The most famous beach in the New York City  metropolitan region is Jones Beach (Ocean State Pkwy., south of Wantagh, 516/785-1600, sunrise–sunset daily, free, parking $6–8), just 25 miles from midtown Manhattan . Though packed cheek-to-jowl on a hot summer’s day, the beach is so magnificent—its white sands stretching out for well over five miles—that it still manages to impress. And talk about good people-watching. . . .
Jones Beach is also more than just a beach. Another one of Robert Moses’ many creations, his goal here was to transform a sandbar off a windswept reef into the finest public beach in America. He largely succeeded, in an engineering feat that took two years to complete.
Finished in 1929, the beach boasts an enormous number of well-worn but first-class facilities, including two lovely art deco bathhouses, wading and Olympic-size pools, ball fields, pitch-and-putt golf, shuffleboard courts, basketball courts, picnic areas, refreshment stands, a restaurant, a wide weathered boardwalk, and a 200-foot-high water tower shaped like an obelisk.
Also at the beach is the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater (Jones Beach Wantagh, 516/221-1000, http://www.jonesbeach.com/ ), which presents big-name acts in summer.
While Jones Beach is open year-round, lifeguards are on duty only Memorial Day–Labor Day. To reach Jones Beach, take the Wantagh State or Meadowbrook State Parkways south off the Sunrise Highway (Route 27), and watch for signs. Traffic can be horrendous in summer, so if you’re coming from New York City , consider taking the Long Island Railroad (718/217-5477, www.mta.info/lirr ). The train travels to Freeport , where shuttlebuses operate to and from the beach.
West of Jones Beach are several smaller beaches—including Long Beach and Lido Beach—that are fun to explore. To reach these often less-crowded locales, take the Meadowbrook State Parkway to the Loop Parkway.
If you pay close attention while driving along the Wantagh, Meadowbrook, or Loop Parkways linking Jones Beach and Point Lookout to the mainland, you’ll spot small cottages perched on platforms and surrounded by marshland and water. At one time, there were hundreds of such bay houses, as they are called, in the Town of Hempstead. Now there are only 32.
The building of the bay houses began back in the early 1700s when the island’s farmers, needing hay for their cattle, hired their neighbors the baymen to row out to remote marshlands and bring back hay for their animals. The journey often took several hours each way, so it wasn’t long before the baymen began building shacks in which to overnight. At first, these shacks were crude affairs. But as the years went by, the baymen developed them into cozy cabins that they could also use for recreation and for the planting and harvesting of oysters and clams.
In the early 1900s, recreational fishermen discovered the South Shore  and the bay houses developed yet another purpose: bait stations. Then, a decade or two later, Prohibition arrived. Some baymen, writes folklorist Nancy Solomon in her book On the Bay, “played an indispensable role in rum running, smuggling, via their bay houses, illegal booze from large cargo ships offshore to hotels. . . .“
All this history was almost lost in 1993, when the baymen’s lease on their bay houses — last renewed by the Town of Hempstead in 1965 — ran out. The town government had voted to have the houses destroyed, but Solomon’s book, together with the efforts of the South Shore Bayhouse Owners’ Association, convinced the town board of the homes’ historic value. Their leases have since been extended virtually indefinitely.
Although the bay houses can be seen from the parkways, the best way to view them is by boat. The charter fishing boats that run out of Freeport  pass close by.
Approximately 50 other bay houses are located in Suffolk County opposite Captree State Park near Captree Island, Sexton Island, and Havermeyer Island.
With views of the Atlantic Ocean and New York City  skyline, Allegria Hotel and Spa (80 West Broadway, 516/889-1300, www.allegriahotel.com , $199–499), a new beachfront luxury hotel in Long Beach, offers 112 guestrooms, 31 suites, a 10,000 square foot roof-top pool, and spa.
In the hotel’s restaurant, Atlantica (80 West Broadway, 516/889-1300, www.allegriahotel.com , $26), Chef Todd Jacobs ‘close-to-door’ philosophy means local, organic ingredients. Aim for the seafood options and take advantage of the extensive wine list.