The South Fork is New York City’s playground. The rich and the influential, the middle-class and the obscure—all flock here during the summer to rent weathered cottages, poke around in picture-perfect towns, indulge in fast-paced nightlife, and, most of all, explore the beaches.
Like the South Shore, the South Fork is home to some of the world’s most magnificent beaches, and they’re considerably less crowded here than they are near the city.
But the South Fork also has a culture all its own that has nothing to do with tourists. Farmers and, to a lesser extent, fisherfolk continue to practice their livelihoods here just as they have for hundreds of years. Humble potato fields butt up against multi-million-dollar second homes, fishing boats share harbors with pleasure craft.
The South Fork is also often referred to as the Hamptons. Several of the Hamptons (Westhampton Beach, Quogue, Hampton Bays) are actually west of the South Fork, but when people speak of the “Hamptons,” they’re generally referring to those towns east of Shinnecock Canal.
Tourists started arriving in the 1800s. Residents opened up their homes to the visitors and by the 1850s, the local press was reporting that all rooms in East Hampton were fully booked, at $7 a night. Shortly thereafter, Southampton started building hotels, and in 1895, the railroad arrived, marking the beginning of the end of sleepy village life.
The South Fork is noted for its nightlife, which runs the gamut from casual bars to discos. In general, things get going as late out here as they do in major urban centers—say 11 p.m.—and don’t shut down until 2 a.m. or even 4 a.m. on weekends.
Although all South Fork beaches are open to the public, parking can be a major problem. Many village and town beaches require parking permits, which usually cost nonresidents over $100 (good for the entire summer). However, some excellent public beaches have daily parking fees; the best of these are Atlantic Beach in Amagansett, the Main Beach in East Hampton, and the beach at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk. Many hotels and motels also offer low-cost day-parking passes to their guests; be sure to inquire when you book.
Parking illegally is not a good idea. Rules are strictly enforced, and you will be ticketed with a heavy fine or towed away. Most parking rules apply during the summer only.
As in many other resort areas, peak-season accommodations in the Hamptons don’t come cheap. Peak season rates usually apply from mid-June through Labor Day, and minimum two- or three-night stays are often required, especially on weekends. During the off-season, rates drop dramatically.
Along the beach near Montauk, you’ll find simple family-style resort motels that are more moderately priced. Rates listed for South Fork are for double rooms, but many places also offer family packages. Meanwhile, historic inns and B&Bs are plentiful throughout the region. Most of the resort motels are closed in winter; most of the inns and B&Bs are open year-round.
A good online regional site is the Hamptons Web Home Page at www.hamptonsweb.com.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition