Those who prefer beaches over buildings should get to know New York City’s other island, Long Island. The 118-mile-long stretch of land may have sprawling suburbs, strip malls, and traffic-clogged highways, but it also has lovely state parks and landmark homes, charming old whaling towns, and, of course, the posh Hamptons. Roughly 25 historic lighthouses dot its shores, many of which are now museums that offer a glimpse of Long Island’s maritime history. Here’s a roundup of favorites that are well worth a visit (and will look great on your Instagram feed).
Montauk Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in New York State, but that isn’t what earned it the honor of being designated a National Historic Landmark. America’s first president, George Washington, commissioned the structure in 1792, and it was completed four years later. Today, history buffs and sight-seekers alike visit the lighthouse to explore its museum and 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound.
This National Register of Historic Places landmark is adjacent to another New York treasure, Robert Moses State Park. Built in 1826, the Fire Island Lighthouse, situated on the tip of Fire Island, was the first indicator of land for ocean travelers coming from Europe. As it reaches 168 feet (51.2 meters) above sea level, the lighthouse can still be seen from more than 20 miles (32.1 kilometers) away.
Shinnecock Lighthouse has experienced some dark times. The 168-foot-tall (51.2 meters) structure, built in 1858 to illuminate the 67 miles (107.8 kilometers) from Fire Island to Montauk, was victimized by lightning strikes, fires, and hurricanes before finally falling in 1948. As a bright ending befitting a lighthouse, Shinnecock was reimagined as a red brick building and 74-foot-tall (22.5 meters) structure, both of which are standing strong today.
Don’t be fooled by its nickname: there’s nothing nefarious about Stepping Stones Lighthouse, or Devil’s Stepping Stones as its known colloquially. The Native American legend behind this moniker, involving the devil, some stepping stones, and an escape to Long Island, is just one fascinating feature of this Victorian-style structure in Nassau County.
Even more than its attractively old-fashioned granite, brick, and stone façade, the redemption tale of Execution Rocks Lighthouse is what makes this Mamaroneck structure beautiful. Standing in the Long Island Sound since 1850, the 60-foot (18.2-meter) lighthouse earned its name from either multiple shipwrecks or a cruel and unusual colonial punishment. There’s nothing negative to be found there today—visitors can even enjoy an overnight stay in the lighthouse, equipped with rustic furnishings.
Huntington Lighthouse, constructed in 1912 in the Beaux Arts style, resembles a small castle more than a traditional lighthouse. Its noble appearance befits the royal treatment this tower has received. Guiding naval navigators since 1867 when it was known as Lloyd Harbor Lighthouse, Huntington Lighthouse has been rebuilt to protect it from sea winds and is the subject of ongoing preservation efforts.
This classic brick structure nestled on the lush, green North Dumpling Island hardly strikes one as a Prohibition-era smugglers’ site. Erected in 1849 to guide vessels approaching Fishers Island, North Dumpling Lighthouse took on a different function during Prohibition, when bootleggers would flash additional lights near the lighthouse to communicate in code with their accomplices. Today, the privately owned lighthouse, now featuring a wind generator, is still a sight worth toasting.