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It's just after noon on Saturday, and the wharf is already abuzz. Midsummer rays beat down, tempered by the salt breeze that drifts across Fort Pond Bay, and groups of friends and family gather around picnic tables, sheltered only by the dappled light cast by fisherman's net strung above.
There's a familiarity to this scene, yet it's totally foreign. Having grown up in Sydney, Australia, I'm reminded of beachfront restaurants in Bondi or Coogee, yet we're actually just a few hours' drive from Manhattan. Now, I get it. For years, friends had preached the lure of Montauk, a village at the east end of Long Island peninsula, known by those in the city as the Hampton's cool, young, laid-back neighbor. It isn't until that moment that I understand—and become completely enamored.
It's the kind of weekend destination you wish you'd been visiting for years. Indeed, many of the crowds are regulars—it's a favored by the likes of Cynthia Rowley, Naomi Watts, and Nina Agdal, who you'll likely spot sipping cocktails or paddleboarding in the bay. By no means a local, I reached out to those who consider the town their home-away-from-home for tips. Consider this your first-timer's guide to Montauk, the so-called "end of the world."
One of Montauk's best qualities is also the most frustrating. Council regulations prevent new development in the area, so there are limited lodging options, and the majority of hotels are housed in renovated motels. While this can make it hard to find accommodation, it also is the reason Montauk feels quaint and authentic—you won't find any chain hotels or sprawling resorts here.
The most iconic in the area is The Surf Lodge, a destination unto itself that attracts people from the surrounding Hamptons thanks to a consistent line-up of live performances. Though modest in size, the 19 guestrooms certainly live up to the hype, complete with hanging egg chairs, artwork by Gray Malin, and an enviable rain shower that feels like you're bathing by the lake. There's also the Alise Collective "weekend essentials minibar," $450 worth of high-end products by Shiseido, Caudalie, and more. And if you're a weekend guest, it's free.
At The Surf Lodge in the summer, request a Lincoln car to explore the surrounding restaurants and beaches with ease.
Duryea's Lobster Deck: A must-visit while you're in Montauk, this relaxed yet up-market outdoor seafood restaurant offers freshly caught lobster and local fish with stellar waterfront views. Skip the lobster roll and opt for the lobster cobb salad, instead—it's perfect for sharing.
Scarpetta Beach: You can't look past Scarpetta Beach for excellent Italian food in Montauk. Located in Gurney's Montauk, the sister of the famous Manhattan restaurant is one of the few open year-round. Whatever you do, don't miss the raw yellowtail crudi—it's one of the best dishes.
Navy Beach: Simple seafood and burgers have never tasted this good. Navy Beach, a waterfront casual restaurant, serves up the catch of the day to picnic tables perched on the sand. It's ideally positioned on a 200-foot private beach and is a great option for families.
The Restaurant at The Surf Lodge: You don't have to leave the hotel from excellent food. The Restaurant has an incredible brunch for those craving a meal after their morning deck workout class, but our tip is to go for dinner. The nightlife spot can be notoriously hard to get into, but those with a dinner reservation jump the queue. Book an outdoor table at 7 p.m. to watch the sky turn vibrant orange over Fort Pond.
Joni's Kitchen: Grab coffee and breakfast at Joni's, a locally run spot that's favored by the likes of Cynthia Rowley and Bill Powers.
Tacombi Montauk: One of Manhattan's most popular Mexican restaurants has an outpost in Montauk that serves a seasonal menu in a casual, teal-tinged spot in town. Stop by for a couple of tacos after a long day at the beach.
The Crows Nest: The rustic-chic outpost by the owner of The Bowery and the Marlton offers new American fare with a Mediterranean influence. Promise us you'll get the fresh whipped ricotta, a heavenly mix of ricotta, local honey, and bee pollen on ciabatta, and the Blue Crab Claw Tagliatelle, a generous serve of crab with lemon and basil breadcrumbs.
Watch Sunset at Montauket: Famous for its spectacular sunsets over Fort Pond, get to this dive bar early to score a spot.
Find a Vintage Gem at Melet Mercantile: Model Carolyn Murphy says she never misses an opportunity to browse the eclectic vintage wares at this outpost. "[It's] one of my favorite shops in Montauk," she told Vogue.
See a World-Class Act at The Surf Lodge: It'd be remiss of us to talk about activities in Montauk without referencing The Surf Lodge's stellar roster of world-class musicians, who take to the stage every Friday and Saturday night in summer. The concert seriessees the likes of Janelle Monae, St Lucia, and Jaden Smith perform as the sun sets over the water. Plan to stay late—this is one party you won't want to leave.
Montauk Lighthouse: Surfers should catch the breaks behind the lighthouse, one of the best spots in Montauk with gorgeous views. Non-surfers can climb to the top and tour the property to learn about the National Historic Landmark.
Bluestone Lane Beach Collective: It might be best-known for its barista coffee, but this Aussie cafe also has an excellent boutique that stocks hard-to-find Australian fashion labels. Drop in for a latte and browse clothing and accessories by cult labels like P.E. Nation, Matteau Swim, and Poolside.
The drive from Manhattan to Montauk should, in theory, take two and a half hours, but leaving the city on a Friday in summer requires Jedi-like planning and serious patience. Plan to leave before 2 p.m. or after 6 p.m. if you'd rather not sit in traffic. It's also worth being selective about the car you hire—although we sat in four hours' of traffic during out drive to Montauk, it was surprisingly stress-free thanks to our Navigator's features like massage seats, wireless charging, and a panoramic vista roof.
Alternatively, skip the traffic by getting the train to Montauk. Long Island Rail Road has daily trains departing from Pennsylvania Station that take three hours. Opt for an express and get to the platform 20 minutes before departure to secure a seat. Whichever option you choose, trust us, it's worth it.