Huntington Harbor on Long Island Sound: Secure, Happening and Welcoming
Huntington Harbor is undergoing a transformation and at its epicenter is the new restaurant, Prime, among other exciting developments. It seems that the rest of the town is following suit, with lots of buildings getting facelifts, marinas getting upgrades, and activity everywhere.
About Huntington Harbor
Before the Long Island Rail Road came to Huntington in 1868, the community then known as Huntington Harbor was the town's center of transportation and commerce. Because it took several days to travel by land to New York City, most produce and people were carried by schooners making regular trips from docks. The trips took five to six hours when conditions were favorable. Bearing wood and agricultural products to the city and manure from city horses back to Huntington farms for fertilizer, by the 1860s, steamboats were taking an increasing part of the traffic. A gristmill was built in 1752 and lasted until 1930, when the dam that served that mill became Mill Dam Road. There was ferry service to Connecticut between 1765 and 1916. Boatyards built sloops, barges and, during World War II, subchasers for the Navy.
On July 3, 1899, the town became known as Halesite when George Taylor, who owned a large estate which was mostly in neighboring Huntington Bay, lobbied for a local post office. Taylor had named his property Halesite in honor of Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale, who had landed in Huntington Bay. So when postal officials told him that Huntington Harbor was too long to fit on signs, Taylor suggested Halesite, and the name became official.
Among Halesite's more famous residents were Mariah Carey and Fanny Brice. Albert Einstein spent several summers living along the harbor and sailing to Halesite to pick up mail and groceries. Henry Fonda docked his yacht there. William Randolph Hearst ensconced mistress Marion Davies in a hideaway. Actresses Lillian and Dorothy Gish rode their bicycles all around the town.
Today, Huntington Harbor provides a protected and lovely harbor for many boats while Halesite offers amenities to the boaters.
How to get thereComing into Huntington Bay, enjoy the sight of Eaton's Neck USCG Station LIS gleaming in the sunlight. The lighthouse is an important landmark and the four candy cane red and white stacks of the power station in Northport make a distinguishing sight behind it. Just inside Eaton's neck is a small anchorage where the USCG vessels take shelter. The entrance is tricky, narrow and shallow so consult your charts carefully. Once inside, the depth ranges from 8 to 10 feet.
As you continue into Huntington Bay, view the spectacular mansions on the high hills as you imagine who lives in them. There is plenty of depth through most of the Bay. Straight in at the head of the harbor the channel to port is the inlet to Price Bend as well as Centerport and Northport Harbors. The channel to starboard of the concrete square lighthouse heads to Lloyd Harbor, and the channel almost straight in just to port of the lighthouse heads into Huntington Harbor.
Built in 1912, the Beaux arts style Huntington Harbor Lighthouse resembles a small castle. In 1983, it was deemed unsafe for servicing personnel and too expensive to repair. A project to save the lighthouse has been underway since 1985. Public docking is not permitted. Tour season is June-September, and 1-1 1/2-hour tours run continuously between and Annual spring paddlefest includes a lighthouse tour. Check web site for details. Call to arrange fundraising and special events.
The harbor channel is well marked and splits into two towards the head of the harbor creating a loop around the inner mooring field. There are lots of boats to ogle, from large power vessels to tiny sailboats and utilitarian workboats. Small marinas chock full of boats dot the shore. New condo developments scale the hills between mansions sporting pristine lawns that drop into the sea like green carpets expecting royalty. You get the sense that the place is alive and well balanced. Halesite is the village on Huntington Harbor where most of the amenities are.
It's one of the few harbors on the Sound where there is a town dock that welcomes boater's to tie up for up to 1 hour and to contact the harbormaster for instruction about longer tie ups on channel 09! Most other towns warn you to be off in 10 minutes and give no clue about other options. The town also has a sign thanking boaters for visiting and asks us to return again. How nice! We most certainly will.
There is little room to anchor inside the harbor, so it's a slip or mooring if you want to spend the night. One other alternative, is to anchor in the idyllic setting of Lloyd Harbor and take your dinghy in to Huntington. Mind you, it's a long trip, and if your engine dies, as ours did half way back out, you'll be rowing a long, long time. Unless you forgot your oars or manage to hitch a ride. contact the Huntington Harbormaster for information about marina slips or moorings.
What to do
Leaving your dinghy at the Halesite town dock, you walk through the little park to the right past the large emergency response center and post office to the main street that follows the harbor. Within a couple of blocks are a multitude of restaurants, a 7-11 convenience store, two delis (one that sells beer), a laundromat, a West Marine store, a bait and tackle shop that also repairs reels, and several marine centers. There are also more nail salons than we've ever encountered along premium waterfront property, but hey, the women here are well groomed. There aren't really many shops to keep one occupied. It's more of a place to get supplies, have dinner, and return to your boat for entertainment. There is, however, a network of preserved homes dating back to colonial times.
So let's talk dinner. Although there are plenty of choices including pizza and bar food, there are two places that are absolutely intriguing. First, the long-awaited answer to what has taken the place of Coco's is now here. Prime, is the new restaurant on the premises that many remember as Coco's. Coco's it is absoutely not. Gone are the rowdy crowds and spike-heeled boat bimbettes. In their place are affluent 30+ year olds looking for a great meal in a nice atmosphere - and they are finding it to their satisfaction at Prime. Opened in November 2006 after extensive renovations to rave reviews from the New York Times, Prime is the hot spot for weekend dinner on the Sound. But beware, reservations for Saturday night are booked out a month in advance so you'll have to plan ahead for the main dining experience. Patrons in proper attire are welcome in the main dining areas, and it is worth it if you are hungry for some really inspired fresh American cuisine focused almost equally on fish and steak.
The second is a tiny little french restaurant called Aix en Provence that is cozy with a traditional menu and simple decor. Zagat rated it one of Long Island's most romantic restaurants and we agree. The New York Times gave it a very favorable review as well back in 2000, and recommended selections included soups, crab-cod cakes, onion-Gruyere tartlet, country tapas, risotto with asparagus, orecchiette with crab meat, duck breast, steak frites, cassoulet, roast chicken, lamb shank, veal scaloppine, bread pudding, gelato, chocolate mousse, creme brulee, tiramisu.
Or try Sunday brunch at Prime. There was plenty of room in the pleasant porch seating area. The decor is modern yet comforting, and the bar is starkly dramatic. All in all, it's worth the trip.
The owners are negotiating with the town of Huntington to put floating docks in for dinner patrons coming in by boat. According to a manager, the town had granted permission only to rescind it a few days later - an unprecedented action. The fear apparently is that the rowdy crowds would return destroying the tranquility of the harbor town. The owners have assured the town leadership that there will be no live music and that the space outside will attract a mature clientele. Nevertheless, they continue to be on hold.
The plan is to have space for about 20 boats with an hourly rate for dockage. The area adjacent to the docks would welcome boaters in casual attire with an upscale bar menu featuring delicacies such as kobi beef burgers and finger foods with exotic dipping sauces. We certainly hope the town of Huntington reflects their welcoming sentiments noted earlier with permits for Prime to serve the boating visitor.
Built in 1912, the Beaux arts style Huntington Harbor Lighthouse resembles a small castle. In 1983, it was deemed unsafe for personnel and too expensive to repair. A project to save the lighthouse has been underway since 1985. Public docking is not permitted. Tours are available and the season runs June-September, 1-1 1/2-hour tours run continuously between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., check Web site for dates. Call to arrange fundraising and special events. Annual spring paddlefest includes lighthouse tour, check Web for details.(631-421-1985). Also check out the first ever Lighthouse Jazz Festival planned for September 1, 2007. See below.
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