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Long Island (pronounced 'Lawn Guyland' by locals) is, for lack of a better term, a long, fish-shaped island located just east of New York City. Long Island is 118 miles long, by 12-20 miles wide. The head of the 'fish' points at Manhattan Island.
There are four counties on Long Island, two being boroughs of New York: Brooklyn and Queens. These make up the head and up to what would be the fin area of the 'fish'. Although geographically a part of Long Island, nobody really considers these counties 'Long Island', but part of 'The City'. Nassau and Suffolk counties are considered 'The Island'. They are located in the body and tail ends of the 'fish'. The eastern part of Long Island (the 'tail') is divided into the North and South Forks.
So Close, and Yet so Far
The best part of Long Island is that it is very close to the City, so if you want to visit, it's a piece of cake. However, it is also far enough away that if you don't want to have anything to do with the City, you can happily ignore it all your life and never be bothered by living so close to it. In fact, many Long Islanders rarely go into the City - it's hard to understand why, but hey, whatever floats your boat...
Long Island is very diverse, and the further east you travel, the more rural it becomes. The North Shore is located on the, uh, north shore, and is along the Long Island Sound. It has rocky beaches and no waves to speak of. The Sound is great for boating because it is relatively enclosed, having Connecticut located to the north, which makes for smooth sailing. The South Shore has beaches and docking along the Great South Bay (also great for boating), and the barrier beaches from Jones Beach to Fire Island along the Atlantic Ocean are wonderful!
Life's a Beach
One of the best beaches is Jones Beach State Park. This 2,413-acre park was opened in the summer of 1929 and is designed like a giant cruise-ship. It has 6.5 miles of ocean beaches, 2 miles of boardwalks, swimming pools, miniature golf, ball fields, basketball courts, a 14,354 seat outdoor theatre where there are rock concerts throughout the summer, a bandshell that has not-so-big-name concerts, and the infamous 'Tower' which is also known as the 'Pencil'. The Tower is a 200-foot-tall water tower that can be seen for miles and keeps kids in the car entertained with the game of 'Who Can Spot the Tower First?'. 'I see the tower! I see the tower!' is the joyous cry, followed by vicious arguments over who shouted it first.
And of course, there are the Hamptons. In the summer, the rich and famous flock to the South Fork to the beaches of the Hamptons. The not-so-rich and not-famous-at-all flock there as well to sit in traffic and pay outrageous prices for food and lodging just so they can say 'Why yes, we spent the weekend in the Hamptons'.
Long Island is also a shopper's paradise. From the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, to the Tangers Outlets in Riverhead there are malls, malls and malls. And now that Suffolk County is tax-free for clothing, you can't beat it with a stick.
Long Island is criss-crossed by a wonderful parkway system. These tree-lined roads were designed for leisurely drives, and all were made to take you to wonderful parks. The bridges that go over these parkways were purposefully designed low, so trucks and buses couldn't drive on the parkways1. The signs on the entrance ramps that declare 'No Commercial Vehicles - No Trucks - Low Bridges' don't always deter truckers, however, and on the occasion when a 13-foot tractor trailer won't fit under an 8-foot bridge it tends to cause a lot of traffic headaches.
Look Out! Duck!
The further east you travel, the more rural Long Island becomes. As you pass through Suffolk, you'll find the Pine Barrens, which is 55,000 acres of protected scrub pine forests, and then there are farms. Long Island used to be famous for its potatoes, but these farms have decreased as suburban development has moved further east. Long Island is also very famous for its ducks. Of course, the most famous duck is the (again aptly named) Big Duck that is now located in Flanders. The Big Duck is a famous example of roadside architecture, built of mesh wire and cement in 1931 by a depression-era duck farmer for selling ducks and eggs. And now, of course, there are the Long Island Ducks, an Atlantic League baseball team, with their mascot, Quacker Jack.
Vineyards have become more and more abundant on Long Island, and you can spend a wonderful day touring the North Shore sampling wine in Long Island's Wine Country.
There are also some wonderful towns on Long Island that have great waterfront districts. Some favourites are Freeport, Glen Cove, and Bayville in Nassau, and Sayville, Port Jefferson and Greenport in Suffolk.