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Local Getaways: A Restorative Beach Retreat in Montauk, New York

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The hardest choice you’ll make all day in Montauk is whether to sit by the pool or the beach.

Courtesy of Marram Montauk/Read McKendree

The hardest choice you’ll make all day in Montauk is whether to sit by the pool or the beach.

Here’s how to spend a weekend eating, surfing, and meditating in Montauk.

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Imagine boarding a train in New York City and taking it as far away from the city as the line will take you. If you’re heading east, you’ll end up in the oceanfront village of Montauk. At the far eastern tip of Long Island, this low-key beach town is also referred to by locals as “The End of the World” or “The End,” for short. If you’re feeling clever, “The Last Resort” also works.

Although it sounds remote, it’s only about a three-hour train ride from Penn Station. One of AFAR’s favorite small beach towns, Montauk has long been a relaxed alternative to upscale beach towns in the Hamptons just to the west. Instead of celebrities, you’ll see surfers and families at the beach here.

While a party scene took hold in Montauk in recent years with DJs and big-name musicians at clubby spots like the Surf Lodge and Rushmeyer’s, COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions tamped that all down. Even though New York state lifted all COVID-19 restrictions earlier this summer, the quieter version of Montauk remains—resorts have opted to keep things low key for now. So if you’re looking for a place to read a book on the beach, take a surfing lesson, or eat as much seafood as you’d like, here’s where to find it.

Where to stay in Montauk

Rooms at Marram come with Frette linens, art by Sean Spellman, and no TVs—for extra peace and quiet.

Marram Montauk

Book Now: From $770 per night (summer) and $385 per night (fall), marrammontauk.com; expedia.com

Named after the wild grass that grows on the dunes of Montauk, Marram is a quiet beachfront resort right on the Terrace surf break and a five-minute walk to the center of town. This former 1960s-era motel reopened as the Marram in April 2020—and was able to operate throughout 2020 due to its open-air design suited to social distancing. Its all-new aesthetic draws on the area’s natural beauty: Think cedar-clad exteriors, exposed beams, and bedside tables made from reclaimed wood. While the bathrooms are a bit small (the sink is in the main room), the rest of the room is generously sized and comes with daybeds for postbeach naps and private balconies for most. 

Not that size matters: You’re going to be spending most of your time outdoors anyway. A variety of open-air communal spaces—from courtyard firepits with complimentary s’mores to the guests-only pool deck overlooking the Atlantic—are ideal for those who still want to maintain a little bit of distance this summer. If you’re looking to find peace and quiet, this is the place. You can participate in morning yoga and meditation classes, and quiet hours are enforced between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. nightly.

McKinley Bungalows

Book Now: From $1,400 per night, airbnb.com

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Studio Robert McKinley, the designer behind Hotel Kinsley in the Hudson Valley as well as local spots like the Surf Lodge, has renovated several 1970s ranch-style homes into the McKinley Bungalows. They’re decorated with a mix of vintage midcentury furniture and newer pieces from brands like Floyd and East Fork Pottery, all of which are available for purchase if you’d like to take anything home with you.

Bookable via Airbnb, the Fairview Bungalow still has availability in late August and September 2021. This three-bedroom, two-bathroom rental is just a five-minute drive to the beach and is ideal for large families or groups of friends who prefer space to a spot right on the water. Guests can also use any of the four Shinola bikes on site during their stay.

Things to do in Montauk

Montauk has plenty of surf breaks with waves beginners can handle.

On the beach . . . While you could easily spend your entire vacation relaxing on the beach (or at the pool), Montauk is best known for its surf breaks, like the ones at Ditch Plains and the Terrace. Engstrom Surf is right on site at Marram, but anyone can rent gear or book lessons with it. Beginners are in safe hands with the Engstrom siblings—Leif, Ariel, and Lexi are all world-renowned surfers—who will have you paddling out and attempting to catch waves in no time. Private one-hour lessons start at $150 per person, surfboard and wetsuit included.

On the water . . . If you prefer being on the water instead of in it, you can book a private charter with Catamaran Mon Tiki on one of its three sailing catamarans for a sunset cruise departing from Star Island in Lake Montauk. They can accommodate groups anywhere from 2 to 100 passengers and you’re allowed to bring your own food and beverages along for the ride. Pricing varies by length and size of group.

Out in nature . . . There’s plenty to do on dry land in Montauk, too. In fact, it’s home to not just one but six state parks. Montauk Point State Park is the site of the Montauk Lighthouse, which was completed in 1796, making it the oldest lighthouse in New York State. (The tower itself is currently closed to the public due to restoration work, but the grounds are open daily.) To explore the scenic bluffs that loom over the beach just east of the village, head to Shadmoor State Park to hike or bike its trails.

On the town . . . The village center has a mix of shops selling everything from touristy sweatshirts to high-end designer wares from Cynthia Rowley. If you’re looking for classic beachwear at a price point in between, pop into Bontemps Montauk, which just opened in late spring 2021. It stocks French espadrilles and Greek sandals for men, women, and children in a variety of colors and styles, as well as Turkish cotton peshtemal towels and canvas beach totes all handmade by artisans at family-owned businesses.

Where to eat in Montauk

Local little neck clams pulled fresh from the water by the Montauk Mermaid

For breakfast . . . A visit to Montauk Bake Shoppe for its jelly croissant is a must. Even if you’re kind of eh on the concept of baked goods that could explode red gooey stuff onto your shirt, there’s an extensive menu of egg sandwiches, wraps, and other pastries, cookies, and cakes to choose from at this classic counter-service spot right in the village center.

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Coffee snobs can get their needs met at Left Hand Coffee, which has been locally owned since 2015 and roasts its own beans on site.

For lunch . . . Guests staying at Marram who don’t feel like going too far from the pool for lunch can saunter over to Mostrador Marram, the hotel’s on-property café. Based on the Latin American counter or “mostrador” concept, you can choose from an ever-changing menu of vegetable dishes like ratatouille and roasted beet and hazelnut salad and pair them with whatever fish or meat they’ve grilled (or fried) for the day.

If your beach day gets rained out, post up for a leisurely meal of steamers, lobster rolls, and a few local Montauk beers at Salivar’s Clam and Chowder House. Open for lunch on the weekends (and dinner every night of the week except Wednesday), this mainstay is dockside overlooking Lake Montauk and sources its seafood from the area.

For dinner . . . The best sunset views on land can be found at Duryea’s. This classic seafood shack is right on the water overlooking Fort Pond Bay, just around the corner from the train station. Since it’s a walk-in-only restaurant, you’ll want to get there well before 7 p.m. to get a table. You can also order a takeout lobster bake through its app.

If you’re renting a house and want freshly shucked shellfish for your barbecue, call or text the Montauk Mermaid at 631-377-2534 anytime before 6 p.m. on weeknights and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for pickup or delivery. It’s owned and operated by local Georgie Bogetti, who personally dives for little necks, cherrystone clams, as well as local oysters, scallops, and more. 

If you’re celebrating a special birthday or anniversary, Scarpetta at Gurney’s Montauk Resort offers upscale Italian pastas and seafood dishes with panoramic views of the ocean. Or you can close out the night by drinking a beer or two with locals at Shagwong Tavern, a dive bar in the center of the village that’s been open since 1936.

The best way to reach Montauk from New York City

Most of Montauk is easy to bike around, so you don’t necessarily need a car.

By train . . . Long Island Rail Road offers daily service to Montauk from Penn Station in Manhattan and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. When booked online, it costs $22.25 each way. The trip duration is approximately three hours and 20 minutes.

By car . . . Take Interstate 495 East (the Long Island Expressway) and follow directions to Montauk. The trip takes about two hours and 20 minutes (without traffic).

By bus . . . The Hampton Jitney is a luxury bus service offering daily trips to Montauk from multiple stops along Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue (between 40th Street and 96th Street), as well as an Airport Connection stop in Queens. In the summer, weekend service is available from Brooklyn with stops in Park Slope, Boerum Hill, and Brooklyn Heights. When booked online, the trip costs $32 each way. The trip takes approximately three to four hours, depending on your pickup location.

>> Next: The Ultimate Beach Packing List

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