Vacationing Too Close to Home: The Charm Of Long Island’s Sea Cliff


My parents have been trying to sell me on the vacation possibilities of their new home in Long Island’s Sea Cliff, New York, ever since they moved there a few years back. “Come for a lovely weekend. It will be like staying at the best bed and breakfast!” they say. So finally, I take them up on their offer.

It doesn’t have quite the same cache as the Hamptons, but the call of Sea Cliff—a sleepy seaside village that’s just about 45 minutes from New York City—has me packing my bags and heading away from the city for a weekend. This quiet town has only a few restaurants, a handful of shops, and a random train schedule.

Sea Cliff is indeed situated by the sea on a cliff. How would the average visitor get to this hidden gem of Long Island from whatever train station you get left at? You’d have to get John or Irene Dawson to pick you up.

The guest room at the Dawsons’ is small and often used as storage. This along with the bed situation (two twins, side by side, 1950s style) and the restriction on unwed couples sleeping together makes Sea Cliff less conductive to a romantic getaway than a girls’ weekend, which is exactly what my guest, Laura, and I have in mind. Shared bathroom down the hall.

The plan for our first evening is dinner at Olives By The Sea, whose recent opening made for a total of three (THREE!) restaurants in Sea Cliff. Our hosts have already picked up a bottle of rosé (it’s BYOB), and the four of us head down the block, only to find that at ten to nine Olives had already closed for the night.

After much haggling over alternative eating establishments, the infighting at Sea Cliff restaurants proves too great for our hosts to make a decision. So we head out of town, to Glen Cove, and the Riviera Grill, an Italian eatery beloved by our hosts. All three courses included. Still, it’s unclear if we’re here for the food or because one of the waiters looks like Mr. Bean.

Speaking of quiet mornings, it’s best to spend them reading the New York Times cover to cover, an experience you can rarely afford the time to do in the city. Most likely, there will be discussion of at least one obscure article (the only one you skipped over) that John will be disappointed you did not read.

The bed and breakfast has undergone considerable change in the few short years our hosts have lived here, especially after John retired last year. They love to show guests the new additions: a tomato-in-a-bag plant, the marble table out on the deck, the red couch that has been moved to the kitchen. But it’s the things they don’t point out that are of more interest. Why is there a bronze bust of Eleanor Roosevelt on the hill? And why is she wearing a hat? Is that a pineapple sculpture replacing a banister handle? What happened to the pinot noir grapes? There was a mini vineyard happening awhile back.

In the evening, a variety of activities are suggested, and we act like we would in fact go to Dam Yankees at the local theatre. But as is often the case in Sea Cliff, the lazy days lead to lazy nights, and we focus instead on a barbeque. Guests stay free of charge at the Dawsons’ so keep in mind you may have to sing for your supper.

The refrigerator is stocked with peach salsa, mango chutney and specialty cheeses, the cupboard with gourmet oils and seasonings. The basics, milk?, bread?, eggs? ignored. Expect grocery shopping. However far along supper is, Happy Hour starts at 5pm.

Dinner on the deck is delicious, of course, though it’s tasted through the haze of industrial-strength mosquito repellent. Although vintage advertisements for Sea Cliff claim the contrary, mosquitoes are included with dinner.

Conversations roll onto new jobs and old debates. Let’s say you went to art school and still managed to move out of the house and support yourself, well, this is cause for endless pride by the proprietors. My guest just started a job at a fashion magazine. And although we’ve tried to convince our hosts of the contrary, they still think she is responsible for all aspects of the publication. “You city girls live such exciting lives,” Irene says. And that’s probably the most inviting thing about a stay in Sea Cliff: the shot in the arm you rarely get in New York City.

On the way out, the hostess asks, “Is that my sweater you’re wearing?” I am not allowed to leave until she confirms that I am not, in fact, “stealing” her sweater. What we are allowed to steal is a bottle of wine, the same we had with dinner—the perfect souvenir from the weekend. 

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image – Horia Varlan