way up.

Long Island Expressway (I-495) is an 8-lane major highway famous for its traffic, but things do loosen up a bit after you’ve gotten through Nassau County, where you’ll find the island’s only rest stop just across the border in the form of the Long Island Welcome Center. The LIE, as Long Islanders call it, is toll-free and will take you to the Sunken Meadow Parkway in Commack, where you can then zip relatively quickly up to the rest of the North Shore and Route 25A for touring.

Northern State Parkway runs mostly along the LIE but ends in Hauppague. From there there’s a lot of traffic lights as you merge with NYS Route 347 and head farther east through the North Shore. The Northern State was built in stages starting in the 1930s, mostly to bring summer people out from the city to enjoy Long Island’s state park system. Today it’s a main commuter roadway that doubles as a sort of race track for nut-jobs at night. Be wary. The parkway is curvy and was built for pleasure, not speed.

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