Visiting Fire Island with Kids: 17 Tips for a Family-Friendly Visit
Fire Island has it all: gorgeous beaches, quaint communities, outdoor dining and waterfront hotels, boating, camping and hiking, and even a historic lighthouse. It’s the perfect vacation destination for families, whether for a quick day trip, a weekend getaway, or an extended stay.
About 31 miles long and 1,300 feet across at its widest point, Fire Island is a skinny sandbar between Babylon and Center Moriches. At its western end is Robert Moses State Park; Smith Point County Park is at its easternmost point, and in between lies Fire Island National Seashore. Cars are not allowed on Fire Island—only bicycles and little red wagons—which adds to its laid-back vibe.
With 17 distinct communities, there is always something going on. Here are some of our picks for the top things to do while you're there.
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The Fire Island Lighthouse is Long Island's tallest and visitors can enjoy a guided tour. Photo courtesy of the Fire Island
Top Attractions on Fire Island for Families
1. Fire Island Lighthouse
Park your car at Robert Moses State Park, at the end of Field 5, and take a mile-long stroll along the boardwalk. Spend time exploring the Fire Island Lighthouse. Long Island’s tallest lighthouse tower is 168 feet tall—that’s 182 steps to the top, but visitors can only climb to the lower balcony. Take a guided tour, and check out the keeper’s quarters, exhibit center, and the new Lens Building with its collection of lighthouse lenses. Open daily year-round; weekends only in January and February.
Ocean Beach's warm waters are welcoming to visitors and its alcohol and radio-free policy make it especially welcoming to families. Photo by Mommy Poppins
2. Ocean Beach
Amid the party atmosphere of Fire Island lies Ocean Beach. Access is by ferry from Bay Shore. Warm ocean currents make the water inviting as early as mid-May and well into October. The beach is radio- and alcohol-free. Food options abound, especially for seafood lovers, and there are several conspicuously placed bathrooms near the ocean beach. Beach access is FREE.
3. Sand Castle Contest
While your family is at the beach this summer, practice your sand sculpting so you can compete in Saltaire Citizens Association's Sand Castle Contest. All ages are welcome, and prizes are awarded.
Explore the unique eco-system in the Sunken Forest. Photo by the author
4. Sunken Forest
Sailors Haven is where you’ll find the Sunken Forest, a 40-acre spot that appears to be "sunken" because of the surrounding tall dunes. You can take a ranger-guided tour or complete a 1½-mile walk along the boardwalk through the forest on your own. Stop at the National Park Service Visitor Center to check out the interactive exhibits and get a packet for the Junior Ranger Program. There’s also a gift shop to pick up souvenirs.
5. Bike Rides
Bringing your bicycle to Fire Island is not simple: Most ferries require you to ship it separately on a freight ferry. Bike rentals are available at Ocean Bay Park at the OBP Bike Shop near the ferry dock and from the hardware store in Ocean Beach. Each community has its own set of rules, so be sure to check the National Park Service’s website for more information.
Town Pizza is the perfect venue for a quick slice.
Best Restaurants for Kids on Fire Island
A mainstay of Ocean Bay Park, this restaurant turns into a nightclub, so it's best to get there early.
This Ocean Beach restaurant is perfect if you are craving a view. Serving all-American fare, Maguire's has an extensive kid's menu that will satisfy everyone.
8. Town Pizza
After you visit the beach, grab a slice or a hero from Town Pizza in Ocean Beach. It's a perfect lunch or dinner.
9. Kismet Inn
The closest restaurant to Robert Moses Beach, the Kismet Inn is a 2-mile walk from the Fire Island Lighthouse. Since the walk isn't paved, it's best for older kids that don't need assistance. You will be well rewarded for your effort with an extensive menu that includes vegetarian options and a kids' menu.
10. Sassyfras Cafe
Listed as a concession stand, this restaurant in Sailors Haven offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, and ice cream. Located next to the ferry dock, it's the perfect spot to wait for your ride home.
11. Casino Cafe and Bar
The Palms Hotel offers a welcoming Fire Island retreat for your overnight visit. Photo courtesy of the hotel
Best Fire Island Hotels for Families
If your family is planning to spend more than a day on Fire Island, the communities of Ocean Beach, Ocean Bay Park, Davis Park, Saltaire, Fair Harbor, and Seaview are popular picks, and you have plenty of options when it comes to accommodations. Many visitors rent houses, too.
12. The Palms Hotel
Just pack your beach clothes for a stay at this boutique hotel in Ocean Beach. The Palms provides guests with beach chairs, umbrellas, and even wagons to make the short walk to the beach a breeze.
13. Fire Island Beach House
This casual Ocean Bay Park hotel is located in a former lifeboat station. Kids will love the pool on the property, and adults will love the dockside luggage pick-up.
14. Clegg's Hotel
Located in the heart of Ocean Beach, this bed and breakfast has served the community since 1946. Guests can start the day with a complimentary breakfast before hitting the nearby beach.
If your family enjoys camping, Watch Hill might just be the spot. Its Family Tent Campground is open seasonally and has 26 sites on the sand dunes. Each site accommodates either two two-person tents or one five-person tent. The campground has showers and bathrooms, picnic tables, grills. A restaurant, a snack bar, and a general store are nearby. Reservations, which are required for camping, can be made at lovefins.com. There are also overnight boat slips with water and electricity.
The ferry from the mainland is a fun part of a Fire Island jaunt. Photo courtesy of Fire Island Ferries
Getting To Fire Island
16. Fire Island Ferry
Since it’s not accessible by car, getting to Fire Island is part of its allure. Head to the South Shore and board one of the many ferries that leave from Bay Shore, Sayville, and Patchogue. An approximately 30-minute ride will take you to the more popular, family-friendly communities of Ocean Beach, Ocean Bay Park, Davis Park, Saltaire, Fair Harbor, and Seaview. If you are going for an extended period, look into shipping some of your items on the freight ferries since passengers are limited to what and how much they can take on board. The Long Island Rail Road's Montauk branch services Bay Shore, Sayville, and Patchogue, and it's a short taxi ride from the stations to the ferry ports.
17. Day Tripping
No need to pack your suitcase, Fire Island is an ideal destination for a day trip. The Sayville ferry connects to Sailors Haven and with a snack bar, picnic tables, and grills here, why not spend the rest of the day fishing and/or swimming at the life-guarded beach? Watch Hill is also a great day-trip destination and is accessible via the ferry from Patchogue. In addition to the life-guarded beach, there’s also a visitor center, which houses artifacts, exhibitions, and more; and rangers are on hand to answer questions about the wildlife. There are several scheduled ranger-led events at both destinations during the summer, including guided tours and hikes, art programs, star-gazing programs, Junior Ranger programs, and more. Check out the events calendar for more information.
A version of this article was published in 2012 and has since been updated. Lisa Mancuso contributed additional reporting.