It took me a while to discover Fire Island – I was aware of it via comments from people I have known over the years, but the only thing I heard was that it was mostly an LGBT hangout where people hung out nude on the beach – quite an incorrect stereotype that I came to learn about when Renata and I made our first visit back in 2011, when I finally realized what the island was about.
On that first visit we booked a hotel on Bay Shore, Long Island since we were unaware that the hotels on the island itself (they are not listed on websites like Expedia or Hotwire – more on that later). We found a little motel with little to offer except a convenient location near supermarkets and about half a mile from the ferry terminal.
We woke up early on Memorial Day 2011 and headed out, taking advantage of a summer package provided by the MTA in which you can get discounted rail and ferry tickets to Fire Island. We took a cab to our hotel, unpacked and then walked to the ferry terminal, where our adventure began.
Our first glimpse of the island was the village of Ocean Beach, which is arguably one of the most convenient when it comes to service – there are plenty of restaurants, bars and shops to choose from, including a pleasant bar on the seafront where you find affordable drinks. On the other hand, it kind of sucks there because of the incredible restrictions they impose there – among other things, you cannot even have bottled water on the beach unless it is in “clear plastic bottles “, and there is a roaming police officer making sure you follow the rules – they are so anal there that the community has been affectionately called “the land of no.”
Our next stop was Kismet, which we found far more interesting. The village is arguably the postcard of Fire Island since it is located near the iconic lighthouse (http://fireislandlighthouse.com) , which is open for visitation – climbing the steps up give you the best view of the surroundings, but is quite a challenge (which Renata and I have taken twice) since there is no elevator and the climb is quite steep.
Kismet has two restaurants located on the Bay Side and a small convenience store. At the beach, it’s mostly family oriented. Its famous clothing-optional beach is now closed after the dunes there were destroyed as a result of Hurricane Sandy, but there are reports that some naturists are fighting the ban and strategically sunbathing au naturel by creating semi-private areas marked by makeshift curtains.
A recent discovery is the community of Cherry Grove, which is one of the oldest LGBT communities in the country. It is also one of the island’s most laid-back areas, where a handful of nude sunbathers share the space with their “textile” counterparts with no incident. Cherry Grove is home to the Grove Hotel, where they host many events (varying from drag shows to jazz concerts) and also have a sit-down restaurant. On our most recent visit, we made a stop at Cherry’s (http://cherrysonthebay.com) , a relaxed bar located right off the ferry landing where we enjoyed some tasty appetizers and some cold drinks before heading to the surf, where we spent many pleasant hours among friends.
The only bad thing I can say about Fire Island is their hotels – during the summer season, they won’t book less than two nights (three on long weekends), and prices can be very steep – ranging from $ 250 a night for rooms with very few amenities except for the fact that you are spending the night there. However, they seem to be making good business, since rooms are fully booked way in advance.
Last year, I wrote an extensive article on Fire Island for x2thel.com – it details the ferries, restaurants and other facts in better detail than this blog – you can read it here http://x2thel.com/2013/08/welcome-to-fire-island-2/