Long Island is a mix of suburban and rural communities joined together by a network of asphalt and concrete.
Those paved roads along with a handful of gravel roads, dirt roads, back roads and bad roads are the foundation of our transportation system.
So, if you want to get around on Long Island you’ll need a car.
If you’re driving here or taking one of the Long Island ferries, no problem, you already have your car with you.
If you’re flying in and can’t bring your car on the plane, you can rent a car at the airport.
The only exceptions to the car requirement are:
Going to The Hamptons from Manhattan – you can use the Hamptons Jitney. You’ll need a way of getting around once you get there though.
Left: Decisions, decisions. Heading north on 31 from Sunrise Highway you are confronted with this. Take 104 for Riverhead, 105 for wine country.
Going to Fire Island from Manhattan – Use the train & cab to the ferry terminal.
Geographically speaking Long Island is true to its name and is actually about 5 times longer than its width. There are several roads running Long Island’s 110-mile length that make traveling in the east - west direction relatively easy.
On the other hand, if you want to cross the island (north – south) things can get interesting. Because the roads that cross Long Island in that direction are spread out over a 100 mile length they’re not quite as accessible.
Generally, driving on Long Island involves traveling either east or west to the desired north-south route, then east-west again until you reach your final destination. It’s very simple, but crossing the island can take a little time.
See this map of Long Island to learn more about the different parts of Long Island.
There are four counties on Long Island. From west to east they are: Kings (Brooklyn), Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk.
When most people think of Long Island they are thinking only of Nassau and Suffolk counties. Politically, that is correct because Brooklyn (no one ever refers to it as Kings) and Queens are part of New York City.
For our purposes here, Long Island refers only to Nassau and Suffolk.
You’ll notice that there are Parkways and Expressways on Long Island.
Long Island’s parkways are limited access roads that are scenic as well as efficient in moving traffic. Only vehicles with passenger plates are permitted on the parkways. If you have commercial or truck plates (tags) on your vehicle you must stay off the parkways.
Long Island’s expressways (there are only two) are limited access roads that are very industrial looking and permit commercial as well as passenger traffic. Driving on the expressways means sharing the road with all manor of large commercial vehicles.
Driving on the parkways is far more scenic and you won’t have to worry about that big truck rumbling along next to you.
Ocean Parkway runs east and west on Fire Island between the southern end of Meadowbrook State Parkway and Captree State Park. Many people (myself included) use this very scenic road to avoid rush hour traffic on the Southern State Parkway.
Montauk Highway (NY Route 27A)
Montauk Highway is the southernmost main road on Long Island. It runs from Freeport to Montauk and is the slow, scenic way to get from one place to another. Use Montauk Highway when you have only one or two towns to drive through, or you have a lot of time on your hands and want to take in the sights.
Sunrise Highway (NY Route 27)
Sunrise Highway is just north of Montauk Highway. In Nassau County Sunrise Highway is very wide, but can be congested. Generally, it is a better choice than 27A for quick travel between towns.
Southern State Parkway
North of Sunrise Highway is the Southern State Parkway. This is a limited access road that you can make very good time on. Use the Southern State when you are traveling long distances east or west on Long Island. The Southern State Parkway ends in East Islip. If you want to continue east, get off at the Sunrise Highway exit. The Southern State parkway is for non-commercial vehicles only. You’ll get a ticket if there are commercial plates (tags) on your vehicle.
Long Island Expressway (I-495)
Affectionately known as the world’s largest parking lot, the Long Island Expressway (we call it the Elle Eye E for short) runs through the middle of Long Island. The LIE is the quickest way to get to Riverhead or Wine Country. Typically you’ll only encounter parking lot like traffic on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour. At off times you’ll make excellent time.
NY Route 25
Running north of the expressway Rt. 25 takes you from Queens Village all the way to Orient Point. In Nassau County it’s called Jericho Turnpike. Somewhere around Smithtown it becomes Main Street then Middle Country Road. In Riverhead it becomes Main Street again then Main Road all the way out to Orient. 25 is pretty much slow going through Nassau and Suffolk counties. Use it when you don’t have far to go or have no other choice.
NY Route 25A
25A is the north shore equivalent of Montauk Highway. Slow going, but takes you through the heart of every town. Like 25 it has its share of name changes as well and there are too many to list here.
Cross Island Parkway
Cross Island Parkway is the westernmost parkway on Long Island. Bordering Queens and Nassau, the Cross Island will get you to the Throgs Neck and Whitestones Bridges on its northern end and Sunrise Highway, the Belt Parkway and JFK Airport on its southern end.
Meadowbrook State Parkway
About 7 miles east of the Cross Island is the Meadowbrook State Parkway. The Meadowbrook runs between Norther State Parkway and Jones Beach. Use the Meadowbrook to get to Jones Beach if you’re coming from Manhattan via LIE or Northern State.
Wantagh State Parkway
Just east Of the Meadowbrook is the Wantagh State Parkway. Like the Meadowbrook it runs from The Northern State Parkway south all the way to Jones Beach.
Seaford–Oysterbay Expressway (NY Route 135)
Pronounce the first part of the one as one word, Seafordoysterbay. Rather than say that mouthful Long Islander’s usually refer to this one as the S.O.B. The Seaford-Oysterbay will get you from Montuak Highway in Seaford to Jericho Turnpike (25) in Woodbury.
Bethpage State Parkway
Bethpage State Parkway is a tiny little road that creates a nice shortcut through Massapequa and Bethpage via the Southern State and the Seaford-Oysterbay.
Sagtikos State Parkway / Sunken Meadow Parkway
The Sag, as we like to call it, runs roughly down the middle of Long Island between Southern State Parkway and Northern State Parkway. Upon crossing the Northern State its name changes to Sunken Meadow Parkway. Its northern end terminates in Sunken Meadow State park. It indirectly crosses Southern State and runs down to Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island.
Nichols Road (CR 97)
Nichols Road runs from Sunrise Highway in Bluepoint all the way to 25A in Stony Brook and Setauket. This road moves quickly and is a great way to cross the Island.
William Floyd Parkway (CR 46)
This is the easternmost parkway on Long Island. Running from 25A in East Shoreham all the way done to Smith Point Park on Fire Island. William Floyd Parkway is your last chance to cross Long Island before reaching the Hamptons, Riverhead or the north fork.