The charming town of Stony Brook, New York, is a hidden attraction sitting on Long Island.
It began as an enclave for colonial farmers, eventually growing into the tourist town and education center existing today.
However, it never gained a village or city status and remains a census-designated place under the town of Brookhaven.
Most people associate the community with Stony Brook University, the largest public university in the state.
But Stony Brook is also often visited for its natural attractions, particularly the wetlands and water features on the northernmost areas.
It’s also steeped in history, with many buildings, houses, and structures that have been around for centuries.
So if you’re looking for a great vacation spot while in New York, check out this vibrant locality.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Stony Brook, NY:
See the Incredible Wildlife at West Meadow Wetlands Reserve
The tranquil West Meadow Wetlands Reserve is one of the favorite spots in Stony Brook, offering quiet and beautiful sceneries for nature lovers.
Since it’s located next to Long Island Sound, the area contains brackish water formed when the saltwater mixes with freshwater.
This creates a unique but essential habitat used by local wildlife for feeding, nesting, and hunting.
So as you explore the trails that span the length of the reserve, you’ll find ospreys on top of trees, waterfowl skimming for food in the shallow banks, and small mammals scurrying about in the sparse tree cover.
Many residents visit the place for these wildlife encounters and watch the sunset over the water.
Of course, you’re welcome to check the place out too!
Immerse in History at the Long Island Museum
Long Island is teeming with a history stemming from the Native Americans, European traders, colonial settlers, and other groups of people who’ve occupied the area.
This history is preserved and celebrated at The Long Island Museum, a nine-acre complex located in Stony Brook.
Its complete name is the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages, but residents simply call it Long Island Museum.
Within the complex, you’ll find old houses, a carriage museum, an art museum, and beautiful grounds littered with other artifacts.
The main museum houses collections, photographs, historical items, clothing, and markers of the island’s previous settlers.
You’d need to spend a few hours checking out all the wonders inside, so make sure to manage your time during your visit.
Explore the Wonders of Avalon Nature Preserve
One of the most visited attractions in Stony Brook sits on the very edge of its borders: the beautiful Avalon Nature Preserve.
It’s an eight-acre property located next to Mill Pond, featuring five habitats and native flora and fauna.
Since its founding, it has kept to its mission of protecting and restoring the area's habitats, such as forests and wetlands.
You’re welcome to explore these sections and see the wildlife yourself.
While checking out the preserve, you’d stumble on the Labyrinth, a meditative circle with radiating paths.
It’s a great spot to center yourself and find some much-needed inner peace.
Farther out, you’ll reach the upland Forest Sanctuary section, the wildest and most isolated section of the preserve.
See the Sunset at Sand Street Beach
Tranquil Sand Street Beach is one of the most accessible seaside destinations in Stony Brook as it’s located next to the busy fishing dock.
It’s not a sandy beach, unlike the ones in West Meadow Wetlands Reserve, but it’s a beloved local attraction nonetheless.
Residents visit it for a quick escape from hectic days, bringing in their hooks and lines for a spot of shore fishing.
It’s also a great starting point for kayaking, as the waterway in front of it leads to West Meadow Wetlands Reserve.
But for those who aren’t ready to get wet yet, you can stay on the beach for sunbathing, sunset watching, or strolling.
Swimming is also allowed, but make sure the water is clear before going in.
Watch Incredible Shows at Staller Center For the Arts
Stony Brook University has been one of the premier centers for education and learning in Long Island, covering every topic, field, and industry in recent history and beyond.
One of its most significant facilities is the Staller Center For the Arts, where every art form is studied and celebrated.
This complex is a hub for the visual and performance arts, with various sections dedicated for either.
On one end, there are the art and music departments, while the dance, theater, and media departments sit on another.
All in all, the center houses three black box theaters, a 1,000-seat performance stage, a spacious gallery, and a recital hall.
So whether you want to see magnificent artworks or catch a theater production, you’ll experience it here.
Catch the Lastest Flicks at AMC Loews Stony Brook 17
If you want to take a break from the outdoor adventures and stops to historical places, head over to the AMC Loews Stony Brook 17.
This movie theater complex is the premier entertainment destination in Stony Brook, attracting crowds of people to see the latest blockbusters.
Its popularity is partly because of the many amenities and luxuries it offers.
Aside from its advanced screens and projectors, surround sound, and 3D cinemas, the complex has been renovated to make it accessible to everyone.
With ADA-compliant cinemas, sensory-friendly film screenings, and closed captioning, even those with disabilities will have a grand time.
You can also book in advance and enjoy discounted rates on certain dates and hours.
And the movie snacks and drinks are quite tasty, too!
Have Fun under the Sun at West Meadow Beach
Next to the West Meadow Wetlands Reserve is the gorgeous West Meadow Beach, extending for more than a thousand feet to Stony Brook’s northernmost edges.
This is another favorite attraction for those looking for sandy beaches, offering magnificent views of Long Island Sound.
You’re welcome to stroll the length of the beach, but you might need to pay a fee before entering since it’s only free for Stony Brook residents.
The area is fairly developed, with a playground, splash pad, and volleyball courts.
Parking is also plentiful, so you won’t have trouble finding a place to park your vehicle.
So bring a towel, sunscreen, and your favorite book, and spend a whole afternoon under the sun!
You can stay until late afternoon and watch the beautiful colors play on the water as the sun sets.
Find Everything You Need at Stony Brook Village Center
The bustling Stony Brook Village Center was created to provide an authentic New England experience for residents.
However, the established shops initially failed to turn a profit, resulting in their replacement with more boutique and high-end stores.
So now, the Stony Brook Village Center serves as the commercial hub in the census-designated area.
The crescent-shaped property contains many stores offering various goods and services, ranging from apparel and gift shops to spas and dining establishments.
There are also kayak and outdoor gear rentals, specialty stores, and souvenir shops offering Stony Brook memorabilia.
So if you need something while in town, you’ll probably find it here.
However, be sure to visit before late afternoon as most establishments will be closed by then.
Catch a Groovy Performance at The Jazz Loft
Music is an integral part of New York’s history, and one of the greatest genres that become popular in the city is preserved at The Jazz Loft.
This facility serves as a jazz museum showcasing the vibrant history of the music style.
Most people visit it to see the performances of local, national, and international artists, which happen all year round.
But the facility also houses artifacts, documents, and instruments that tell the story of the genre in various eras.
It has also partnered with Stony Brook University, offering educational programs where jazz theory and performance are discussed.
So if you’re a fan of the genre, make sure that this place is at the top of your itinerary.
Play with Swans at Stony Brook Grist Mill
Among the many historical buildings in the area, the Stony Brook Grist Mill stands out as the only structure of its kind.
It’s located right across Avalon Nature Preserve, with the water from Mill Pond powering the mill attached to the house.
And yes, it’s still functioning to this day, making it the only working mill throughout Long Island.
Because of this, it has rightfully taken its place in the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the structure has been turned into a working museum.
So you’re welcome to join a tour and see how the inner workings of the mill operate.
Plus, you can visit the banks of the small creek next to the facility, where you can interact with the friendly swans and ducks.
Appreciate Asian Heritage at Charles B. Wang Center
The grand Charles B. Wang Center is another one of Stony Brook University’s facilities, covering 120,000 square feet of space.
It’s close to the Staller Center For the Arts and has a tower-like structure that’s easily recognizable even from afar.
This is actually a modern reimagining of a pagoda since the Charles B. Wang Center is dedicated to understanding Asian and American cultures.
The facility is noted for this feature and various other architectural elements inspired by Asian symbols.
And it’s not just Asian architecture that’s celebrated here.
There’s a food court offering traditional East Asian cuisine, gardens resembling those in Shanghai temples, and numerous films and presentations.
It’s a great destination to get a first-hand experience of authentic Asian cultures.
Go Fishing in Long Island Sound
When you visit the beaches of Stony Brook, you’d be tempted to head into the gleaming sea just in front of you.
Thankfully, there are many local charters in the locality offering trips to Long Island Sound.
Most of these are half-day or whole-day trips, so pick the one that suits your timeline.
Heading to Long Island Sound is safer than going to the Atlantic since it’s sheltered from harsh winds and mighty currents.
There is still plenty of large game to catch, making it a haven for sports fishing enthusiasts.
Some of the species you’ll find are striped bass, summer flounder, and bluefish.
These are boreal species and will only appear during certain seasons, so plan ahead if you want to catch a specific type of fish.
Other Things to Do Nearby
After your adventures in Stony Brook, why not check out these other places just a few minutes away?
Play Sports by the Beach at Sunken Meadow State Park
The expansive Sunken Meadow State Park is one the most visited places in all of Long Island, and it’s just 24 minutes away from Stony Brook.
Facing Long Island Sound, this attraction covers more than 1,200 acres of beaches, forests, and riverside habitats.
A large chunk of it has been developed into a modern recreation hub, with playgrounds, sports fields, and tracks for biking and horseback riding.
It also contains the Sunken Meadow State Park Golf Course, a vast public course with 27 holes.
Still, there’s a lot of greenery in the state park that’s been left to flourish without human development.
To see these pristine sections, you can follow the trails on foot or by bike.
Bounce and Play at Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park
The thrilling Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park is a children’s amusement center located in Lake Grove.
It’s near the borders of Stony Brook, so you can drive to the location in just under five minutes.
With its many attractions and activities, the facility serves as the perfect place for the whole family to bond and hang out.
The main attractions are, of course, the trampolines covering most of the floor space.
Some have been modified for other sports, like dodgeball and gymnastics.
There are also more challenging sections such as obstacle courses, rock climbing walls, and battle beam platforms.
If you’re not up for some intense physical activity, visit the arcade and play some classic and revamped video games.
Sample Fine Drinks at Harmony Vineyards
Harmony Vineyards is often associated with Stony Brook thanks to its proximity to Avalon Nature Preserve, but it’s located in St. James.
Thankfully, you’d only need to walk from the preserve to reach it, so check it out after your nature trip!
This vineyard has been around since 1999, but its Historic Waterfront Tasting Room has existed since 1690.
Here, award-winning bottles like Bordeaux-style red blends and Chardonnays are manufactured to perfection.
Try these fine drinks with gourmet plates while you marvel at the harbor in front of the fields.
Thanks to the vineyard’s design, visitors can enjoy uninterrupted views of the Porpoise Channel while drinking and dining — you’ll definitely cherish the refined experience.
Stony Brook offers visitors a unique side of Long Island, with historical attractions and natural destinations that are a far cry from the bustling city in the south.
It’s also a hub for the arts, with galleries, theaters, and a jazz museum hosting incredible performances.
If you want to see all the famous places in this community, add the destinations in this list to your itinerary!