I tend to be skeptical I’m going to find anything of interest in most quaint tourist towns. So many frozen yogurt and knick knack shops. With only a quick glance down the beginning of Main Street, Port Jefferson may appear to be just that. But on my second trip to Port Jefferson (known simply as Port Jeff), I spent more time exploring and found a lot to like.
The best part about Port Jeff is getting there. Leave the car at home, as you won’t need it. Take the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry or come over on your own boat, like I did. Port Jeff is less than 20 miles across the Long Island Sound from Connecticut, on the North Shore of Long Island. The ferry runs roughly 160º SE from Bridgeport, CT every hour for a pleasant hour-and-15-minute ride across the Sound.
Sit outside on the upper deck and let the wind blow through your hair while you take in the view, or sit comfortably inside. Adult passengers on foot are $27 roundtrip, and kids under 12-years-old ride for free. You can bring your car with a reservation and it’s $56 in each direction.
If you bring your own boat, treat yourself to a dock slip at Danford’s Marina right in town. Your slip includes electricity, Wi-Fi, water hook-up, and access to the hotel showers. Not cheap at $4.50 per foot, but worth it. Danford’s is also the best hotel in town if you come by ferry and want to spend the night in town.
What to do and eat
When you get to town, take a left onto East Broadway and walk up to East Main Street. Satisfy a craving for a good cup of ‘jo and also the best looking baristas this side of Seattle at Tiger Lily Cafe. Healthy hippie food and a fresh juice bar offer a groovy start to your day. Ani DiFranco fans will find fan club central here, with posters of the artist on the walls and her music often playing.
Along East Main you’ll find a few nice shops. Breathe for meditation and spiritual items, and there’s a thrift store where all proceeds go to animal rescue. And it’s not the only pet-centric place in town. Port Jeff is a very dog-friendly town, with Save-A-Pet off Main St, which donates all proceeds from the sale of new merchandise to their rescue organization.
Ready for lunch? Look for the La Parrilla sign and walk down the alleyway right after Arden Place to find red umbrellas and fab tapas. Sit outside and sip fresh mango sangria. I had the “Arroz con Pollo” tapas and a beautiful salad with mango. It has been said they have the best paella this side of Valencia, Spain, though it apparently was the owner’s cousin I am quoting.
Continue walking on East Main and it winds around to the main drag: Main Street, of course. Yes, you’ll find Starbucks and a GAP, but there’s also the Port Jeff Brewing Company, where I tasted four robust varieties of beer. Want a brew that packs a 10.1% ABV punch? Try their H3 (Tripel H) Belgian-style Trappist yeast beer. And on Sunday, there is a terrific farmer’s market nearby with local produce. One vendor had 8 types of fresh, organic garlic. Who knew?
Port Jeff has a few cool hangouts and many very good restaurants. One place I like for a beer is Junior’s Spy Coast. Amusing sepia-toned photos of friends and family of the owner cover the walls. Beer is served in Mason jars and their special snack is a “Macaroni Salad Panini.” Didn’t try one, but the wings were great.
Tip: $12 buckets of six Rolling Rocks and 20 wings for $10 for all NFL games.
After a beer at Spy Coast, we headed back to our boat at Danford’s Marina to shower and change before dinner. Danford’s allows boat owners to bring their dogs. Our dock neighbor’s had a Daschund and Mauzer (a cross between a Miniature Schnauzer and a Maltese) sitting under their own little doggie umbrella and chaise lounge on the dock. I’m a sucker for anything that cute.
We had a late dinner at The Fifth Season right across from Danford’s Hotel (attached to the Marina) on East Broadway. There’s a front porch where you can dine, but the guitarist was so enthusiastic in his strumming that we elected to dine inside upstairs.
The owners change the menu every 12 weeks and features local farm-raised meat, organic produce, freshly caught fish and seafood, and artisanal cheeses. I was impressed by the superb preparation of the dishes. I started with a perfectly seared ahi tuna and a half order of a very savory duck bolognese in a tomato ragu. The selection of wines from Long Island’s North and South Fork vineyards offered sophisticated and not overly sweet white and reds. The most unique dessert featured in the summer is the sweet corn crepes with blueberry gelato, housemade corn crisps, and salted caramel drizzle. Yum.
If you’re staying the night and don’t need to catch the last ferry for Bridgeport that leaves at 10 pm, go to The Arden at 201 Main St for late night revelry. A doorman checks IDs before you walk upstairs into the club to eat, drink and hear live local bands. Banquet seating includes some tables with their own self-serve beer pours. Sweet! The flat bread is a must try. It comes on a huge cutting board and is great for sharing. Try the fig, goat cheese, caramelized onions and a balsamic reduction with a delicious crispy crust.
More on what to do and eat in Port Jeff
- The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company — Port Jefferson Harbor (1-888-44FERRY)
Runs 365 days per year with numerous crossings daily and room for at least 85 vehicles per voyage. Suggested you make a reservation ahead if you plan on coming over with your vehicle.
- Mather House Museum — 115 Prospect Street (631-473-2665)
Mather family home, (circa 1840-1860) and Headquarters of The Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson.Take a guided tour of the house and surrounding buildings that were home to John Mather, a major shipbuilder, and his family. You’ll see period furnishings, shipbuilding artifacts, tools, maps, pictures, and clothing of the family. The tour lasts about 40 minutes, and there is a suggested donation of $5 per person
- Maritime Explorium (for kids) — 101 East Broadway
Located overlooking the Port Jefferson Harbor, the Maritime Explorium offers interactive exhibits that enable children to enjoy playful and purposeful experimentation including sensory, kinesthetic, logical, spatial, artistic, linguistic and emotional intelligences. (Full disclosure: I did not go here or write this blurb myself, but I could hear kids laughing with delight from my boat across the harbor.)
- Port Jeff Brewing Company — 22 Mill Creek Road (877-475-2739)
A small-batch craft brewery offering four year-round beers: Schooner Ale, Port Jeff, Low Tide Black IPA Porter and H3 (Tripel H). Winter and summer seasonal brews as well.
- Junior’s Spy Coast — 140 Main Street (631-509-5987)
$12 beer buckets and 20 wings for $10 for all NFL games.
- The Fifth Season — 34 E Broadway (631-477-8500)
New American bistro. Signature cocktails. Wines and beers produced from small producers exclusively in the United States.
- Theatre Three — 412 Main Street (631-928-9100)
If you’re in town on a Friday and in the mood for comedy, Theatre Three’s Second Stage offers a weekly improv comedy show: “Friday Night Face Off.” The main stage has an annual season of seven productions (four musicals, two plays, and A Christmas Carol.)
- The Arden — 201 Main Street (631-828-1111)
The Arden is a supper lounge serving up eclectic culinary specialities, hand-crafted spirits and live entertainment in an intimate, rustic-chic setting.
- Danford’s Hotel & Marina — 25 East Broadway (800-332-6367)
Right on Port Jefferson harbor, the hotel offers 86 guest rooms and suites. The marina can accommodate boats and yachts up to 250’ in a secure setting. Offers such conveniences as gas and diesel refueling, cable television, water, Wi-Fi, and electrical (30, 50 and 100 AMP service) hook-ups. Hail the dockmaster on VHF Channel 9.
Coming up in Port Jeff
- October 25: A Taste of Port Jefferson (link)
Where: 101 A East Broadway at the Port Jefferson Village Center
Time: 12 noon – 4 pm
Port Jeff factoids
- Port Jefferson is in Suffolk County, NY and 60 miles from Manhattan.
- Year-round population: 7,772
- History: In the 18th century, the Culper Ring were spies that fed information about the British to George Washington. The heart of the ring was in Setauket, which lies between Port Jefferson Harbor and Stony Brook. Thus, the origin of the name Spy Coast.
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