Not every summer day is perfect on Long Island’s East End. In fact, there are those days in July and August when Mother Nature just refuses to cooperate.
When those moments occur, parents have to get more creative in minding the little ones. The good news is that as the Hamptons and North Fork have become more year-round destinations, the entertainment options for children have grown.
It’s true: Even in the summer, the East End isn’t just about beaches and playgrounds. We have museums, art galleries, indoor play spaces, and more. So with that in mind, here are 25 ways to stave off rainy-day fever on the East End. And here’s hoping the clouds don’t linger too long.
By the way, paring this list down is no easy task. For more inspiration, see our comprehensive guide to the East End and our list of 50 things to do with kids on the East End this summer. If you need accommodations, see our list of the top kid-friendly hotels in the region.
The North Fork
The sea lions at the Long Island Aquarium don't stop for rain. Photo courtesy of the aquarium
1. Let’s start our journey in Riverhead, where the deer and the antelope roam. OK, the penguins and the sea lions. The enclosed Long Island Aquarium is the crown jewel of East End aquaculture and is open rain or shine.
2. You could get a head start on back-to-school shopping at Tanger Outlet Center, located off Exit 72 of the Long Island Expressway.
3. Is there a better place for a vintage cone than Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe right down Route 25 from Tanger. Try the local favorite flavor Peconic Swamp Thing — if you dare.
4. There are a number of kid-friendly wineries with indoor tasting rooms on the North Fork. Of particular interest to the little animal lover in your life might be Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, a portion of whose proceeds protect at-risk horses. Vineyard employees educate visitors on horse protection, and families can meet a stable of rescued former racehorses and Arabian horses.
5. Riverhead boasts the first bowling alley to open on the East End in decades. The All Star complex participates in the national Kids Bowl Free program at select times over the summer. By the way, it's not just bowling here: A concession area features arcade-style games, skee ball, air hockey, basketball, and redemption-style games.
6. For the little bouncer in your life, Safari Adventure in Riverhead offers 11,000 square feet of bounce houses, an inspiring jungle gym, and an arcade atmosphere sure to delight.
7. Who says Christmas comes but once a year? Kids can rediscover their holiday spirit at Gingerbread University in Baiting Hollow. Make a gingerbread house on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the summer. (P.S.:There are extended hours and days during the holiday season.)
8. A half-dozen historic buildings line the Cutchogue Village Green, including the Old House, which dates to the 1690s, and the Old Schoolhouse, which hosted its first class in 1840. Similar buildings line the Southold downtown for kids who are historically curious.
9. The Custer Institute and Observatory in Southold is heaven to those who love to glimpse the night sky. A clear night is better, but wannabe astronomers shouldn’t be disappointed no matter the weather.
10. You can step back into Long Island’s maritime past at the East End Seaport Museum in Greenport. A new children’s room is expected to open in late July 2017, joining the 750-gallon saltwater aquarium and lighthouse exhibits.
11. Around the corner from the seaport museum is the Village Blacksmith shop, a replica of the shop that serviced Greenport in the 1870s. Kids can see a real blacksmith at work.
12. What’s better during a chilling rain than a cup of hot chocolate? And Greenport just happens to have one of the East End’s best Euro-coffee shops, Aldo’s on Main Street. Words don’t do his creations justice.
RELATED: 100 things to do with kids on Long Island
Grab the brass ring at Greenport's antique carousel, which is protected from the rain. Photo by Jaime Sumersille
13. We certainly don't want to overlook Greenport's antique carousel, which is fully enclosed and shielded from the rain. Rides are a mere $2, with a free re-ride if you grab the brass ring. The carousel dates back to the 1920s.
14. We've said it before: The Big Duck is kitschy, some might even call it obnoxious, but this Flanders icon is one of the best examples of roadside art in the nation. Docents there will boast of its history, the South Fork's agrarian past, and the "battle" waged between Flanders and Hampton Bays over its possession.
15. Southampton’s Rogers Memorial Library dates to 1893. More a community center than a traditional reading room, Rogers boasts one of the most engaged children’s communities in all of the East End.
16. The Southampton Historical Museum houses three separate learning centers — the Rogers Mansion, the Pelletreau trade shop, and the Thomas Halsey Homestead, which dates to 1660. Come experience the East End during Colonial times.
17. That odd, barn-like structure on Montauk Highway at the border of Southampton and Water Mill is, in fact, the Parrish Art Museum, whose collections reflect the diversity of East End life. The museum offers regular children’s programming, including open studio time.
18. You’ll know you’re in Water Mill when you see the giant windmill in the town center. Of course, Water Mill’s is not the only windmill on the East End. Why not try a scavenger hunt from Hampton Bays to Montauk, counting the mills as you go.
RELATED: Family-friendly museums in the Hamptons and North Fork
The Children's Museum of the East End reflects the diversity of Hamptons life, including its agricultural past. Photo courtesy of the museum
19. Visitors often overlook Bridgehampton — the “bridge” between Southampton and East Hampton. But Bridgehampton is home to the Children’s Museum of the East End and the South Fork Natural History Museum, must-sees for families with young children.
20. On the road from Bridgehampton, why not head to Sag Harbor for a trip back to the days when the East End was the capital of the whaling world. The Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum is the White House-looking structure at the top of Main Street and a link back to the community’s history.
21. Abstract Expressionism might be an abstract concept to a 6-year-old. So why not just let him or her “express” themselves in a drip-painting class at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton.
22. The YMCA East Hampton Rec Center’s Pre-Teen and Teen Center offers indoor basketball, gymnastics, video game tournaments, swimming, of course, and much more. Membership in any Long Island YMCA is required, but the good news is programs are FREE to members.
23. What child wouldn’t love a collection of horse-drawn carriages and buggies? The Roy K. Lester Carriage House Museum and the Amelia Cottage Museum in Amagansett are on the National Register of Historic Places.
RELATED: 100 things to do with kids on Long Island
Delight in the adorable characters at Goat on a Boat theater. Photo courtesy of A Couple of Puppets
24. Rainy days are perfect for taking in a movie. Treat your kids to a vintage cinema experience in East Hampton, Greenport, or Westhampton. If a movie isn’t on the agenda, how about a puppet show at Sag Harbor’s Goat on a Boat theater?
25. Finally, what visit to Montauk would be complete without a stop at the Montauk Point Lighthouse. Authorized by President George Washington in 1792, it is the oldest lighthouse in New York State and still an active aid in navigation. The spiral staircase takes you to the summit, where, even on rainy days the view of the ocean is breathtaking.
Top photo: It's always a blue sky in the butterfly house at the Long Island Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the aquarium
This article originally published in 2013. It was updated in July 2017.