With vineyards and lavender fields in the backdrop of the Atlantic coast, North Fork is a 30 mile stretch on the Northern peninsula of the northeast side of Long Island, New York.
Though not as well known as the Hamptons, it’s more glamorous neighbor on the South Shore, North Folk is well worth a visit to discover the natural beauty and family friendly activities. Only about a two hour drive from Manhattan, it is an ideal getaway for a weekend or day trip. Here is what we discovered during a day spent in North Fork.
Things to do:
Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center: Riverhead, NY
The aquarium boasts diverse exhibits from touch tanks to fish displays to several scheduled shows. Visiting the aquarium can take anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day depending on your kids interest. Entrance fee is $26.50 for adults and $20.50 for ages 3-12. Kids aged 2 and under are free.
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The sea lion and shark exhibits where kids come face to face with the animals behind a glass wall were two that got the most reaction from my two year old, Little D. He was fascinated as the sea lion kept moving past him in swift movements and could have been watching for a long time had we not nudged him towards the sharks.
Upon seeing shark for the first time, he immediately recognized that the shark was dangerous due to its menacing teeth. Yet he was curious enough to stand as close to the glass as possible as the shark swam about.
Planning ahead can ensure that you optimize your time for watching the scheduled feeding and interactive shows. We caught the penguin feeding where the instructor shared interesting facts about the South African black footed penguins and their prevalence, dispelling our thinking that most penguins live in extreme cold.
The otter show was another fun demonstration where Little D got to see the animals out in the open performing with an instructor. Many different exhibits are located close at this aquarium that it is easy to accommodate a toddler’s short attention span by introducing him to something new.
In the outdoor exhibits kids can search for marine life in the salt marshes, learn about reptiles or be amused at the monkey exhibit. This is the first time we have seen monkeys at an aquarium! Originally from the Central Park Zoo, these Japanese snow monkeys are male creatures who have learnt co-exist in their kingdom designed as the Lost Temple of Atlantis.
Special programs offer a variety of experiences where visitors can have a one on one interaction with animals. They range from sweet encounters like a kiss from a sea lion to hardcore adventures like diving with sharks. When planning your visit, be on the look out for special children’s programs targeting the 2-4year age group that take place on particular days.
Lavender by the Bay: East Marion, NY
As you take a scenic drive to along North Fork, consider stopping at one of the largest lavender farms in the country. This family-run farm is open from May to October and you can visit the fields by paying an entrance fee of $8 which could be put towards any product purchases. Interacting with the farmers is a great learning opportunity for kids to gain some knowledge about the agriculture of lavender. If you don’t have time for a visit, I highly recommend stopping by the farm at least for a photo op.
In the past 25 years, North Fork has developed as a premier wine destination in the United States. We didn’t stop at any wineries but enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the wine yards along our drive. Though doing a full wine tour will be difficult with kids, stopping at a couple of places, such as Duck Walk Vineyards and Bedell Cellars Wineries, and letting the kids explore the surroundings will be a break for the whole family.
The scenery alone is worth driving down the coast. If you drive to the end of the peninsula like we did, stop by the bustling little town of Greenport and make your way to Mitchell Park, next to the marina.
The antique carousel at Michelle Park was one of the most memorable experiences for my son. The beautifully painted colorful horses that moved up and down in rhythm will be thrilling for adults as much as the kids. At $2 per ride this is the cheapest but perhaps the most amusing experience for my son on this trip.
Since the park is a mostly open area, I recommend visiting in the evening hours to enjoy the sunset at cooler temperatures.
Places to eat:
This is a farm to table American restaurant which is located a few minutes walk from the Aquarium. Several kid friendly meals such as basic pasta dishes and a variety of meat, vegetarian and gluten free options were available. There seemed to be a several regulars with young kids which affirmed to us that this was a neighborhood favorite.
When we visited during a Saturday afternoon, an organ player provided live entertainment. He even played a few nursery rhymes to cater to the toddler audience.
I shared flavorful and fresh a chicken pasta dish with my son before we headed to explore the Aquarium.
An ice cream shop located close the aquarium is the perfect place to stop by after the aquarium visit. Ralph’s Italian ices are made from a family recipe from his grand father who immigrated to the United States in 1920s. These Italian ices have been a New York summer favorite since the store opened in Staten Island in 1949.
Many flavors exist for three different type of products varying in terms of creaminess; ice cream, crème ice and water ice. While Little D was excited to taste chocolate ice cream , I cooled off with one of my favorites, a watermelon flavored Italian ice.
A gourmet bakery and coffee shop located opposite the Greenport carousel is an easy pit stop for anyone visiting Mitchell Park. There were fresh breads, cakes and cookies to choose from. Little D enjoyed a delicious namesake blue duck cookie while I grabbed a cup of coffee.
Parts of this trip were sponsored for review purposes. But the opinions expressed are my own.