Montauk, Long Island, a Laid Back Place to Visit
By Tab Hauser
GoNOMAD Senior Writer and Photographer
Montauk is literally at the end. You will see bumper stickers and T-shirts attesting to this. The geographical location of Long Island starts in Brooklyn and ends 118 miles east in the Atlantic Ocean at Montauk.
Montauk also affectionately calls itself “A drinking town with a fishing problem”
We spent three nights at the Montauk Yacht Club in 2023, getting to know this laid-back town that is just past the Hamptons, yet is so “un-Hamptonlike” with its laid-back vibe. Montauk shares the same wonderful type of beaches as the Hamptons–wide, flat and open. Why is Montauk famous?
Montauk offers good food that is lower in price and is less pretentious than the Big H. You won’t find designer handbags in this town for $5000 but you will find friendly locals happy to share their place and offer tips on things to do and where to get the best clams.
Getting to Montauk
If you are driving, try to avoid coming out on Fridays and leaving on Sundays. This is because the final 36 miles from what is called the Shinnecock Canal on the south shore to Montauk can take two hours if you time it wrong.
I have personally endured this on a previous visit. To get here you pass through the very popular towns of Westhampton, Bridgehampton, and East Hampton.
A driving alternative from Manhattan (The City as it is called here), would be to board the Long Island Rail Road. This can take as little as 2 ½ hours at a cost of about $30. The advantage here is you can stretch, snooze, or catch up on work. MTA Website
Another popular way is with the Hampton Jitney bus, but plan on being in the same traffic as if you were driving but with stops along the way. Their schedule shows 3 ½ hours at $40.
The best time to visit Montauk is anywhere from June to the end of September if you want your beach time. Personally, I like early September when some of the Long Island traffic lightens up. At this time of the year, especially during an Indian summer, the place is at its best and the ocean is still warm enough for a swim.
The most famous attraction in the area is the Montauk Lighthouse located 6.5 miles east of the Montauk Yacht Club. This is a 30-minute bike ride or a $30 ride share. The lighthouse was commissioned by President George Washington and is the fourth oldest in the country. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 2012.
On a clear day, the lighthouse gives you 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Block Island Sound including Block Island.
It is free to visit the grounds and walk around the lighthouse base. There is a $15 admission to see the museum and climb the 137 iron stairs. The tower is 110 feet high. At night it throws a 290,000 candlepower light every five seconds which can be seen for 22 miles. If you like hiking, Montauk State Park has easy-to-follow paths that range from one to three hours. website
The Hamlet of Montauk
The center of Montauk is called The Plaza. This is a large traffic circle that is cut across by Route 27 or Montauk Highway. There are shops, restaurants, and boutiques around and near the circle. A good place to start your visit is at the Montauk Visitor’s Center in the middle of the Plaza where a cheerful staff will get you oriented about the town.
Here we learned about a free concert at the Plaza and a jam session nearby afterward. We were handed information on the Deep Hollow Ranch, which is the oldest ranch in America, (established in 1648) that does horseback rides. For kids, there is a mini-golf in town. At the end of town is an IGA where you can buy groceries.
The Beaches of Montauk
Montauk beaches rank amongst the best. Here you will find miles of white powdered sand and a surf that can range from boogie boarding to surfing quality waves. There are also a few pebbled beaches on the north side if you don’t like the surf. For information on where to bring your beach chairs go to https://onmontauk.com/beaches/
Since 2012, the reputation of the Montauk Brewery Company has grown. In fact, with its purchase to Tilray, they have gone national.
Their simple beer garden is just 2 blocks north of the Plaza where you can enjoy a pint from one of several taps. You can also purchase cans to go. www.montaukbrewingco.com
TW Fine Art Museum
For art with a changing venue, visit the TW Fine Art Museum one block west of the Plaza. During our visit, the building was taken over by artist Lucy Sparrow who turned the building into an old-fashioned Lower East Side bagel shop.
The difference here was that everything was made of felt. This included live-size felt bagels and everything you would want if you lived in the Lower East Side during the day. https://tw-fineart.com/
Fishing in Montauk
Montauk has one of the best reputations for fishing on the East Coast. There are dozens of boats to choose from depending on your budget and time.
These can include pricey, private, or shared charters that go 20 to 40 miles offshore for the large tuna to half-day party boats that stay near shore for fluke, sea bass, or whatever is running locally for $75. Montauk Chamber info.
Lodging in Montauk
The Montauk Yacht Club is located on the eastern side Star Island on Lake Montauk a few miles north of town.
Lake Montauk is a protected bay where you will find marinas, water sports, and the commercial fishing fleet. The resort is a five-star property with 107 rooms and villas.
There is a nice open-air bar and restaurant by docks serving three meals a day.
The property has a well-equipped gym, one small indoor pool, two small outdoor pools (with bar service), and a petite-size beach on the bay perfect for children.
Kayaks are located there and are free to use. On summer weekends there are free electric boat rides, outdoor movie nights, and free use of bicycles to peddle around this very flat part of Long Island.
Another way to visit and stay is by boat. The Montauk Yacht Club is a full-service resort and marina. There are 222 slips with about 80 saved for transients. Transient visitors have full use of the resort’s facilities and have available on a first come basis the use of a Mini-Moke electric vehicle. During our visit, we walked the docks in the evening viewing boats from 30 feet to a 206-foot mega yacht. https://montaukyachtclub.com/
Montauk is known for some of the freshest seafood in the region. There are dozens of good places to eat on all budgets.
We tended to stick with the more casual restaurants. All the places listed below can be reached via the Hopper (see below) or in some cases, a 10 to 15-minute walk from the marina.
The West Lake Fish House is the place for creative sushi rolls stuffed and rolled with local fish. This went perfect with an authentic Greek side salad. Both the food and service were very good. Outside the restaurant, check out the leaderboards showing the record-size fish caught here.
The Gig Shack was our lunch stop while in town. They specialize in seafood with fish tacos, lobster rolls and sliders, a fluke sandwich, salads, and sides. We found their salad fine, their fluke sandwich a little overcooked, and their Peruvian smashed potatoes tasty and creative.
Tauk at Trails End was a fun night of great music and good food. If you are here on Monday, don’t miss their jam session.
The music gets better through the night. For food, a starter of clam chowder needed a little less bacon flavor.
With the seabass jumping into the fishing boats I knew it was fresh.
Trails End serves it up whole and flash fried having a Chinese sauce and a shredded stir fry to go with it. For the landlubber, the French Dip had the right amount of sliced beef, sautéed onions, and gruyere cheese. Music plays from 7 to 10 PM on most summer nights.
Clam and Chowder House at Salivar’s Dock had attentive service. We liked the crispy but not greasy fluke fish and chips and the chicken piccata that was saucy and flavorful.
We were “carless” during our stay and did not miss having one. This is because an excellent way to get around Montauk is with the free Hopper.
These are small buses that stop at the resort’s entrance twice an hour making nine stops in the Montauk area. We used it each day to stroll the town, and go to dinner as well as to music venues.
If the Atlantic Beach is your destination, the hopper is especially useful because parking is difficult. We found a small tip that was very much appreciated after each ride. www.hamptonhopper.com