Long Island is known for its beaches and harbors.
But not many people realize that it also has great historical places and museums that are worth visiting.
Here are museums, lighthouses, and other historic places to visit on Long Island, NY.
1. Horton Point Lighthouse Nautical Museum
The Horton Point Lighthouse is located in Southold, on “the North Fork” of Long Island, NY. The lighthouse was built in 1857, and it’s one of the oldest lighthouses on Long Island Sound. It is no longer operating.
The tower is 58 feet tall and the adjacent building houses a museum. The museum is open May 27 through Mid September on Saturdays and Sundays 11:30 AM – 4:00 PM
The lighthouse was built by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Its first keeper was George L. Brown who lived with his family in a small house adjacent to the lighthouse. His wife and daughters were helping him with his duties, like cleaning the lenses and keeping the light fueled. There were only 8 more head keepers serving the lighthouse in its history.
Over the years, the lighthouse underwent several renovations. In 1903, a fog signal was installed to help ships navigate in bad weather. In 1933 the electric light was installed to replace the original oil lamp.
The lighthouse remained in operation until 1933 when it was decommissioned and replaced by an automated light. The lenses were removed and the lighthouse was abandoned.
In the 1980s, the town citizens formed the Horton Point Lighthouse Preservation Society planning to restore the lighthouse and turn it into a museum. The society raised funds and obtained grants to restore the building. In 1990 the lighthouse was reopened to the public as a museum.
If you visit the lighthouse, make sure to climb to the top of it to enjoy stunning views of the sound. Manned by very informative volunteers, the museum features exhibits on the history of the lighthouse and the maritime history of the area. It is a great spot to enjoy a piece of Long Island history.
The lighthouse is surrounded by a small park which is open to the public from 9 am to dusk daily. There’s a small beach underneath the lighthouse. A beautiful wooden staircase leads to the beach right from the museum parking lot. No swimming is allowed on this beach but you can put your feet in the water and enjoy the views. It is usually very quiet here.
We watched the sunset from the beach which I strongly recommend anyone do when they are there. The views are stunning. It is one of the best spots to see the sunset on Long Island.
2. Nassau County Museum of Art
The Nassau County Museum of Art (NCMA) is in Roslyn on Long Island, only 20 miles from Manhattan. It is a great place to spend a day with your kids. The museum is both educational and entertaining.
The main museum collection is housed in the elegant Frick Estate, a former Gold Coast mansion that was built in 1902. The Mansion was designed by prominent architect Ogden Codman, Jr. You can find his other buildings around Manhattan including the Ogden Codman House. They are all gorgeous.
The main building would remind you of the Great Gatsby era, there are lots of Gatsby-style mansions on Long Island.
It includes masterpieces from European and American art movements featuring works by Édouard Vuillard, Auguste Rodin, Pierre Bonnard, and many others. The indoor exhibition space is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 am to 4:45 pm.
One of the highlights of the collection is the 145-acre sculpture park, which features over 40 pieces by 30 sculptors. It is the largest publicly accessible park in the eastern part of the United States. The park is free to access, and the parking is also free, so there is no fee to enjoy the outdoor collection. You can easily spend the whole day there.
Make sure to download the map to be able to find all the sculptures. It also offers a map for kids and an adventure map helping you make their visits more interesting.
In addition to the permanent collection and exhibitions, the museum offers educational programs for visitors of all ages and abilities. These include lectures, workshops, and tours. There’s a new cool workshop every day like drawing with live models, landscape painting, and watercolor painting.
NCMA is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in art. It is also a great place to get your kids excited about watching and/or making art.
3. Parrish Art Museum
The Parrish Art Museum is located further to the Eastern part of Long Island, near the famous recreational district called Hamptons. The museum was founded in 1897 to preserve local art (i.e. art from the East End of Long Island). It is now located in a brand new building.
It is not huge but its architecture is awe-inspiring. Designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron in 2012, the building is a cool example of contemporary architecture that blends with the surrounding landscape.
The collection, housing contemporary masterpieces as well as older works from the region, is a perfect size and it is thoughtfully balanced and laid out.
The museum continuously houses diverse exhibitions, so check the calendar when heading there. The museum’s curators work tirelessly to organize thought-provoking exhibitions and offer visitors new perspectives on their beloved artists. The one that convinced us to make a trip to the Parrish Museum was “Kahlo: An Expanded Body” exploring the impact of the iconic artist’s declining health on her masterpieces.
Outdoors you will likely see a few impressive sculptures from contemporary artists, so take some time walking around the building as well. The one we were lucky to find was “Field of Dreams”, a sculpture exhibition featuring cool works like Isa Genzken’s “Two Orchids” and Giuseppe Penone’s “Ideas of Stone”.
There’s a little cafe and a nice gift shop to check out.
One of the museum’s most popular events is its annual Midsummer Party, which brings together artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts from around the world for an evening of music, food, and drink. All the proceeds go towards supporting the museum’s exhibitions and educational programs.
4. Montauk Point Lighthouse and Museum
The Montauk Point Lighthouse (also known as the Montauk Point Light) is located on the easternmost tip of Long Island in New York. It is a historic landmark that has been guiding ships safely through the Atlantic Ocean for over two centuries.
Not only is it a navigational beacon, but the lighthouse is also a testament to the maritime heritage of the region. Few words can describe the serenity of the place!
The lighthouse is 168 feet tall. If you are lucky enough to climb to the top of it, you’ll see gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean. The climb up the spiral staircase can be challenging, but the breathtaking views from the top make it well worth the effort.
The history of this place dates back to the late 1700s when George Washington, the first President of the United States, signed a bill authorizing the construction of a lighthouse at Montauk Point. In 1796 the lighthouse was built and lit for the first time. At that time it was using whale oil lamps.
Over the years, the lighthouse has undergone several renovations. In 1860 the Fresnel lens was installed which increased its range to 19 nautical miles. In 1903 its light was converted to electricity, and in 1987 it was automated. Since then there has been no need for a lighthouse keeper.
These days visitors to the Montauk Point Lighthouse can take a guided tour of the lighthouse and explore the museum located on its grounds. The museum explores the history of the lighthouse and notable ships that have passed Montauk Point over the years. The museum is open daily 10:30 am – 4:30 pm.
In addition to its historic and cultural significance, Montauk Point Lighthouse also plays an important role in modern-day navigation as it is still operating.
The grounds around the lighthouse are scenic. They are worth visiting even if you don’t make it within the hours when the museum is open. A short trail takes you to the ocean, with a nice view of the lighthouse in the distance. You can also walk along the shore. If you visit Long Island in winter or early spring, there’s a good chance to see seals there.
On your way back, make sure to check downtown Montauk: There are lots of little stores and restaurants to check out.
The Montauk Point Lighthouse is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in history and maritime heritage. Its importance as a navigational beacon and cultural landmark is undeniable, and its legacy is sure to endure for generations to come.
5. Fire Island Lighthouse and Museum
Located on the western end of Fire Island, a barrier island off the coast of Long Island, the Fire Island Lighthouse has been a beacon for ships navigating the waters of the Atlantic Ocean for over 160 years. With its distinctive black and white spiral stripes, the building is among the most beautiful lighthouses we’ve ever seen.
The lighthouse is 168 feet tall which makes it the tallest lighthouse on Long Island.
The Fire Island Lighthouse has a rich history that dates back to the early 1800s when several ships ran aground in the waters surrounding Fire Island. In 1826 Congress authorized the construction of a lighthouse on Fire Island to aid in navigation and prevent shipwrecks. The original lighthouse was completed in 1827 and stood only 74 feet tall. However, it was quickly deemed inadequate due to its limited range, and a new lighthouse was built in 1858.
The current lighthouse was designed by John McComb Jr., who also designed several other lighthouses in the area. It was first lit in 1858, using a Fresnel lens that could be seen up to 21 nautical miles away.
Over the years, the Fire Island Lighthouse has undergone several renovations. In 1933, its light was electrified, and 40 years later it was automated, so it no longer required keepers to operate it. In 1986, the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing its historical and cultural significance.
These days visitors to the Fire Island Lighthouse can take a self-guided tour of the lighthouse and explore its museum. The museum tells a story of the lighthouse and the ships that passed it. There’s a very nice gift shop inside too. Talk to the volunteers manning the museum: They share lots of useful information about the lighthouses!
The ride to the lighthouse is very scenic too. There are lots of beautiful bridges to pass (I think at least three of those).
Park in Robert Moses State Beach Lot 5 to walk to the lighthouse. It is a very easy hike, even our toddler managed it! It is usually quite windy and sunny, so take lots of water.
One of the most popular attractions at the Fire Island Lighthouse is climbing to the top of the tower. The climb-up the spiral staircase can be challenging, but the stunning panoramic views from the top make it worth the effort. On clear days you can even see the New York City skyline from the top of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is still operating guiding ships along the Long Island shore into New York harbor.
The grounds around the lighthouse are unique in their beauty. Walk the wooden trails and make sure to approach the ocean. The views of the lighthouse are beautiful there. There are lots of deer in the park that don’t seem to care about people at all.
Overall if you climb to the top and spend some time on the trails, the visit to the Fire Island Lighthouse will take you about three hours, so pack some lunch. We didn’t see any places to eat around the site.
There are many more museums to check out on Long Island, but as you may have guessed our family is heavily into art and lighthouses. Make sure to visit all of these unique places on your trip to Long Island, NY.