You probably associate Long Island with New York City, but the island is also home to state parks, whaling towns, and many lighthouses. Long Island Sound has been notorious for centuries as a dangerous area for sailors. The sound is full of jagged rocks and hidden shoals that endanger sailing to this day.
As a result, over 30 lighthouses have been built on Long Island, and although some have been demolished, Suffolk County still has more lighthouses than any other county in the US. They are beautiful, eye-catching monuments to Long Island’s history of maritime activity.
Not all the lighthouses are open to public exploration, but you can view all of them from outside. Here are some of the best to visit with your family.
Montauk Point is rightfully the first on this list as the oldest lighthouse in New York State. George Washington commissioned the 111-foot structure in 1792 as the first public works project of the United States. It is now a National Historic Landmark with a museum. It also features stunning 360 degree views of the Block Sound, if you’re willing to climb 137 steps to the top!
Horton Point Lighthouse
This picturesque white lighthouse in Southold is open, along with its museum, between Memorial Day and Columbus Day on weekends. Admission is free for children under 12. The lighthouse is surrounded by a lovely park with a nature trail and a 120-step descent to the beach.
Fire Island Lighthouse
Fire Island Lighthouse is one of the most popular and beautiful of the lighthouses. It is 180 feet tall and can be seen from 20 miles away, making it the first warning of land for ships approaching from Europe. The lighthouse is open to the public on weekends and offers a tower tour and museum.
The US Coast Guard decommissioned Fire Island in 1974, but after the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society restored the tower, the Coast Guard reinstated it in 1986. It is still active as a private light now operated by the Preservation Society.
Execution Rocks Lighthouse
Dark stories surround this lighthouse in the middle of Long Island Sound. Purportedly, during the Revolutionary War, the British chained American prisoners to the rocks as the tide came in. The serial killer Carl Panzram also claimed that he murdered 10 sailors near Execution Rock.
The lighthouse is a 55-foot granite tower. It has an attached keepers house, but it has been uninhabited for 30 years. Although the lighthouse is operated by the Coast Guard and therefore off-limits to the public, there are tours in the summer, and you can even spend the night in the keeper’s house. If you’re not up for a night in this scary location, the Throgs Neck Bridge offers a view from a safe distance.
Orient Point Lighthouse
This funny-looking light is nicknamed “the coffee pot.” It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is still in use by the Coast Guard. It even has a working foghorn. You can view this lighthouse and three others at the Orient Beach State Park. This maritime forest area is full of waterfowl, cactus, and impressive trees, so don’t miss out on a nature walk after you see the lighthouse!
This lighthouse was built in the grand Beaux Arts style. It was rebuilt of granite to keep it looking castle-like despite rough sea wind and weather. The lighthouse is stationed on a small rock island in Huntington Harbor, and in the summer you can take a 15-min boat ride out to it (children must be 5 or over).
Stepping Stones Lighthouse
This Victorian-style lighthouse in Nassau County is a striking white, brown, and red. The stepping stones are a reef that emerges at low tide. To locals, the lighthouse is known as Devil’s Stepping Stones. The name comes from a Native American legend. The Siwanoy (a Native American tribe) were chasing the devil off of their land. The devil threw boulders into Long Island Sound, creating the reef that he escaped on. Although you can’t tour this working lighthouse, it’s gorgeous from the outside.
Eatons Neck Lighhouse
Pristine and white, this lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse in New York State (after the one in Montauk Point). In 1798, President John Adams commissioned the lighthouse to help navigators avoid dangerous rocks along the shore. More shipwrecks had happened at Eatons Neck than anywhere else in Long Island.
In the 1970s, the Coast Guard was going to demolish the lighthouse, but the public campaigned to have it put on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the lighthouse is still used by the Coast Guard, so it’s closed to the public. Fortunately, there is a nearby observation deck with an excellent view of the lighthouse.
Long Beach Bar Lighthouse
This is another lighthouse that has received a nickname for its unusual shape. Long Beach Bar Lighthouse is known as “bug light” because it looks like a giant bug from the side.
Bug Light has had a difficult past. After surviving a hurricane, the original building was destroyed by arsonists in 1963. The current replica was damaged by shotgun blasts in 1991, but it is still listed as a federal aid in navigation. You can visit Bug Light on a boat cruise and even spend the night at its B&B.
If you and your family love seeing lighthouses, you should buy a “lighthouse passport.” At each lighthouse you visit or see, you can obtain a stamp. The passport is also a great way to learn about lighthouse preservation.
These are only a few of the many lighthouses around Long Island. Each of them tell a unique story and are apart of the island’s history. All of them are worth learning about or at least glimpsing if you have the chance. So next time you’re near the shore, make sure you keep an eye out.