Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Located approximately 50 miles from New York City, the summer resort island of Fire Island runs parallel to the south shore of Long Island across the Great South Bay. Accessed by ferries from Bay Shore, Sayville and Patchogue, the long, narrow barrier island is about 30 miles long and only a half mile wide at its widest point, and there are no cars or roads. Pedestrians travel exclusively along wooden boardwalks or in the sands.
"Having a car-free neighborhood allows for a level of relaxation that just isn’t possible elsewhere." -- Glenn Rice, BHS Broker and Area Expert
Fire Island lacks movie theaters or other attractions found in most summer resort towns. Instead, its true beauty and appeal lies in the island's tranquility and ease of beach access. Traveling on foot, one is always close to nature and wide, picturesque beaches that are rarely crowded. The result is a lush, tropical environment and ambiance that provides a stark contrast to the NYC metro area.
The island is home to 17 different communities, and 26 miles of it is protected by the Fire Island National Seashore. It was originally occupied by indigenous Native Americans, and similar to Nantucket, became a whaling center when a whaling station was constructed in 1653.
In 1852, on its western tip, the Fire Island Lighthouse was built, offering the first sign of land in America to transatlantic ships coming to New York Harbor.
The Lighthouse was reconstructed in 1857 at a new, taller height, and today it’s open to visitors who wish to climb its 182 steps to the top.
Farther east is Ocean Beach, which is Fire Island's largest 'year-round town.' It is home to the greatest number of stores, restaurants and bars on the Island.
The town of Sailor’s Haven is home to the Sunken Forest, so named because it appears to be below sea level. Holly, bayberry, blueberry, sassafras, and 200-year-old shadblow trees that have been twisted and shaped by ocean spray grow in one of the few remaining maritime forests on the eastern seaboard.
Further east, for those who wish to get really close to nature and camp overnight near the ocean, the Watch Hill campground offers 26 sites that include a grill, picnic table, and a nearby water source.
"The beaches in front of any of the protected areas are virtually private beaches---a true rarity given how close the island is to NYC ... From the Sunken Forest to Cherry Grove and the Pines, every community has its own unique and wonderful personality." -- Glenn Rice
Perhaps the best-known communities on Fire Island are the largely LGBTQ+ communities of
Cherry Grove, Fire Island Pines, and the smaller Water Island where the fashion designer Perry Ellis had a “summer house” on the ocean and a “winter house” on the Bay. Fashion designer Michael Kors now owns a home on Water Island with his husband Lance Le Pere, which was featured in Vogue.
In the 1950s, gay men and women traveled to Cherry Grove, where they found the freedom to live openly. Well-known writers including W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, and Truman Capote stayed in the Grove, which was the subject of a recent exhibition at the New York Historical Society.
East of Cherry Grove, male model John Whyte developed Fire Island Pines as a more
high-end gay community in the 1960s, and today it has some of the most expensive property on the island. Modernist architects including Horace Gifford and Andrew Geller built numerous stunning homes that now stand as chic, contemporary classics. Attracting a stylish and cultural crowd, Calvin Klein and David Geffen are among the many luminaries who have decamped to homes in the Pines.
The allure of Fire Island continues. On a ferry crossing the Great South Bay, the tensions and stresses of daily life melt away as the mainland is left behind. Free of cars and traffic, and with nature and water all around, Fire Island is truly a summer paradise.