North Fork is New York’s answer to California’s Napa Valley, with over 50 wineries and an infamous Wine Trail where you can enjoy anything from an award-winning Sauvignon Blanc to a crisp rosé while being chauffeured around in a limo. We understand that wining is a serious business, but there’s so much more to do in North Fork. While calling it untouched would be quite a stretch, it’s still an easier, more charming alternative to The Hamptons. The local pride is tangible here, and they still serve up genuine hospitality everywhere you go. Here are some fun things to do:
Visit a lavender farm
Lavender By The Bay is a family-owned 17-acre lavender farm in East Marion, NY, which is on the northern end of the North Fork peninsula. We’ve long admired their lavender sachets and soaps at the Union Square Greenmarket, so we couldn’t resist popping by the farm while the French Lavender was in full bloom. The lavender fields are typically in bloom from June into July, making this the perfect summer detour. (If you’re a Type A personality who wants to make sure you visit at peak bloom, you can check out the farm’s Bloom Update page. Not throwing shade, one of us is such a person!)
There is an admission fee if you wish to walk through the scented gardens, and on a day when it’s 70 degrees and sunny like the day we were there, one could easily justify that fee. Make the most of it by lounging in the matching purple chairs scattered around the farm. You’ll likely find yourself in the company of a number of fashion bloggers, or other individuals looking to fill their camera roll with the stunning waves of purple. Because let’s face it–everyone looks way more photogenic with lavender fields in the background! Just be cognizant that there are plenty of bees among the plants: it’s their natural habitat, after all.
Try the Camera Obscura
A must-do activity during your time in North Fork is a visit to the Marina at Mitchell Park on Front Street in the Village of Greenport. Along with the verdant lawns of the park, gorgeous seaside views along the docks and shoreline, and a functioning 100-year-old carousel, you’ll find this little thing called a Camera Obscura. Now, the Village of Greenport doesn’t really promote this gem housed in an odd-looking structure at the marina, but don’t let that deter you from planning a visit. The Camera Obscura, a precursor to the modern camera, is an early technology born from the collective ingenuity of a number of great civilizations, among them the Chinese, Greeks, Arabs, and Italians, dating all the way back to the 5th Century BC. The concept is relatively simple: light comes into a darkened enclosure through a small opening, projecting a live, 2D picture onto a screen.
This particular example–one of 50 known to exist in the world today–is of a more modern design and utilizes a mirror to reflect the exterior images onto the screen within. The room is dark, cool, and quiet, and the images you’ll see, which the operator can choose based on a 360-degree rotation, are incredibly sharp, colorful, and with a startling depth.
Pro Tip: According to the website, visits to the Camera Obscura require a reservation and cost $1.00 per person. However, when we called, the marina attendant who answered laughed at the idea. His suggestion was to simply knock on the marina office door nearby and request a visit. True to form, a young marina attendant was happy to operate the camera for us free of charge (there’s that local hospitality!). To ensure your time is well spent, avoid visiting on an overcast day.
Enjoy fresh seafood
Seafood is abundant in NoFo–it’s an island, after all. So we dug deep, braced ourselves for some distended bellies, and sampled as much as we could stomach. For a true, full-on seafood meal, we enthusiastically recommend Southold Fish Market. Here you’ll find everything from Ahi Tuna poké bowls to lightly coated and expertly fried seafood platters. There are no gimmicks; it’s just fresh, well-prepared, reasonably-portioned seafood and sides at a fair price. And the name isn’t a cute play on words–it’s a functioning fish market!
In addition to seafood, we never turn down a chance to try local food trucks, and NoFo has no shortage of them. Sure, there are plenty of places for a conventional sit-down meal, but sometimes it’s nice to plop down at a picnic table under the shade of a tree and take in the town’s bucolic aesthetic. In our case, we were particularly taken with two: North Fork Food Truck and Noah’s on the Road. Both are the mobile offshoots of successful brick-and-mortar operations, but that’s about where the similarities end.
North Fork Food Truck can be found in the parking lot of North Fork Table & Inn, its brick-and-mortar location. It offers an eclectic variety of burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs, but it is probably best known for a solid lobster roll (on a grilled bun from another NoFo local favorite, Blue Duck Bakery).
On the other hand, Noah’s on the Road does precisely what its name suggests: it travels around NoFo, often putting down its transient roots at one of the many local vineyards. In our case, it happened to be parked at McCall’s Vineyard on the day of our visit. Noah’s on the Road is all about tacos, and they only offer a small variety. The blackened shrimp, with its pickled cabbage and smoky chipotle sauce, was our favorite. We will note, though, that the prices are fairly steep at $6 per taco.
Pro Tip: Send them a message via their Facebook page in advance of your visit for the hours and expected location of Noah’s on the Road. And remember, since they often collaborate with vineyards, you’ll have your choice of wine to pair with your tacos.
Shop at a local farm stand
While we were driving along, we kept seeing these farm stands by the side of the road with signs reading “Fresh Corn”, “Fresh Strawberries”, “Apple Cider Donuts” and “PIES”, and we got a serious case of Shiny Object Syndrome. So we gave in to temptation and pulled over. Multiple times. We made out like bandits, scoring donuts, freshly picked cherries and juicy heirloom tomatoes.
Wickham’s Fruit Farms was one of our stops, where we shopped among the locals who were picking out rations for homemade meals. (Truth be told, we wished we could follow a lady who was planning on making sour cherry pie home.) We later learned that it’s one of the oldest in the country, with much of the farm dating back to 1661. If you have the time to spare, they also have a U-Pick option for different fruit varieties from June through August. You can check out their pick-your-own schedules here. So make your way down Main Street and give yourself ample time to make a few stops.
How to get here
North Fork is around a 2-hour drive from Manhattan, which is perfect for a day trip. Much of it runs along the I-495E, which is the same route many take to The Hamptons, so we recommend getting an early start in the height of summer. As an added bonus, you can opt to drive along the North Shore on your trip there or back for a more scenic route.
If you don’t have access to a car, North Fork is accessible via the LIRR from Penn Station, though the travel time will be doubled so you might have to turn it into an overnighter to get the most out of it. We’re sure that won’t be too much of a sacrifice, considering everything this quaint little area has to offer.
But first, coffee…
If you’re getting an early start like we did, you can caffeinate at Aldo’s Coffee, a small-batch coffee roaster and artisan baker in historic Greenport. It proudly calls itself “100% fresh, 100% organic, and 100% trend-free”, and is a local legend for chasing Starbucks out of town. Be prepared to wait in line, Aldo’s has a loyal clientele. Along with the coffee, they’re beloved for their made-from-scratch scones and biscotti. A local advised us that showing up at 7:00 am when they open is the only way you get in and out without a wait.
As an alternative, you can stop at North Fork Roasting Co., affectionately called NoFo RoCo, for a delicious jolt of caffeine. North Fork Roasting Co. is another small-batch specialty coffee roaster that prides itself in sourcing and cultivating beans carefully, and being a part of the local artisanal community.
So what are you waiting for? Get outta town!
Note: This post is part of our continuing Summer Series that highlights fun day trips from New York City. While the city can certainly fill your summer calendar, we wanted to give a shout-out to some of the amazing locales we have right around us. Check out other posts in this series:
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