Make no mistake: This is not the Hamptons. Though the North Fork does share the East End of Long Island with the summer playground of New York's rich and famous, taking the high road out here yields an altogether different experience. Drive past the gateway town of Riverhead, and discover a calmer world -- one where you can stay right on the beach for less than a king's ransom, while surrounded by some of the finest vineyards in the state.
Most of the tiny towns dotting this narrow strip of land are quiet and unpretentious, cheerfully avoiding the bustle -- and attitude -- of their southern cousins. Small shops pop up in clusters, farm stands dot the main roads, and a wine-tasting is the closest thing to a celebrity drinking binge. The overall pace out here is decidedly more relaxed: Loll away a lazy afternoon browsing through antique stores in Southold, or head out to the end of the line at Orient Point for kayaking and bird-watching. Want to spend the day (or a few) just fishing? You've come to the right place.
There isn't nearly the range of lodging, shopping, and dining options here as you'll find elsewhere on Long Island, but activity has been picking up steadily over the past few years. Excellent restaurants like the North Fork Table & Inn have created a stir in culinary circles, while places like the Jedediah Hawkins Inn now offer more in the way of upscale accommodations. And though it's still no resort destination, the North Fork also boasts summer weekend traffic to compete with the worst of the Hamptons -- choose your travel days wisely.