Ominous implications of the-winter-that-wasn’t aside, we still have a few more weeks of it, according to the calendar. That means there’s still time to take advantage of off-season deals at beach vacation destinations we Brokesters can’t afford (or be bothered with) during the summer.
One of my favorites is Montauk. Unfortunately, the Hamptons’ summer crowds, traffic and $9 beers overshadow its real allure: it’s friggin’ beautiful. Miles of white-sand beaches, legendary surf breaks, wildlife, hiking trails, fishing villages and meditative vistas. Save the Flea and farmers market and running in Prospect Park for every other spring-like weekend in Brooklyn and head east for a sanity restoring winter getaway in Montauk. Here’s how to do it on the cheap(ish):
Getting there: If you have or can borrow a car, the trip from Downtown Brooklyn via the Long Island Expressway will take about three hours. Tip: Take the Old Montauk Highway fork to the right as you approach Hither Hills Campground for scenic views of the Atlantic coast and seriously amazing real estate atop the bluffs. If you are vehicularly impaired, pick up the Hampton Jitney in Park Slope, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights every Friday afternoon, returning on Sunday evening (about 4 hours), for $53 round trip. The Long Island Rail Road also has regular daily service along the Montauk Branch (about 3.25 hours) for a one-way fare of $25 (peak)/$18.25 (off peak) (be sure to check the schedule because Sunday trains are less regular). The village is about a 15-minute walk from the train station.
Where to stay: If you want to venture out to the local watering holes, stay at Daunt’s Albatross Motel (44 S. Elmwood Ave;  668-2729). Located a block south of Main Street in the center of the village of Montauk (stumbling distance from the few bars that stay open year round), the rooms are clean, steps from the beach, and start at $75 per night from Jan. 1 – Apr. 31. My room was on the first floor and we could hear the waves crashing while we slept. Pretty great. Some rooms have burners, microwaves, mini fridge and a few pots, pans, plates, silverware & glasses which is a great way to save some cash by stocking up at the local IGA instead of eating out. Other ho/motels open in the off season can be found here. Yes, that’s THE Memory Motel (692 Main Street; (631) 668-2702) that inspired the Rolling Stones song. But unfortunately, despite what it says on their very outdated website, it’s not open year round (worth going back in the summer for the bands and late-night bar crowd).
If you’re in the throes of a new relationship and want to class it up a bit, spend a few days gazing longingly (nauseatingly?) into each other’s eyes while nestled before a fire at Montauk Manor (236 Edgemere St., Montauk NY 11954;  668-4400). This opulent 1920s English Tudor mansion sits atop a hill just east of town and offers prime sunset perspective over Fort Pond Bay. Oh yea, and there’s an indoor pool, Jacuzzi and sauna. Through March 31, they are four nights for the price of 2 package. Room rates start at $110 per night on weekdays and $145 on weekends. Just don’t get snowed in; there’s a bit of an Overlook Hotel vibe.
The Born Free Motel (115 South Emerson Avenue;  668- 2896) faces the ocean and is also very reasonably priced during the off season and all the rooms have kitchens. Check website or call for rates (between $85 and $99).
Oceanside Beach Resort (95 South Emerson Ave;  668-2300) is also beach adjacent. Ask for a beach-facing room on the upper deck for an amazing view and the sound of the ocean to lull you to sleep. Rates vary, but are as cheap as $65/night
on weekdays through mid-March.
If you’re single and looking to mingle a weekend at the beach is the ideal atmosphere for contrived romance. Gurney’s Inn Resort and Spa is throwing a singles weekend March 23-25th. For $350 you’ll get a two-night stay in an ocean view room at the world famous resort built into the side of the bluffs, dinner and breakfast daily, access to the sea-water pool and spa facilities, activities including wine tasting, nature walks, karaoke, and of course speed dating.
While you’re there: Montauk has loads of free outdoorsy activities, not many of them walkable from the train/bus depot. If you’re a cyclist and not deterred by the possibility of frigid winds, a bike is an invigorating, rewarding, and budget-friendly way to explore (as a novice, I’d advise that the terrain might be a little challenging for beginners). Make sure you check out the MTA guidelines for traveling with your bike. This off-Metro (guide to car-free getaways) article has some great route ideas. Pick up trail guides at Montauk Bike Shop (725A Montauk Hwy;  668-8975). Otherwise, you’ll want a taxi to shuttle you around. I’ve used Surf Taxi (CASH ONLY  668-2777) and they were reasonably priced and reliable.
The Montauk Point Lighthouse is a must-see and parking is free in the winter. The lighthouse itself doesn’t reopen for tours until mid-March, but the entry fee isn’t really worth it any way. Instead take one of the paths down to the beach and climb around it on the rocks. The break around the south side of the Point (to the right if facing the lighthouse), known as Turtle Cove, is a great place to scope out the hotties, er, surfers, year round.
The beach to the north is the frequent sunbathing area for Harbor Seals who migrate down from Maine during the coldest months. There are guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays during the morning low tide (times vary) ($5 for adults;  668-5000 for times, info and registration), but you can do the hike on your own. Just walk down the trail to the left of the concession stand and along the beach. Other hiking and biking trails can be found here.
Camp Hero (entrance just before you reach the lighthouse) overlook is a dramatic and vertigo inducing vantage point. Erosion has caused the bluffs here to become massive versions of the drip sand castles we all made as kids. Beautiful spot for a picnic. Don’t get too close to the edge though; that shit doesn’t look stable. While scoping out the view, you’ll probably notice the giant satellite dish off in the woods to the west. Actually it’s a radar tower and part of a very interesting conspiracy theory involving a mind control, time travel and Big Foot. Camp Hero is a former military base established to operate as coastal defense during World War II. The park is now owned by the NYS Dept. of Parks & Recreation, but many interesting abandoned structures remain including barracks, bunkers and “Batteries,” which once housed massive cannon-like guns to defend against approaching Nazi submarines. But alas, no evidence of a secret underground lair facility.
Oh right, the beach… Well the most famous (to the annoyance of the locals and surfers throughout the New York area) is Ditch Plains. Ditch is home to the most consistent break on Long Island and the diehards ride year round in full body wet suits. If you plan on paddling out, make sure you check conditions first, respect the locals and obey the rules. Everyone else, bundle up and take a walk towards the bluffs. You’re likely to find lots of great driftwood, shells and other (free) souvenirs. Town Beach (which is accessible by any of the paths in the village) is also really serene and deserted this time of year. Any beach in Montauk will be amazing really and the smell of the salt air, sand between your toes, and crash of the waves is the best therapy I can think of.
The Montauket (88 Firestone Rd;  668-5992) is the spot where locals and visitors gather daily on the deck to cheer on the vibrantly watercolored end to another day over cocktails. But, if you’re willing to risk a little trespass, I recommend hiking up the hill a little ways to the best sunset vista over Fort Pond Bay (across from the Tuthill Road mailboxes).
For sustenance, I recommend stopping at the IGA (or better yet, somewhere along the way before you reach the Hamptons as all the markets out there have massive price gouging) and picking up some snack items that will get you through the day. There’s also a 7-Eleven in town (653 Main Street;  668-2842) which is open 24 hours a day, year round (and likely has the best view of any convenience store anywhere in the world). White’s Liquor Store (771 Main St.) is also open year round.
Make sure you stop in to have a few beers with the old salty dogs at Shagwong Tavern (774 Main St;  668-3050). Legend has it (according to my mom) that Mick and Bianca Jagger used to hang out there back in the ’70s. It’s a local, divey place with boring, overpriced food. But if you want to drink with the real Montauk people, this is the place. O’Murphy’s Pub (99 Edgemere Rd;  668-5005) has good, reasonably priced (by NYC standards) burgers and daily $8.95 lunch specials. If you are with a group, I highly recommend Harvest on Fort Pond (11 South Emery St;  668-5574; closed Mon). It’s pricey, but family-style so you can save by sharing. East by Northeast (51 South Edgemere Rd.;  668-2872; closed Tue & Wed) has an early bird, three-course prix fixe for $15 and steak & wine dinner for two people for $38. They also have a nice bar and live music on Saturday nights.
Oh there’s also Hamptons Restaurant Week coming up. And the Montauk St. Patty’s Day parade is legendary too. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Get your butt out of the coffice and on a train right now.