Lonely Planet Writer

76-Second Travel Show: 'America's best beach'

MICRO-GUIDE TO SOUTHAMPTON, NY

For many New Yorkers, the Hamptons -- out at the acceptable end of Long Island -- looms like a flashback from Lisa Birnbach's 1980 spoof 'The Official Preppy Handbook.' A playground of neighboring community with long white-sand beaches and tucked-away beach homes for CEOs, celebs and trust-fund kids. But despite all this supposed upturned-nose-chic, it's really not that snobby, particularly mid-week or off season on Main Street, lined with cafes, antiques shops, bookstores and restaurants with sidewalk seats.

And year-rounders here, unsurprisingly, have a different tale to tell about what 'Hampton' means too. And more are telling it now that Dr Beach, aka Stephen Leatherman, picked Coopers Beach at Southampton (the first Hampton; founded in 1640) as America's best beach in 2010. He uses a lot of factors, including quality and width of sand, water temperature and whether or not you can smoke -- something I learned celebrated mayor Mark Epley banned a year ago.

IF YOU GO:

  • Info: The Southampton Chamber of Commerce can point you to hotels and B&Bs, and they have free area maps.
  • Getting there: Easy to reach, Southampton is about 100 miles east of Manhattan on the south shore of Long Island -- about two hours one way however you go. Drivers take the Long Island Expressway to Manorville (exit 70) and go south to Hwy 27, which leads east to Southampton. You can also go by train on the Long Island Railroad, which runs a 'special' Hamptons-bound train in summer ($18 each way). The Hampton Jitney bus service is $53 return.
  • Beach & parking: The seven-mile Coopers Beach is open to the public, and is about 1.5 miles south of the village center. The catch is you have to pay a $40 day-use pass to park. Three options: 1) pay up and deal with it, 2) walk or bike (there's a bike rental place in town), 3) enjoy the beach before 9am or after 6pm, when parking's free.
  • Beach reads: BookHampton on Main Street is a good stop for beach reads. They suggested to me Sag Harbor author Hilary Thayer Hamann's 'Anthropology of an American Girl.'
  • Excellent scones: TravelingAnna recommended, via Twitter, Golden Pears Cafe as 'cute.' The corner spot is indeed cute. And I found the heated blueberry scones excellent. (Why is it that only about one in ten scones are worth eating?) Also salads, sandwiches and pastries.
  • Shopping: The 17th-century Jobs Lane (pronounced 'JOBES' thankyouverymuch), around the corner from Main Street, is lined with boutiques from Theory to Ralph Lauren. You won't have trouble finding something.
  • Museums: The area's first inhabitants are the Shinnecock Nation, which occupy a private reservation just west of town. You can visit the Shinnecock National Cultural Center & Museum (entry $5; murals tell the tribal history, plus some bronze statues in the basement). Ask about events open to the public, including the annual pow-wow in September. In the village center, just off Main St, there's a Southampton Historical Museum too (entry $5).
  • Why not Cooper's Beach? Yes it's Coopers and not Cooper's. No one knew when or why the apostrophe got dropped, and few seemed to know which Cooper it was named for. 'Twas John. One of the original settlers from 1640. Apparently he ran the lone tavern, whaling and fish-drying businesses. A guy to be pals with.