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May 3, 2011

Oddly enough for such a celebrated destination, the Hamptons run a little thin on what could be called tourist attractions. Vacation time here is so much about the beach, eating good food, and spending quality hours with family and friends, that places to which you might drive to see something specific are not entirely obvious. What this means is that other than the Montauk Lighthouse, the Hamptons’ cultural and natural destinations tend to be under the radar.

A good bet on a rainy day in Amagansett is the East Hampton Town Marine Museum on Bluff Road. Relics from the days of offshore whaling are of particular interest. On Wednesdays and Saturdays year-round, you can see traditional wooden boats being built at an on-site workshop run by the East End Classic Boat Society.

During the summer, the side lawn at the Farmers Market on Main Street is a pleasant place to relax. The tables have a view of preserved agricultural land and Amber Waves Farm. To the west along Main Street, at Amagansett Square, there are free live music shows from time to time. Across the street, the Amagansett Historical Association runs a small museum and displays a collection of classic wagons and horse-drawn carts.

Bridgehampton and Vicinity
Channing Daughters Winery on Scuttlehole Road has daily tastings and is in a remarkable setting with views of Walter Channing’s monumental sculpture park. On Sagg Road in Sagaponack north, you’ll find Wolffer Estate Vineyards, which has a tasting room and popular Friday night gatherings with live music. South of the Montauk Highway in Sagaponack you can find the Madoo Conservancy, an idiosyncratic and stunning garden created by the painter Robert Dash.

From the sublime to the outrageous, what has been described as the largest private house in the United States, built by Ira Rennert off Daniel’s Lane, is worth a look if you are curious about what just might be the apotheosis of late-20th century excess. But you can’t get up close. It also seems as if every back road around Bridgehampton has at least one farm stand. Pick-your-own apples and a maze are great kids’ activities. Around Labor Day it’s all about the Hampton Classic horse show.

The new Parrish Art Museum just west of Water Mill has become the sleeper attraction of 2013, with thousands of visitors coming for a look at the architecture as well as special exhibits and work by important American artists from the permanent collection. Children’s activities are scheduled regularly and you can have a bite at its café. If you are visiting in the fall, you won’t be able to miss the Pumpkin Town on the Montauk Highway nearby.

East Hampton and Springs
The most visible attraction in the Village of East Hampton has to be Hook Mill, built in 1806 to grind flour and corn. It is open to visitors in July and August. At the south end of Main Street is the Gardiner Mill, open occasionally to visitors. Close by is the Home, Sweet Home Museum, which illustrates 18th- and 19th-century life, and the 1680 Mulford Farm next door; both are open in the summer months. The South End Burial Ground is worth a stroll. Buried here are the remains of Lion Gardiner, the first European owner of Gardiner’s Island and a hero of the 1634-38 Connecticut Pequot War. Nearby, too, is Guild Hall, which mounts serious art shows and has a recently restored theater with a plays and musical programs year-round. If the kids need time at a playground, take them to Herrick Park on Newtown Lane.

Tucked away on Hand’s Creek Road you can find LongHouse Reserve, a private museum, garden, and sculpture park created by Jack Lenor Larsen, a leading American textile designer. It is open Wednesdays and Saturdays in June and Wednesday through Saturday in July and August. From LongHouse, you can continue north to Cedar Point County Park for spectacular bird watching, camping, and a long hike out to an abandoned lighthouse — if you go, start early in the day and bring water.

In Springs, the Pollock-Krasner House is on the must-see list for art-minded visitors. The General Store is almost a landmark, and you can catch informal music jams outside in season.

Once you have had enough of the beach and are looking for something else, you will find many options for visitors. The area has few major tourist attractions in the traditional sense, but if you are willing to hunt around some fun and a few offbeat surprises await.

No discussion of Hamptons attractions is complete without highlighting the Montauk Lighthouse. This National Historic Landmark is spectacularly set on a hill and draws thousands of visitors each year. Admission is $9, $8 for senior citizens, and $4 for kids. Children must be at least 41 inches tall to make the strenuous climb to the top. It’s well worth it; the views are astounding. The Montauk Historical Society runs a nautical museum and a gift shop on the Lighthouse grounds.

Even when the Lighthouse is closed, a visit to Montauk Point is well worth it. You can pick your way around the Point on the lighthouse’s protective rock-boulder sea wall, and if you arrive early you can watch the sunrise, a visitors’ tradition on New Year’s Day. You might be lucky enough to see seals sunning themselves on the rocks, too. Hiking trails fan out from the Point’s several parking lots.

Camp Hero State Park is here too, with mysterious now-closed military buildings, including a six-story-tall radar dish, which helped inspire the various Montauk Project conspiracy theories about time travel, secret government mind-control experiments, and that sort of thing. Those with an urge to hike can also take to the trails at Amsterdam Beach State Park, Shadmoor State Park, and Hither Hills State Park. Each has spectacular ocean views.

Montauk Harbor is worth a look; get out of your car and walk around. The port’s commercial fishing fleet’s comings and goings are the real thing. Action around the docks off West Lake Drive and Flamingo Avenue in the afternoon when the charter boats come back and their mates begin cutting up the day’s catch, believe it or not, draws crowds of curious onlookers and a handful of salty regulars. There are plenty of places to get a beer and lots of restaurants nearby.

Trail rides on horseback can be organized at Rita’s Stables on West Lake Drive and at Deep Hollow Ranch. Some of the routes are through Montauk County Park and include stretches of otherwise inaccessible beaches. There’s miniature golf and paddle boats at Puff and Putt on Montauk Highway. At the end of the day, there are astounding sunsets from what is locally called the West Overlook on Montauk Highway. From here you can see across the low Napeague isthmus to East Hampton.

Sag Harbor
History and the waterfront are what Sag Harbor is all about. Visitors can take in the Whaling Museum and original Customs House, stroll the streets to see magnificent “captains” houses, the condominium renovation of an old Bulova plant, or picnic in Marine Park and look at the ultra-luxury boats tied up at Long Wharf. The Bay Street Theatre mounts top-quality productions each year and runs a summer comedy series.

Downtown Sag Harbor is slowly being gentrified, but there are still locally run shops and eateries, and no sign of Starbucks or Ralph Lauren. The Variety Store is the most Un-Hampton institution around, and the iconic American Hotel on Main Street can be a fun place to grab a drink and rub shoulders with an eclectic mix of imbibers.

Southampton and Beyond
Outdoor summer rock and reggae concerts are held in Agawam Park in Southampton Village and at Cooper’s Beach in July and August. The Southampton Historical Museum maintains several interesting properties, including the Pelletrau Shop, the only trade shop in the United States in continuous use in its original location since the 1600s. The Village of Southampton is renovating the old Parrish Art Museum on Job’s Lane as a cultural center and plans a small skating rink out back. You can also go to music and literary events at the Rogers Memorial Library.

At the Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Noyac, visitors can walk the gentle trails and see birds, some so tame that they will eat seed from an outstretched hand. The recently renamed Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead has indoor and outdoor exhibits, including penguins, sharks, and a seal show. Shelter Island’s magnificent Mashomack Preserve, run by the Nature Conservancy, is a great place to hike and watch birds. Sylvester Manor, a Shelter Island estate that is being turned into a farming heritage and historic center welcomes visitors from time to time. Both are well worth the ferry rides, which, by the way, are also a treat.If you enjoy getting out in nature, check out the Web sites of the East Hampton and Southampton Trails Preservation Societies, the Peconic Land Trust, and the South Fork Natural History Museum. They sponsor walks all over the South Fork with expert guides.

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