I’m walking through rows of cabernet sauvignon. The vines stretch out as far as the eye can see, and in a few minutes I’ll be sipping a glass of the cab at Martha Clara Vineyards on Long Island’s North Fork. My 2-year-old pulls me toward the farm animals; there are goats, pigs, turtles and horses.We take a walk through the vines to a gazebo. And our day is just beginning.
Long Island’s North Fork is home to about 36 wineries and 3,000 acres of vineyards, which makes it an ideal spot for vineyard hopping. But there’s so much more to do on this small 25-mile spit of land bordered by the Long Island Sound to the north and the Peconic Bay to the south. On your drive out, you’ll pass through charming villages with white-steepled churches, wide swaths of undeveloped farmland, farm stands selling locally-grown fruits, veggies and cheeses, plenty of beaches, and yes, rows upon rows of grape vines.
I’ve been spending summers on the North Fork of Long Island since I was a kid — I’m here as I type these very words. And I can promise you this: It’s worth the 90-minute drive.
First Stop: Berry Picking + A Barnyard Adventure
Start your journey along the North Fork Wine Trail on Route 48, just past Riverhead (the last exit on the Long Island Expressway). The kids are going to be ready to stretch their legs at this point, so stop at Patty’s Berries and Bunches (410 Sound Avenue; Mattituck) to set them free to pick berries with baskets in hand. Blueberries are plentiful throughout the end of August, but the raspberries are being finicky so check their berry chart online before you go. For $5 a pint, fill your baskets until they’re overflowing. My 2-year-old literally ran the length of the blueberry bushes chasing birds, stopping only to pick ripened purply blueberries off the bush and pop them into his mouth.
There’s another reason to stop at Patty’s: Across the street is the Harbes Family Farm’s Barnyard Adventure (715 Sound Avenue; Mattituck). The Harbes Family is famous on the North Fork for their destination farm stands — They roast corn all summer long, squeeze fresh lemonade and sell homemade mozzarella and tomato sandwiches, all the while selling locally-grown fruits and vegetables and flats of flowers. Think of Barnyard Adventure as a farm amusement park. For a $6.95 admission fee, kids can watch pig races, take a hay ride, race a rubber duck, feed the chickens, get up close to baby farm animals at the petting zoo, and even play a corn crib toss. Trust me, it’s worth the admission fee; kids under 1 are free.
Second Stop: Wineries
Many of the North Fork’s vineyards (a map shows them above) offer live music on weekends and some encourage families to stop in with a picnic lunch. While Martha Clara Vineyards is certainly the most kid -friendly, I’d encourage you to go a little farther and stop at Bedell Cellars, a winery located in a 1919 renovated potato barn, or their tasting room, Corey Creek, which encourages families to picnic on the lawn. If you’re only going to stop at one winery, don’t miss The Old Field Vineyards, whose wine has been featured in Bon Appetit and the Today Show. You drive down a long drive all the way to the Peconic Bay, where the tasting room is in a rustic, down-home barn. It’s stunning. If you go without the kids, don’t miss Sherwood House Vineyards, a sophisticated and high-style wine tasting room in Jamesport. For more information about the North Fork Wine Trail, visit the website of the Long Island Wine Council.
Third Stop: Lunch Truck OR Love Lane Kitchen
My absolute favorite place to eat on the North Fork is the Lunch Truck (57225 Main Street, Southold). The purveyors behind the much-loved The North Fork Table & Inn opened this food truck last summer, and it’s been wowing daytrippers and locals since. You order from a gourmet menu: North Fork-style pulled pork roll with tomatillo poblano sauce ($8.75), 100% wild caught Lobster Roll ($16.50), Artisan All-Beef Hot Dog with Housemade Sauerkraut ($4.50). Don’t forget a homemade Passionfruit Iced Tea or Lemonade ($1.50) or an ooey-gooey yummy chocolate chip cookie ($1). Then bring your food behind the truck under the shade of tall elm trees where there are picnic blankets and adirondack chairs for picnicking.
If you really want to sit down and get served, head to Love Lane, the tiny village center in Mattituck with a Book Hampton, a well-stocked cheese store (serving grilled gruyere sandwiches), and Mint, a chic stop for women’s clothes. Love Lane Kitchen (240 Love Lane, Mattituck) is at the heart of the adorable stretch, and it’s my go-to place for weekend eats. Here’s what I love about Love Lane: It’s laid-back but still feels special. It has a checkerboard floor, rustic wood tables, and the menu written on a chalkboard wall. A lovely outdoor patio makes it easy to take restless little ones for a walk. Plus, brunch and lunch is always good. I love the huevos rancheros, the chicken and avocado salad, and garlic fries. They have a kids menu too.
Last Stop: Waterfront Carousel in Greenport
Greenport is a charming waterfront village close to the “end” of Long Island’s North Fork. There are several cute stores worth checking out — like the oh-so-summery duds at the Calypso St. Barth boutique on Front Street. But it’s the boat-watching and carousel that will win you over.
The 100-year-old Antique Carousel was beautifully restored and it sits in a glass carousel pavilion right on the harbor in Mitchell Park. It has vintage painted horses and allows kids to win a free ride for catching the brass ring as they pass by the ring dispenser. Honestly, it’s adorable, and your kids will love want to go on again and again.
If You Have Time…
Head to Lavender By the Bay (7540 Bay Road, East Marion), which is a few minutes drive from the village of Greenport. While this weekend may be the last weekend for you to wander the lavender fields with a big french basket and clippers to pick the blooms — it is one of my favorite things to do on the North Fork — you can always pop by and pick up some fragrant soaps, sachets and lavender bunches.
Looking to spend the night? Leave a comment and I can suggest hotels. Enjoy!