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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Day Tripping Through The Hamptons

Hilary Larson - Travel Writer

The Parrish Art Museum in Southampton contains a small gem of a collection with big-name support.

If you have a house in the Hamptons and know the place like the back of your hand, you can stop reading now.

But if you�re like many New Yorkers who haven�t quite got around to exploring Long Island�s East End, who maybe have ventured out to a friend�s place or partied their way through a series of summer shares years back, this might be the perfect time to rediscover New York�s seaside playground (where I happened to live for three years).

After all, who wants to get on an airplane right about now? Jump into the car or onto the Hampton Jitney and you can pack all the hair gel and toothpaste you want. Terrorists may be stalking the West�s big cities, but it�s doubtful they�re planning an attack on Bridgehampton.

Sure, the Hamptons can be pricey, trafficky and scene-y � but you can avoid a lot of that if you day-trip. In the world of Spielbergs and country clubs, there are still plenty of leafy, secluded spots where the city seems a world away, the salty breeze cures whatever ails you and old-fashioned pleasures like outdoor concerts and small-town shopping await.

Labor Day Weekend signals the official end of the summer �season,� but there�s still plenty to do: the arts calendar is going strong through September, the water is warm and farm stands spill over with mouth-wateringly flavorful tomatoes, corn and peaches. An ideal way to avoid the notorious Hamptons-bound traffic is to travel when most people don�t: in the mornings. By noon on a Saturday, traffic has thinned out along Montauk Highway, and if you leave before noon on the last day of a weekend, you�ll zip home.

Despite rampant construction and unremitting hype, the villages and hamlets that compose the South Fork � salty-casual Hampton Bays, elegant Southampton, historic Bridgehampton, rural Sagaponack and glamorous East Hampton � still retain distinctive identities. They�re also all small enough that a visitor can easily while away an afternoon strolling around each of three or four towns, whose centers are compact, walkable and generally quite charming.

Many beaches are restricted to those whose cars sport a resident pass, but there are plenty of places where an out-of-towner can splash happily in the clear blue surf.

For those who like calm waters and picturesque views, the cliff-framed beach along Peconic Bay in Hampton Bays is ideal. To get there, take a left on Squiretown Road from Montauk Highway and take a right on East or West Landing Road.

Several premier ocean beaches are available to non-residents who pay a day fee, generally $15. The nicest of these include Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays, a sprawling expanse with an equally sprawling parking lot, located over the Ponquogue Avenue Bridge; Mecox Beach off Job�s Lane in Bridgehampton; and Sagg Main Beach at the end of Sagg Main Road in Sagaponack.

The days when Jews were unwelcome in these WASPY precincts is long gone, and today large numbers of young Jewish families are settling the East End � especially East Hampton, Bridgehampton and Westhampton. The hottest (free) ticket on Friday nights is the service at the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, a formerly sleepy village that is becoming livelier each year, in large part due to the Manhattan-based Jewish community that has coalesced around this 16-year-old shul. Technically Orthodox, the Hampton Synagogue�s laid-back, friendly services draw worshippers from across the spectrum.

If you�re single, Rabbi Marc Schneier might introduce you to someone interesting. If you�re still hungry after the shul�s legendary kiddush, kosher food is freshly prepared at the nearby Beach Bakery on Main Street.

Other synagogues include the stately Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton, where some of Hollywood�s biggest names attend services. Chabad holds a variety of Orthodox services throughout the East End. Consult its Web site for up-to-date information, as locations tend to shift around. Visit the Parrish Art Museum, a small gem of a collection with big-name support, before it moves in 2009 from its grand, turn-of-the-century building in downtown Southampton Village. On view through Sept. 12 is �Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art,� featuring works by Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent and others.

Art lovers in East Hampton can take in two high-profile exhibits at Guild Hall, the town�s premier arts space, through mid-October: 40 never-seen works by Elizabeth Peyton and 100 major works by Andy Warhol, his first Long Island retrospective. This Saturday, Aug. 19, the much-talked-about jazz pianist Peter Cincotti is scheduled to play at Guild Hall. This weekend is also the last chance to catch a performance of the East End�s finest and most enjoyable summer music event, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. Friday�s and Sunday�s concerts offer works by Mozart, Dvorak, Suk and a special premiere at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church; Saturday brings two performances featuring Brazilian percussion sounds at the Children�s Museum of the East End.

For a perfect finish to a Hamptons day, spread a picnic blanket on the grass, pop open a cold drink and take in an outdoor concert in a park � one of summer�s classic pleasures, and one that doesn�t cost a thing. A great place to pick up picnic supplies is Schmidt�s Market, a gourmet-but-not-too-fussy grocery store with a devoted local following on North Sea Road in Southampton Village.

Outdoor concerts take place on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the green in East Quogue, at 6:30 on Wednesdays at Agawam Park in Southampton Village, and at 7:30 on Thursdays on the central green in Westhampton Beach. For more information, check the Southampton Chamber of Commerce Web site.

Schmidt�s Market: www.eastendcatering.com

Southampton Chamber of Commerce: www.southamptonchamber.com

The Hampton Synagogue: www.thehamptonsynagogue.org

Chabad: www.chabadofeastend.com

Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival: www.bcmf.org

Guild Hall: www.guildhall.org.

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