Featured Story

Life is a Shelter Island Beach: A primer for newcomers (and forgetful natives) for 2023

O.K., here’s the skinny for those in bikinis — or whatever you wear at the beach.

Shelter Island has some 20 miles of coastline that encompasses sandy beaches with shallow waters and lifeguards, to more rustic spots that offer beauty and seclusion but with a little less polish and no services.

If you’re “just visiting” you may feel that beach access is a treat to be enjoyed only by residents. That is most emphatically not the case. Unlike many of our neighbors to the south, you can partake in one of the great joys of Shelter Island quite easily and relatively inexpensively.

So whether you’re here for the summer or just a day, here’s a helpful guide to the ins and outs, dos and don’ts of our town’s beaches.

The Basics

There are three official town beaches and two landings that require a triangular bumper permit for parking from May 15 through September 15, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. These are Wades Beach, Crescent (or Louis Beach), Shell Beach, Menhaden Lane and Fresh Pond Road.

There are also spots at each end of Crescent Beach that are designated as resident parking only on a 24/7 basis.

Wades Beach Pavillion. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

The roads around these five locations are also posted as no parking areas, so sadly, leaving your car nearby and walking to the beach is not a viable way to get around the sticker issue.

Any vehicle with a license plate — scooter, moped, motorcycle — must have a valid parking permit or you risk a parking violation. Our traffic enforcers have good eyes and accurate watches. The cost of a ticket is $100. That’s no day at the beach.

Beach permits are free to residents upon proof of residency and car registration and may be obtained either by mail (Town Clerk, PO Box 1549, Shelter Island, NY 11964) or by visiting the Town Clerk’s office Monday through Friday, 9 am to 4 p.m., or Saturdays during the summer between 9 a.m. and noon.

Daily passes are valid at all Town Beaches and visitors must provide proof of where they are staying along with car registration.

Visitors may purchase permits at a cost of $70 per week, $125 per month or $250 for the season. Daily permits are $25 and may be purchased via the Pavemint app either online or at the kiosks at Wades or Crescent Beaches. Check out the town website (shelterislandtown.us/parking) for information. Some of our local inns, hotels and B&Bs have stickers for their guests, so if you’re lodging at a commercial establishment, check with the front desk before heading over to Town Hall.

The Town Beaches

Each of the three town beaches has its own unique elements and character. Wades, which is on the south side of the Island and fronts Shelter Island Sound, has a wide sandy beach, lifeguards, recently renovated restrooms, a lovely shaded pavilion and a gently sloping, shallow swimming area, which makes it popular with families with children.

(Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

A vendor selling cold drinks and frozen treats may be found there on busy days but otherwise, there is no food service nearby.

Crescent, or Louis Beach, facing Southold and Greenport on the north, also has lovely sand, more basic restrooms (the white trailer at the north end of the beach), a sand-side pavilion and a life-guard. It is the site of our annual fireworks celebration, which occurs this year on Saturday, July 8.

It is also the only beach with any commercial establishments on it. You can rent a standup paddle board, get a massage or partake of a light lunch or snack from a food truck run by The Islander.

Lifeguards at both of these beaches are on duty from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at both Wades and Crescent. At any other time or at any other beach you swim strictly at your own risk.

On the other side of the Island, directly across from Wades as the crow flies, is Shell Beach, a narrow finger of land roughly three quarters of a mile in length that protrudes into Shelter Island Sound. Accessible only by a narrow unpaved road, Shell has no amenities unless you count the clear warm waters, beautiful wildflowers and views of either West Neck Harbor or the South Fork.

Be mindful that parts of Shell are home to Piping Plovers and other nesting birds. Those areas are roped off and hung with little pink flags; everyone is asked to please respect these barriers.

(Credit: Scott Feierstein)

Though designated a town landing, Menhaden Lane on the east side of the Island is really a beach. There is a small parking area and a glorious view of Gardiners Bay, which is usually punctuated with sailboats on weekend afternoons. The other permitted landing is at Fresh Pond. Not really a beach at all, this area is a small plot of sand leading into a — yes, a fresh pond.

Non-permit access

Walking or taking a bike to the beach is obviously an easy solution to the permit issue. Bikes may be rented at Piccozzi’s bike shop in the Heights (931-749-1990) which is within walking distance of the North Ferry. Sales and service are available there, as well. 

If you can’t lay claim to a beach permit and walking or biking to one of the Town beaches is not practical, don’t despair. There are some 45 other town landings of which you can avail yourself and any number of roads that dead end at the water.

Check out the Ram Island Causeway, Crab Creek Lane, Carousel Lane or Hiberry Lane, to name just a few, all of which are accessible without a permit, though parking is limited. To locate a landing, pick up the free Chamber of Commerce map that is available all over town and look for the little anchor. 

As you explore the Island you may see several other beaches in areas such as Shorewood, South Ferry Hills and Harborview Acres. These are all private areas that are restricted to members of their respective homeowners’ associations.

And those cute little red and white cabanas that you can see when you come across on the North Ferry? Sorry, they belong to the members-only Heights Beach Club.

(Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

The Rules and Regs

So you’ve made it to the beach. What now?

No dogs are permitted on Shelter Island’s beaches at any time. No matter how cute, small or well-behaved, even if you keep him or her on a leash, dogs are not allowed to enjoy our white sand and temperate waters.

Think about it. Do you want to spread your beach towel where Fido has made his mark?

Our wonderful animal control officer is a huge dog lover, but not when she sees them on a beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day. She’s heard every excuse in the book as to why your fur baby should be allowed to soak up the sun and will remain unconvinced, so please don’t put her in the awkward position of having to issue a summons.

Bonfires and barbecues, on the other hand, are allowed and no permit is required to enjoy them. According to the Town Clerk’s Office, “All we ask is that you make sure you leave the area cleaner than how you found it. We really don’t want people making a mess.” Makes sense, no? It’s a good rule to follow whether you have a fire or not.

Trash containers are plentiful at all the town beaches and landings so there’s no excuse to leave your debris behind.

To accompany your barbecue, you may enjoy beverages of any type provided that they are not in glass containers. Beach glass is indeed lovely but not imbedded in someone’s foot.

If you like walking on the beach, please note that both Wades and Crescent abut private property; the end of the town beaches there are clearly signposted. Please respect the rights of the owners who pay very substantial taxes to enjoy their waterfront property and stay below the high water mark, which is usually indicated by a line of seaweed on the sand.

(Credit: Beverlea Walz) Happy summer!

If you arrived on our lovely island somewhat short of beach supplies, fear not. Despite the small size of our commercial district, the shops are well-supplied in terms of all things beachy.

The Heights Pharmacy sells all manner of sun supplies, flip-flops, sweatshirts and bug repellent. Down on Bridge Street, Bliss’s Department Store is Beach-Central, offering towels, bathing suits for the whole family, footwear, sunglasses, hats, cover-ups and the like. Next door at Jack’s Marine, you can find chairs, noodles, umbrellas and the full complement of beach-appropriate toys.

Next to the Heights Post Office, Shelter Island Hardware provides grills, charcoal, folding chairs and lots of other things you probably didn’t even know you needed. The IGA has sunscreen, bug repellent, some beach toys, charcoal and of course, all the fixins’ for a picnic.

So this should get you to a plot of sand to call your own. Life really is a beach.

(Credit: Charity Robey)