Here, every road twists around into another road, many of them dead-ending at a tiny bay beach or a beat-up boat launch overgrown with dune grass. Rent or bring your bike, and be prepared to stop and stare, gaze, ponder. Carry binoculars, a picnic, a sketch pad, a blanket, a notebook, a bottle of wine.
At one pull-off near the intersection of Shore Road and Shore Road (that's not a typo), look across the narrow channel to uninhabited Hicks Island -- and dream about what it might be like to live there. At another spot, you might see kite-sailers, their bright sails lofting up and sinking down repeatedly. Around a bend in the road, you may come across a mysterious group in rolled-up pants hunched over poles. Eventually, you realize that the poles are clam rakes, the people wielding them in search of dinner.
Lee Satinsky displays a lobster at Multi Aquaculture Systems, a fish market in Amagansett, N.Y., also known as the Fish Factory or the Fish Farm.
(Kirk Condyles For The Washington Post)
As Cranberry Hole Road morphs into Lazy Point Road, marsh grass stretches almost as far as you can see on one side of the road, interrupted only by a tall post at the edge of a small pond with an osprey nest atop it. On the other side of the road are a row of modest houses, unremarkable in every way except for their enviable view. Architectural voyeurism is a favorite sport around here -- whether you're in town or at the beach, there's always something to catch the eye, from modernist monstrosities and 19th-century summer "cottages" to reconditioned fishing shacks and revamped potato barns.
A few miles down the road, two huge rusted metal sheds loom behind a wire fence and an ominous sign saying "Area closed." The sheds were once home to a commercial fish-processing plant that canned menhaden. Behind the deserted plant is an almost equally surreal, but thriving, operation that some call the Fish Factory, others call the Fish Farm. Listed in the phone book as Multi Aquaculture Systems, it's a joyous place.
Long a retail shop selling local striped bass, clams and bluefish, the store eight years ago added a few rundown picnic tables for those who wanted to dig in right away. You eat outside under the watchful eye of a bunch of wandering chickens, and lobsters await their fate in huge holding pens. (But you know you're in the Hamptons because the side orders include sweet potato fries and wakame, a Japanese seaweed salad.)
Although the East End is known for its beaches and, in days of yore, its farms, there is also quite a bit of woodland. In Southampton, for instance, near Sebonac Creek and Scallop Pond, there's an 87-acre haven called Big Woods Preserve.
The trails are flat and modest, a relaxed walk for a novice hiker. As always in this area, it's important to stick to the path and take the usual sock-wearing, long-sleeved tick precautions. In places the ground gets marshy, and after a half-mile or so, you'll be able to poke your head through tall reeds and spy Sebonac Creek, ducks, maybe the pair of resident white swans. Although the foliage here never attains the hues leaf-peepers dream about (the salt air is an inhibitor), you know fall's in the air when the leaves start to drop and the canopy becomes sparser.
Another option is to leave the South Fork for a few hours by jumping on the wonderful Shelter Island ferry and venturing over to that island's Mashomack Preserve. During the summer, there can be lengthy waits for the small ferry (limit: 20 cars), an annoyance that disappears when the temperature starts to drop.
Originally a hunting club for wealthy New Yorkers in the 1930s, the 2,100-acre preserve is now one of the Nature Conservancy's jewels, with four trails of varying difficulty. Grab a soul-satisfying lunch from the Villa, an Italian deli in the East Hampton train station and feast on its prosciutto, octopus salad and homemade mozzarella -- plus farm-stand tomatoes -- in the little gazebo on the park's Red Trail.
In Bridgehampton, once a farming center unpopular with the chic set, the spud barns and sheds have become studios for celebrity painters and guest houses for mini-moguls. A long walk on any of its beaches is a restorative tonic.