Although Coopers Beach, located in Long Island's Southampton, is technically only 500 feet long, its idyllic shoreline stretches for seven serene miles. Historic mansions sit atop grass-covered sand dunes along the stretch, and even those accustomed to the beautiful Hampton beaches find it one of the most peaceful on the Island. St. Andrews Dune Church, a picturesque chapel with tiffany windows, sits a mile down on the path. With the warm white sand between your toes and the expansive Atlantic beside you, it's no wonder that Coopers Beach was rated 2010's Best Beach in America.
"Dr. Beach," also known as Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, holds a Ph.D. in coastal sciences and is considered the foremost expert on American beaches. Since 1991, he has released his list of America's Best Beaches, using 50 criteria to rate the beaches, such as beach width at low tide, size of breaking waves, midday air temperature, and color of sand. Apparently, Coopers Beach passes with flying colors, having made the top-ten list for several years. In 2010, it made the very top spot for the first time.
The long stretch of Coopers Beach appeals to more die-hard beach lovers, while the 500-foot main beach is perfectly family-friendly. The pavilion at the main entrance has a snack bar that offers classic beach bites and outdoor dining. Inside are bathrooms, lockers and showers. Lifeguards are always on duty, and the beach is seldom without children making sandcastles or teenagers diving into the crashing waves. The only drawback of Coopers Beach is the pricey parking situation: $30 a day on weekdays and $35 dollars on weekends for out-of-towners. Some hotels do offer free shuttles, though we suggest renting a bike. Not only is this a more affordable option, but quaint Southampton is also an ideal town for a lazy summer bike ride.
While in the town of Southampton, you can stop at some of the many of unique boutiques, charming antique shops and eclectic art galleries it has to offer. Two museums make for interesting excursions on a rainy day – the Parrish Art Museum offers a wide range of rotating exhibitions, and the Southampton Historical Museum, which covers decorative arts, tools and textiles that trace back to when the town was settled in 1650. Popular hotels in Southampton include The Atlantic, The Bentley, Southampton Inn and the 1708 House.
Also appearing on the 2010 Dr. Beach list is Main Beach in East Hampton. Ranked as the fifth best beach in the country, Main Beach rivals Coopers as the most beautiful of the Long Island beaches, with an unusually wide shoreline and soft, crystal-white sand. Since East Hampton is considered the most upscale of all the Hamptons, you can potentially spot the town's rich and famous summer residents at Main Beach. The beach remains quite clean, and the waves are some of the best on the Island. Once again, the parking situation is less than ideal: visitors can park in the Main Beach lot during the week, but only residents can on the weekends.
The town of East Hampton boasts unbelievably upscale shopping: Coach, Kate Spade and Neiman Marcus are a few of the many big names to have an East Hampton franchise. Even for the majority of us who can't afford such stores, picturesque East Hampton provides for lovely people watching, window-shopping and aimless strolling (preferably with an ice cream cone in hand).
How to get there from New York City
- The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) is the cheapest and fastest option. Take the Montauk Line from Penn Station – it makes five trips daily.
- Cost: A round-trip ticket to Montauk (the last stop) is $40 during peak hours and $29 during off-peak hours. Other towns are less expensive, but costs vary depending on the distance from Manhattan.
- Time: Two hours from Penn Station to Westhampton; three hours to Montauk. On Friday afternoons, you can take the Cannonball express service from Penn Station, which leaves at 4:01pm and arrives in Westhampton by 5:39pm.
- The Hampton Jitney is the most popular bus service available, and reservations are necessary. The bus stops in four different Upper East Side locations and makes more than twenty daily trips to Montauk.
- Cost: $51 round-trip. For an extra $9, the Jitney's Ambassador Service offers wider seats and half the passenger load.
- Time: Roughly 2.5 hours on a good day. During rush hour or peak times, the trip can take 3.5 hours or more.
- Luxury Bus:
- For an even more comfortable trip, the Hampton Luxury Liver provides snacks, beverage, and feature movie, as well as a library stocked with the latest magazines and periodicals. The seats are roomier, too.
- Cost: $37 for one-way, 1st class seat (3 seats per row). $31 for one-way, Comfort Class seat (4 seats per row).
- Time: Roughly the same as the Jitney, but the amenities make the trip seem faster.
- The LIE (Long Island Expressway) or I-495 is the fastest way to get to the Hamptons. Once you're off the LIE, take Route 27 East, which is also called the Sunrise Highway or Montauk Highway. This route goes through all of the Hamptons towns and villages and is basically the only way to navigate around the area.
Renting a Bike
- In Southampton:
- Rotations Bicycle Center
- Location: 32 Windmill Lane
- Phone: 631-283-2890
- Price: Bike for a day: $35
- In East Hampton:
- Bermuda Bikes
- Location: 36 Gingerbread Lane
- Phone: 631-324-6688
- Price: Bike for a day: Until 5pm: $30; 24 hours: $40
- Khanh Sports
- Location: 60 Park Place
- Phone: 631-324-0703
- Price: Bike for a day: Without gears: $25; With gears: $35