With picturesque towns, long stretches of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and bucolic landscapes, it only makes sense that the rich and famous and powerful spend their summers here. Where else can you wake up to a fresh-from-the-farm breakfast, have a magnificent day at the beach, shop at some of the chicest stores in the country, dine at a top-tier restaurant, and party with celebrities all night long? Generally referred to as simply "the Hamptons," the South Fork actually consists of a group of towns, not all of which actually end in "Hampton" and each with its own flavor. Ever since the railroad was built out to Southampton in 1870, people have been hooked on the South Fork.
While winters are relatively quiet, the summer season brings crushing crowds and a flashy nightclub scene. A drive along Route 27 requires immense patience, so it's worthwhile figuring out what kind of experience you seek so that there's not a lot of backtracking. Eastport is a tiny hamlet filled with antiques shops; Westhampton has tree-lined streets and Victorian mansions; Southampton boasts old money, huge estates, and chic stores; East Hampton is the trendy, new-money capital of Long Island (Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Joel, and Martha Stewart have homes here); Sag Harbor is a gorgeous town on the water where even the dry cleaner has antique irons in the window; Amagansett and Bridgehampton are cute little towns; and laid-back Montauk relishes its position at the island's tip -- set apart from the more exclusive villages, it's also a big draw for fishermen and surfers.
Summers are indeed fun here, but we recommend a visit in the fall, when the days are cooler, the crowds are thinner, and farmstands overflow with colorful produce. It's an excellent season for beachcombing, too.
Just Ducky -- Long Island is famous for its duck, but you won't likely come across any duck farms out here -- in fact, the landmark 20-foot-tall Big Duck statue (on Rte. 24 at the Flanders/Hampton Bays border) is probably the only duck you'll see. So what gives? Well, there used to be many farms, but the smell drove residents to shut them down. Now they've been reduced to just a couple of farms, providing ducks to only a few select restaurants. Anyone else who calls it Long Island duck is just a quack ( . . . groan).