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With such close proximity to New York City (and its comedians), is there any region in the U.S. that has been more public a target of ridicule for its accent than "Lawn-GUY-lend?" The joke stretches to stereotypes about a world of malls, traffic, and big hair -- and like most generalizations, there is a shred of truth here. Missing from this picture, however, is what Long Island has to offer those who know it well: some of the greatest beaches on the East Coast, a growing bevy of world-class wineries, and a body of history ranging from the Algonquins to the Vanderbilts.

Drive along the coast and you'll get a taste of this, occasionally accompanied by an unbroken ocean view as the Long Island Sound merges with the Atlantic. Among the towns of the North Shore, you'll find remnants of a golden age of the "Gold Coast": Estates belonging to turn-of-the-20th-century magnates with names like Astor and Chrysler, a vast arboretum and a fabulous Japanese garden, and a couple of outstanding museums.

Farther out, the North Fork contains the majority of Long Island's vineyards, which in short order have begun producing some world-class wines, all in a laid-back setting that has its roots in fishing and whaling communities.

Heading south, witness how the other half -- or perhaps a smaller fraction than that -- vacation, among the eye-popping summer homes of the Hamptons. Here at the far reaches of the largest island to adjoin the continental U.S., you'll find the most exciting surfing in the northeast, some of the best restaurants on the island, and nightlife to match. You might even brush shoulders with fame while dining or sun-bathing.

On the southern coast, Jones Beach and Long Beach are time-honored weekend havens for city dwellers, where endless stretches of sand give way to refreshingly clean waters, even when the summer crowds are at capacity. When you want to escape the masses, there's the car-less paradise of Fire Island, spanning some 30-odd miles along the southern coast of Long Island, and little Shelter Island, tucked away in the crook of the island's forks -- a remote and peaceful retreat featuring large swathes of undisturbed nature and wildlife preserves.