Federally protected, this island offers sand dunes, forests, clean beaches, camping (dune-camping permits $20), hiking trails, inns, restaurants, 15 hamlets and two villages. The scenery ranges from car-free areas of summer mansions and packed nightclubs to stretches of sand where you’ll find nothing but pitched tents and deer.
Most of the island is accessible only by ferry and is free of cars – regulars haul their belongings on little wagons instead. You can drive to either end of the island (the lighthouse or the Wilderness Visitor Center) but there is no road in between. The island is edged with a dozen or so tiny hamlets, mostly residential. Party-center Ocean Beach Village and quieter Ocean Bay Park (take ferries from the Bayshore LIRR stop) have a few hotels; Cherry Grove and the Pines (ferries from Sayville) are gay enclaves, also with hotels.