Heading into Long Island , you’ll immediately cut across the bases of two large peninsulas: Great Neck and Port Washington. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda once lived at 6 Gateway Drive, Great Neck, and it was on these two thick thumbs of land that he modeled his West and East Eggs of The Great Gatsby.
Many opulent estates such as the ones Fitzgerald describes are still scattered along the so-called Gold Coast, which stretches 30 miles between Great Neck and Eatons Neck. Most were built in the early 20th century by captains of industry and commerce such as J. P. Morgan, F. W. Woolworth, and Louis Tiffany. At one time, there were some 600–700 mansions here.
Today—due to fire, demolition, and subdivision—only about 200 remain. About half of these are still privately owned, and most of the others have been converted into schools, religious retreats, and country clubs. Only a handful of the mansions are open to the public.
Turning off onto the Great Neck peninsula on Bay View Avenue, you’ll soon come to Kings Point and the American Merchant Marine Museum (foot of Steamboat Rd., off West Shore Rd., 516/773-5515, www.usmma.edu , 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 1–4:30 p.m. Sat.–Sun., closed July and during semester breaks, suggested donation $2) on the campus of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
The academy’s grounds offer good views of Throgs Neck Bridge, City Island , and the Bronx . The museum showcases such odd treasures as models of well-known passenger liners and a life-size model of a cargo ship, used to train students during World War II.
Just beyond Port Washington at the tip of the peninsula is the 216-acre Sands Point Preserve (127 Middleneck Rd./Rte. 101, 516/571-7900, www.sandspointpreserve.org , 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily, admission $2, free on Wed.), filled with woods, shoreline, ball fields, nature trails, and several castle-like buildings. One of these, Castlegould, now houses a visitors center and natural history museum.
Sands Point was originally developed by railroad heir Howard Gould, and later purchased by the Guggenheims. Between the two families, they built three mansions: the immense Tudor-style Hempstead House, the much smaller Mille Fleures, and the Norman-style chateau, Falaise (guided tours of Falaise offered noon–3 p.m. Thurs.–Sun. June–Oct., adults $5, children under 10 not admitted). At Falaise—perched on a cliff overlooking the Sound—you’ll find Guggenheim’s purple Cadillac, parked next to the station wagon that once belonged to his good friend Charles Lindbergh.
At the northern end of the town of Roslyn is the Nassau County Museum of Art (Museum Dr., off Rte 25A/Northern Blvd., between Roslyn Rd. and Glen Cove Rd., 516/484-9337, www.nassaumuseum.com , 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., adults $7, seniors $6, students and children over 5 $4; admission to grounds free), Long Island ’s largest art museum. Occupying the 145-acre former Frick estate, the museum grounds boast about 30 outdoor sculptures, by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Serra, and formal gardens. Inside the mansion house are first-rate temporary exhibits, while an adjacent annex holds 100 miniature rooms depicting living environments from the 18th century to the present.
Within walking distance of Roslyn’s historic Main Street is the plush and elegant Roslyn Claremont (1221 Old Northern Blvd., 516/625-2700 or 800/626-9005, www.roslynclaremonthotel.com , $215–290 d), a European-style hotel offering 77 well-appointed guest rooms done in deep roses and greens, and a small health club. Adjoining the lobby is Cristina’s ($25), an intimate spot serving global cuisine.
For a more affordable lodging option in Roslyn, there’s the plain but comfortable Gold Coast Inn (1053 Northern Blvd., 516/627-2460, $75–110 d). It’s nothing special, but the rooms are adequate and clean.
There are a couple of notable places to eat in Roslyn. The old-fashioned George Washington Manor (1305 Old Northern Blvd., 516/621-1200, $16–27) is housed in a Colonial-era mansion where George Washington once ate breakfast. Specialties include Yankee pot roast, chicken pot pie, and seafood.
The plain and simple Chicken Shish Kebab (92 Mineola Ave., 516/621-6828, $9), one block from the post office in Roslyn Heights, is a local favorite, serving Greek and Middle Eastern specialties.
For a town its size, Port Washington holds a large number of restaurants. Louie’s Oyster Bar & Grill (395 Main St., next to the town dock, 516/883-4242, $16) is a local institution, offering classic seafood dishes and great views of Manhasset Bay. Chez Noelle (34 Willowdale Ave., 516/883-3191, $26–30) is an upscale French restaurant serving both classic and modern dishes that draws raves from the locals. A $25 prix-fixe dinner is offered Sunday–Friday.