The source or spring of a river, that’s what the dictionary says. Riverhead means so much more, especially to this former resident. I have many fond memories as a child centered on my grandparents home, which skirted beautiful North Shore farmland. I remember picking tufts of wild cotton along the farms boundary which bordered our cul-de-sac taking extra care not to touch the formidable poison sumac. Years later, Riverhead still holds a special place in my heart. Now, more than ever, there are so many interesting things to do and see while staying in or passing through the East End and Riverhead, New York.
Situated at the mouth of the Peconic, Riverhead is a bustling thoroughfare. It is also the county seat of Suffolk County, which has always made this area an attraction and a necessity for important politicians, attorneys as well as various magistrates.
Riverhead is not however, all work and no play. In fact, the East End town has narrowed its focus on the topic of fun.
Sitting on 96 acres, Splish Splash Water Park, was ranked #5 at one point on the list for the top ten water parks in the United States. It is also New Yorks largest water park. Alien Invasion, acccording to Patrick Garrett, a thirteen-year-old thrill seeker, is “worth any wait”. For anyone daring enough, the Bombs Away boasts “two dueling 300-foot slides perched on a tower over 50 feet in the air.” There are 22 attractions according to their website as well as other types of entertainment and refreshements. Cabanas are available to rent for the day, which is great for families with small children or the elderly who may need some relaxation in the shade.
In the spirit of splashing, the folks of Riverhead proclaim that the lost city of Atlantis has been found. I am referring of course to the Long Island Aquarium! The Aquarium is home to its very entertaining Sea Lion show which is well worth the early arrival for a great seat. If you feel the need to sink your teeth into something a bit more daring, check out the 120,000-gallon stroll through the ruins of a lost city. The aquarium is also home to one of the largest all living coral displays in the Western Hemisphere. The sea life exhibits range from an Amazon rain forest to the local coast of Long Island. The Atlantis Explorer takes you down the Peconic River into Flanders Bay giving you a first hand look at our precious ecosystem.
Whoever thought it would be possible to snorkel in a tropical lagoon here in the Northeast? The Aquarium will quench your nautical thirst for sure! Check out the Pirate Snorkel Adventure, a great attraction fit for any treasure seeker.
On a much drier note, welcome to the Riverhead Raceway! One of the oldest stock car racetracks in the country, founded in 1949. It remains today the only NASCAR stock car track in the New York Metropolitan area. The track features a 1/4 mile asphalt, high-banked oval course with an additional figure eight course. It is located minutes from the beautiful North Fork wine country and in close proximity to the famed Hamptons of the South Fork. The various feature shows include Demolition Derby, Enduros as well as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NEMA Midgets and monster trucks. It is truly exciting family fun!
Just a few minutes West and bargains will lure you into the Tanger Outlet Center. Since I myself have a slight addiction to bargain shopping, the center, which houses roughly 165 stores is an amusement park for my wallet. Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Saks Off 5th and Bloomingdale’s the Outlet Store are just a few delights. This will be an all day shopping event, which must include stops at Pepper Palace, Auntie Anne’s and My Cookie Dealer for some savory treats. The upcoming holiday shopping season means the Outlets will be the place to be. Don’t worry there is plenty of parking, mobile device charging stations, wheelchairs available with ID, complimentary Wi-Fi and of course restrooms located throughout.
What Eastern Long Island town can exist without some reference to duck farming? In this particular instance, I am referring to a slightly larger than normal duck. The Big Duck. It is a most unusual example of roadside architecture and a must see attraction. Located in Flanders, a community in Riverhead, the Big Duck has attracted many tourists and locals alike over the years. Built in 1931 in the shape of a giant white duck, the facility was used as a shop out of which duck farmer, Martin Maurer, sold his eggs and fowl. Now on the list of U.S. National Register of Historic Places, this landmark, after moving around a bit, has found its way back to where it started. It currently operates as a tourism center for Eastern Long Island, selling souveniers and offering up very memorable photo opportunities.
All of this excitement is bound to work up a serious appetite. One of my favorite spots, which also comes with a host of family memories, is Cliff’s Rendezvous. Established in 1976, this tavern style steakhouse is known for its huge marinated steaks and burgers packed full of juicy goodness. They may not be big into salads but their healthy interest in beef surpasses all! Two things you will not be able to do after eating at the Rendezvous; find a better steak on the East End and leave with an appetite.
Tweeds Restuarant and Buffalo Bar housed in the historical J.J. Sullivan Hotel on Main Street has sophisticated Victorian style decor and wonderful food worthy of a visit. Since 1896, the hotel has occupied this site and was in recent years restored to its former splendor. With Riverhead being the county seat, many important politicians including some from New York City, such as the namesake, Boss Tweed and others like Charles Murphy, who headed Tammany Hall, frequented the bar. You will find plenty of Bison on the menu as well as Long Island duck and a nice selection of seafood. You can read more about the alluring history of Tweeds here.
Last, but certainly not least, and one of my childhood favorites is Star Confectionery. Since 1920, this corner establishment has been a MUST for anyone visiting Riverhead or the East End.
As a child, I would delight in visiting and enjoying the many menu items up for grabs. It has always held a special place in my heart as I grew up living just up the road off of Roanoke Avenue, the avenue that sits on this very interesection where Star Confectionery and the Meras family have been serving customers for over a Century. When I tell you this is a must stop on your journey, please take my word for it. You will not be disappointed whether you are going for an ice cream sundae an egg cream or breakfast/brunch or lunch, this is THE place to be. It’s refreshing these days to see a family business still going strong.
On your way out to the North or South Forks of Long Island or before you head home, keep the mouth of the river in your mind as a visiting point on your vacation. You will always find a seat, in Riverhead.