Table of contents
- How to save money on a trip to Montauk
- Where to park for free in Montauk
- Where to stay in Montauk on a budget
- What to do in Montauk on a budget
- Where to eat on a budget in Montauk
- Secret photo spots in Montauk
- Places to visit on the way to Montauk for a Hamptons road trip
- Safety in Montauk
- Should I drive or take the train (LIRR) to Montauk and the Hamptons?
- One last thing: sustainable travel
We took our first trip to Montauk and got to see what this famous ‘end of the road’ destination on Long Island is really about. Our favorite parts of our trip were some quiet sunsets, healthy local eats, nautical vibes and clear views across the Long Island Sound.
How did we wind up vacationing in Montauk for a fun getaway from NYC?
Montauk is one of the most popular long weekend getaways or weekend escapes from NYC. We came to learn that it is also a popular destination for anyone living in New England (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts) because you can take a ferry across the Long Island Sound, into Montauk.
For us, living in NYC, we decided to take a little road trip and drive out across all of Long Island from one end of Long Island (did you know Brooklyn and Queens comprise the western side of Long Island?) to the other, early on a Wednesday morning in June.
One thing that was a bit nerve-wracking about the Hamptons is that it is a destination on the higher end of travel spend. Did you know Montauk was the most expensive travel destination in the entire US, in 2019? This stems partially from the cost of accommodation per night, due to scarcity and supply. This year, it’s not much different, due to demand, although it may not take the first place at #1.
Anyway, we set off for our trip through the Hamptons with a goal in mind, and this goal is: determine if Montauk is a destination where you can stick to a budget.
Do you think it was possible? Well, we want to help you travel and enjoy Montauk without breaking your entire summer travel budget, so read on!
How to save money on a trip to Montauk
The rumors are true: Montauk is not cheap.
We did learn, however, that if you already live in NYC and are accustomed to New York City prices of everything (eating out, transport, rent…), Montauk is not too surprising when it comes to the cost of all goods that have made it all the way to the end of Long Island.
What was rather shocking was the cost of hotels, especially in high season. We’ll explain this soon.
When is it cheapest to go to Montauk?
- It is cheapest to go to Montauk during the week, before Friday, and after Sunday. An ideal stay would be Monday to Wednesday. We went Wednesday until Friday.
- If you’d like to avoid higher prices and crowds in the high season, then go to Montauk in the shoulder season. This will be before Memorial Day (last weekend in May), or after Labor Day (typically the first weekend in September. Consider that temperatures may be a bit cooler, especially out in the Hamptons, before June and after September, but you will still have a chance at beautiful sunny weather and it won’t be too hot.
If you are set on going to Montauk and you don’t want to break the bank, consider going in October. While the average hotel per-night stay tends to cost anywhere from $250-1000 during June, July, and August, if you can delay your trip to October and put up with some chillier weather, you could be paying as low as $98 per night for a hotel/motel on Booking.com.
If you are more inclined to stay in an Airbnb, use this link to get $25 off your first stay.
Top tips for a budget-friendly trip to Montauk
- Bring snacks from home, grocery stores in the town are expensive (Our cost-per-banana index (CPBI) was $1.50 bananas, where in NYC they are $0.25 each). Check out our suggestions of healthy snacks for travel.
- Acknowledge that doing things like taking surf lessons or other excursions (hiring a boat) will probably be rather expensive, and that doing things for free (keep reading) will be more savvy
- Choose accommodation like a motel or small hotel and expect to pay in the $200-300 range, per night, as the most economic accommodation option
- Choose to get takeaway from restaurants and make your own picnics
- Capitalize on things like free coffee at your hotel, and free bike rentals
- Use your legs to walk around, stroll on the beach, hike and go jogging, if you like to be active during a trip
Where to park for free in Montauk
We were nervous about paying hefty parking fees during the day at meters or in lots, but luckily, we found lots of free parking in the little downtown of Montauk!
There are several shopping centers near the main traffic circle, and parking was free (when we went) at all times.
Parking was also free at the state parks, but after 4 pm, from what we could see.
We went to the Montauk Lighthouse State Park at Montauk Point State Park, and saw signs that parking was free only after 4pm. Luckily, we arrived at 6 and avoided any costs out of pocket for visiting.
Parking was also free at our hotel (we stayed at Haven, which you can snag a room at on Booking.com!), so that was a save.
Where to stay in Montauk on a budget
As mentioned above, Montauk is not one of the budget destinations we’d typically recommend in our travel guides, for the high costs of daily spend.
But, when wanting to explore more of the US, it comes at a price. What we want to help you with is how to find an inexpensive place to stay at.
We stayed at [Haven], which has different pricing depending on the demand of the day of the week (Monday and Tuesday are lowest), and the month (early June is still less expensive than July or August, or even September). If you start your searching, you will notice that places for accommodation that look like inexpensive hotels and motels actually start their pricing at $500 per night for most of summer.
So, how do you go to Montauk and keep costs down? The data is pretty clear: go in October, where you’ll see motel prices starting at $98 per night during the week, and up to $150, to top off the low range.
We recommend checking out Booking.com to see all your options. In early June and during the weekdays before Friday, Haven (which we really recommend!) was priced in the $200-300 per night range, and for July 4 weekend, a huge holiday here in the US, costs rose to $1100. You’ll see this throughout the Hamptons, so beware of supply and demand and big holidays!
Our review of Haven Montauk (recommended accommodation)
We liked Haven because it had a retro feel with all the fun add-ons of a hotel to stay at for a little trip.
To start off, the staff is super nice! And there’s free coffee every morning in the reception area.
When we stayed at Haven Montauk, we were lucky enough to stay in a decked-out room sponsored by AriZona Iced Tea and their relatively new brand of sparkling fruit water, Santa Fe. Check it out on Amazon and directly on AriZona’s website.
Check out these photos of all the fun and bright trimmings our hotel room had, during our stay!
We enjoyed the pool and pool area at Haven, along with the free bike rentals, breakfast tables outside reception, and most of all, the side backyard, where there was a fire pit for roasting marshmallows and making S’mores, sitting back in an Adirondack chair with a drink, and watching the starry skies at night.
What to do in Montauk on a budget
If you travel like us, maybe you’re happy with walking around in a place, drinking coffee, picnicking with some good food, working out during the day and watching the sunset off a dock at night.
That’s pretty much a perfect trip for us, where we can spend quality time with each other and get some nice photos for memories.
In terms of chilled-out budget-friendly things to do in Montauk, here’s our go-to list!
This is probably the reason you came! Montauk Beach, or the main drag of it, is located right south of the main downtown area and is on the south side of the peninsula. The beach is wide, the sand is clean, and the waves are pretty big! This area is popular for surfers.
If you’re staying in one of the hotels or motels toward the top of Lake Montauk, Star Island won’t be far. I took a little stop on Star Island while out on a daytime bike ride, and what I found was a private yacht club, the Coast Guard headquarters and a little dock in the small harbor. Biking or running onto Star Island from the mainland will put you at a dead end, but it’s a nice little detour.
Lake Montauk is a sizable lake that’s geographically connected to the Long Island Sound. According to what I just read on Google about it, it’s an artificial ‘emayment,’ home to the largest area of fishing in all of New York State.
While it’s not hugely interesting to observe, what is really nice is the road that surrounds Lake Montauk in a horseshoe shape, and it’s home to lots of beautiful homes and quiet side streets. We recommend the horseshoe road (West Lake Drive) for running, biking and walking.
Ditch Plains Beach
Ditch Plains Beach was on my bucket list of things to do in Montauk, but unfortunately, we did not make it there. Ditch Plains beach is popular for swimming and surfing and is located two miles east (toward the end of the island) from Montauk village and downtown.
Hither Hills State Park
We were recommended to go to Hither Hills State Park by quite a few Montauk locals, but unfortunately, due to it being high tick season, we decided against it. We really wanted to go hiking here, so hopefully we can come back in the fall. Hither Hills State Park is a scenic park with a freshwater lake, a large beach, a coastal hiking trail and areas for fishing.
Shadmoor State Park
Another state park that came highly recommended for a Montauk trip is Shadmoor State Park. Again, and very unfortunately, due to it being high tick season when we visited Montauk, we decided to save this state park for another time.
I had really been looking forward to hiking in Shadmoor State Park, as it has a 2.5-mile long loop trail with great views of the ocean, with lookouts over the bluff (sandy cliffs). This would have been epic for nature photos!
Go running or biking around Montauk Lake
What we did engage in during our trip to Montauk was running and biking! Dan prefers running, and I prefer biking, so, after our morning breakfasts at Goldberg’s and coffee in the courtyard of our hotel, we spent sunny afternoons working out on West Lake Drive.
If you’re into working out while you travel, this is a great idea! Dan got in 10 miles of running by doing the whole horseshoe, and I biked into some of the residential roads closer to the north side of the Montauk town.
Where to eat on a budget in Montauk
When I picture the Hamptons, I think 5-star dining with white tablecloths and name-brand restaurants with famous chefs.
However, Montauk was different! We were delighted to find everything from local bagel places to some no-frills Mexican spots for take-out on the go. This kept our dining spending to a minimum, and we felt healthy, too!
One big thing for us, as I kept us on a tight photography schedule, was that once golden hour hit, I wanted to be out shooting photos at all the pretty scenic spots I had located and starred in my Google Maps.
So, there was no time to eat dinner, especially with the late sunsets in mid-June, giving us daylight until 8:30 pm. We were happiest with picking up food and eating it out of take-out boxes while picnicking at docks or state parks by the water.
Here are all the restaurants we tried and recommend, along with which of them have vegan and gluten-free options!
El Taco Ole
We found this taco spot while walking around the eastern end of the downtown strip on the Montauk Highway/Route 27. El Taco Ole has an online ordering platform on which you can easily place an order for pickup and pay with credit cards.
What made us happiest here: they have a vegan and gluten-free jackfruit taco that was something to write home about! We recommend it if you’re a vegetarian traveler on the hunt for plant-based options, and if you’re down to try something new!
This easy and fast Mexican spot has gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan options, and was our first choice for a dinner takeaway spot for our first night in Montauk. I got the chicken tacos (corn tortillas, for a gluten-free default option!) and Dan got a veggie burrito bowl with tons of great veggie delights.
Hooked is a local seafood spot with cute outdoor dining at picnic tables and some alcohol to get your day or night started. While we only stopped here for fries (not gluten-free, by the way, so Dan ate them and he said they were delicious), we did have some local treats of Montauk beer (Dan) and Montauk hard seltzer lemonade (for me). There’s nothing like having the Montauk brewery specials, right in Montauk.
We were in the mood for some fruit and veggies in our systems, so we went on the hunt for acai bowls or smoothies. We found a smoothie counter at this small food market and convenience store next to a smoothie place that was cash only, and since I had left my wallet at the hotel, we were able to use a credit card to get an almond butter-blueberry smoothie at Cromer’s.
Not to be missed, Goldberg’s is the primary option for bagels and yummy brunch food in the Hamptons. We saw quite a few Goldberg’s Bagels locations along the way, and keep in mind that the Montauk location also has flagels (flat bagels, of course), along with breakfast sandwiches, bagels sandwiches, an “Israeli burrito” and chips and drinks for taking along with you.
Naturally Good Foods & Cafe
Probably the most vegan- and gluten-free-friendly spot in all of town, Naturally Good Foods & Cafe was an absolute delight to find when we arrived in town. It is here that I had some of the BEST tuna salad I’ve ever had in my LIFE, and when it’s on a gluten-free bagel…
Oh man, I have no words. This cafe has a sandwich and lunch food counter, along with an entire health foods store with vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian and organic products you can take away for snacks or with your lunch. They do have limited hours and are closed on Thursdays, so keep that in mind and visit their Google listing before you go.
Montauk Farmers Market
The Montauk Farmers Market is set up on Thursdays during high season from May until mid-September, and then switches to Fridays, from mid-September until mid-November.
It’s a great way to see some local vendors from Long Island businesses and farms, and you will have the chance to taste and buy North Fork wines, keto-friendly granola, local honey, pickles and baked goods, just to name a few of the treats here at the market in town.
If you live in the NY area, you’ve probably seen Montauk beers in your local bodega, Whole Foods, grocery store or beer store. The ‘actual’ Montauk Brewery is a little red house, right near downtown, in Montauk!
We tried to go, but it was so crowded there were no seats left. So, we’re saving a trip to Montauk Brewery for next time, and we got you some photos anyway.
Secret photo spots in Montauk
It’s not a trip we took if we didn’t hunt down a few places where you can avoid the crowds and tourists in the Hamptons. We take pride in that. With the help of some research and some places we nailed down on Google Maps, here are the photography spots where you can take the best scenic photos in Montauk.
Edward V Ecker Sr Memorial FIshing Pier
This is a long wooden pier that juts off from a very quiet inlet on Fort Pond Bay.
Keep taking Navy Road until it ends, and you’ll see a right turn for a parking lot. Park your car, and walk to the left to find the dock.
Navy Road is a road that hugs the Fort Pond Bay, to the west of Montauk downtown village. Find it in your maps, and then take it to this spot to be at a mini boardwalk that faces sunset.
You can thank us later!
This is a west-facing sunset spot along the bay, and there are a few areas where you can park your car for a little while, for free.
Make sure you look up a sunset time, and then hang around with your camera to get great shots like these.
Camp Hero Bluffs at Turtle Cove
The Camp Hero Bluffs is a convenient spot for getting a great photo of the lighthouse from far away, with some nature in the foreground and background. There is a free parking lot here, so get out of your car, see the bluffs (don’t look down!) and turn left to take some of the small walking paths that go toward the lighthouse.
Camp Hero State Park
Camp Hero State Park is a cool place that was used by the military starting in WWII and ending after the Cold War. You can Google the history if you like learning about that type of thing. Take your car through the roads leading to “Camp Hero,” and you’ll see the deserted radar tower and other former military buildings.
There’s a lot of hiking and biking to be done here, but do watch out for ticks in early summer, or you could be in for a bit of danger.
Montauk Point State Park
Montauk Point State Park is the actual end of Long Island! From here, you can see Block Island (Rhode Island), and Connecticut. You can enjoy the caw-caw-ing of seagulls, a visit to the Lighthouse (the museum is currently under renovation) and some nice views during golden hour and sunset. You can also do a virtual tour of the museum.
Parking is free after 4pm!
Sunset Beach (top of Montauk Lake)
This little-known beach is a nice spot for sunset, as it faces west-ish. It’s just a hop away from Haven Montauk (the hotel at which we stayed), and there’s a small metal step-ladder leading up to the beach from the road. This beach is quiet and not typically used for swimming, so it’s nice for sitting, walking or taking photos.
Gin Beach faces the Gosman’s Dock & Restaurant area from the other side of the lake. On this side, you can see the Montauk County Park, eat the Boneyard, and pick up prepared foods at the Gin Beach Market.
Places to visit on the way to Montauk for a Hamptons road trip
For a Hamptons road trip, you don’t have to spend a ton of money or stay in every single town. You can pass through with a car, and you can certainly get a taste for what the Hamptons towns are like, by seeing the main drag of most of them along Rt. 27.
Southampton is one of the biggest Hamptons towns, and it has a beautifully pristine downtown area with shops, dining, cafes and boutiques. Here, you’ll find lots of name brands that you’d find in TriBeCa or SoHo in NYC. You can also visit the original Tate’s Bake Shop, and the Parrish Art Museum also comes highly-recommended.
We drove through East Hampton and did not get out of the car, but we have some friends who spent weekend trips there recently. East Hampton is known for high-end real estate and some nice beaches.
I liked Sag Harbor the best of all the South Fork Hamptons towns we saw, and that’s because it has a really old colonial character and the downtown is totally adorable.
Sag Harbor has a fishing and whaling history, connecting it to some incredible facts about the Revolutionary war and the settling of New York State. Here, you’ll see beautiful Victorian homes, attractive shopping and dining, and a windmill at the Sag Harbor marina. We found free half-hour parking right downtown near a pizza place.
Safety in Montauk
Montauk is totally safe! No one talks about any crime here, and during the week, it is really quite quiet, with vacationers and young people.
Watch out for ticks at Camp Hero State Park and other wooded areas
Luckily, I read a few recent Google reviews about visiting Camp Hero State Park for hiking, and the two most recent reviews reported TONS of ticks after getting out of the car and spending time there. It’s true that this is a problem in June, and perhaps not later in the summer.
We suggest doing your research through travel apps and websites and asking your hotel staff, or any other locals. You can also read Google reviews left by travelers who visited before you.
Wear sunscreen and bug spray!
We forgot to bring mosquito spray, and it might have been a good idea.
We also ran out of sunscreen after our second day, so we recommend bringing extra. It’s also helpful to have some after-sun aloe!
Should I drive or take the train (LIRR) to Montauk and the Hamptons?
This is up to you, your available options and your budget.
How to take the train from NYC to the Hamptons or Montauk
You can take the LIRR (train) to Montauk station from NYC and you walk into town and stay there, at a motel or hotel. The main downtown is near the beaches, and you could spend your whole trip walking. The beach is long, and there is surfing on the south side.
Drive or rent a car and road trip to the Hamptons and Montauk
We took a car from NYC to the Hamptons and Montauk. We left EARLY at 6:15 am, and we still hit traffic! Traffic can get pretty bad on Route 27, so take a detour if you can, or try to travel during the off hours like super early morning, or nighttime.
Take a ferry from Connecticut or Block Island, RI, to Montauk
Ferries are a great way to be seafaring and cut some distance off your drive, if you want to go from New England directly to Montauk and stay on a budget. Keep in mind that ferries are seasonal. We did not take the ferry, so we advise researching the ferry lines and timetables, along with costs.
What to pack for a trip to Montauk
Everyone’s packing will be different, but we suggest keeping a minimalist packing mindset if you can!
Some things we packed for our trip to Montauk were…
- A bathing suit that can be worn all day: I tend to like a standard black strapless one like this one
- Travel-sized high-SPF sunscreen
- Flip flops! I just got these sport recovery flip flops and they’re great
- Birkenstock sandals, for walking around or going out (we both have these), and if you have trouble deciding which kinds of shoes to bring for a trip, see my guide to travel shoes for women
- A handy travel camera with accessories like a tripod
- A pair of travel pants with some handy pockets for keys, wallets, whatever
- The perfect backpack for a weekend trip like a backpack, or this sturdy travel backpack by Tom Bihn that Dan always uses
- This list of travel accessories you didn’t even know you needed
One last thing: sustainable travel
Always remember to leave no trace (LNT), and take all your trash with you when you leave a state park, beach or natural area! It helps keep the nature of the Hamptons beautiful for the next visitor who comes. We love being mindful and try to travel sustainably whenever we can.
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