kissing rock shelter island beaches

Shelter Island Beaches – Your Complete Guide to Fun in the Sun

Shelter Island beaches are some of the best beaches in the Northeast, and certainly in the Hamptons.

While they may not have the gigantic Atlantic Ocean waves (and freezing temps!) and miles of sand to traverse before you even hit the water, what can we say? We’re partial to our beloved bay beaches. They’re calm, peaceful and intimate. You can literally get out of your car or bike over and set up your beach spot in five minutes flat. You also get prime boat and even yacht watching depending on the time of day you’re there. But whenever you decide to hit up the beaches in Shelter Island, you can be promised fun in the sun and prime relaxation. Think no crowds, no noise and only good vibes.

Amidst its 8,000 acres and 29 miles of East End beauty, we’ve counted about five well-known Shelter Island beaches outside of private swaths of sand and little coves that grace the island. These five beaches offer everything from a fun people watching scene to unique wildlife to family-friendly bonding time. Whichever beach you choose, you can’t go wrong. We’re breaking down our favorite Shelter Island beaches and what makes each one of them so special.

What makes Shelter Island beaches so special? For one they’re all incredibly clean. No matter where you head, you can be promised pristine surroundings and a respect of the water and environment. Another facet we love about beaches on Shelter Island is that they’re rarely crowded. Even Crescent (aka “Sunset) Beach, which is home to the Sunset Beach Hotel and adjoining restaurant, rarely gets too packed during the day. Reason being is that you need a beach pass to access any of our beaches, which isn’t that easy to obtain if you’re not a local resident. That leaves endless space for you and your crew to lounge without feeling like you’re on top of people. Beyond that, it’s the simple beauty of Shelter Island you gain at every beach vantage point that always has us wishing for one more beach day.

*All photography in this article is by Doug Young.

wades beach landscape
Wades Beach

Shelter Island Beaches You Must Visit:

Best Family Beach:
Wades Beach

Best Romantic Beach:
Shell Beach

Best Beach for Swimming:
Hay Beach

Best Beach to Explore Wildlife:
Reel Point

Best Beach for Adventures (Kayaking/Paddleboarding):
Crescent Beach

Best Shelter Island Beach For The Family – Wades Beach

Wades Beach is one of our favorite Shelter Island beaches for a number of reasons. One is that it has a roped off swimming portion of the beach that is often watched over by a lifeguard. It also features a clean changing room and bathroom facilities right there. We love the soft, gentle waves and wide open space, where even your most active brood has an area all to themselves on which to play. Picnic tables make for easy, no-fuss lunches, and the perfect setting for beach snacks. Visit anytime of day for fun in the sun.

114 S Midway Rd, Shelter Island, NY 11964

best shelter island beaches for family is wades beach
Wades Beach

Best Romantic Beach – Shell Beach

Shell Beach is considered the romantic one of the Shelter Island beaches as it’s just a remote sliver of expanse roughly three quarters in length that protrudes into the Shelter Island Sound. You would never just happen upon Shell Beach, but once you make the trip, you’ll be so grateful you did. Shell Beach lacks amenities and offerings but makes up for it in the form of clean warm waters, beautiful wildflowers and views of West Neck Harbor and South Fork. Parts of Shell Beach play host to wildlife like piping plovers as well as other nesting birds. But perhaps the reason it got its name is for the millions of beautiful tiny shells lining the beach that turn the sand an iridescent color when the sun casts itself in a certain light. This is the perfect spot for a romantic picnic, a deux, and maybe even an “I do.” Visit at dusk or sunset for a meditative beach moment.

Oak Tree Lane past West Neck Point, Shelter Island, NY 11964

best shelter island beaches for romance include shell beach
Shell Beach

Best Beach for Swimming – Hay Beach

This beach located on the northern tip of Shelter Island has magnificent views toward Greenport, East Marion, Orient and Gardiners Island with five points to access its sandy expanse. Historians tell us it got its name during the Revolutionary War, when trees were cut and picked up by ships to deliver to George Washington’s troops during winter months. After the war, tenant farmers paid their rent in hay, dropping it off on Hiberry Lane where ships picked the bales up to deliver to landlords. Anyway, regardless of nomenclature, we love swimming at Hay beach due to its vast size and total intimacy. It’s unfussy, super quiet and yet seems to just go on for miles. It offers plenty of privacy so you’ll never ram into a fellow swimmer. It’s dog friendly, too! Go in the morning for sunrise with the Northeastern views onto the nearby North Fork.

Point Lane, Shelter Island, NY 11964

Best Shelter Island Beach to Explore Wildlife – Reel Point Preserve

Grab your binoculars and birding sheets, this fragile sand peninsula of Reel Point Preserve is a picture perfect paradise for animal lovers. It was donated to the Peconic Land Trust in 1995 by Marsha and Herb Stern and is a beautiful wildlife habitat at the tip of Ram Island. With a topographic mixture of American beach grass, seaside goldenrod, and bayberry, the peninsula is a haven for migratory birds and butterflies, including osprey, piping plovers and Monarchs. Go early mornings for peak birding.

The End of Club Drive on Ram Island, Shelter Island, NY 11964

Best Beach for Adventures (Kayaking/Paddleboarding) – Crescent Beach

Home of the famous Sunset Beach Hotel and restaurant, Crescent Beach is one of the most popular Shelter Island beaches, featuring fun-the-sun crowds popping rosé all day and looking for a good time. But did you know it’s also one of the best beaches for adventures like kayaking and paddleboarding? Venture Out paddleboarding and kayak rentals is a vendor lining Crescent Beach during the summer, making it easier than ever to have an on-water adventure straight from the beach. All you have to do is head over and get sized for your next outing and you’ll be on the water in no time. Once you’re back you can check out the epic sunset, for which the beach is nicknamed before turning it in for the night, or head over to Sunset Beach and hang with the party crowd. Head out in the morning for a smooth experience before the boats come in and make waves.

Shore Road, Shelter Island, NY 11964

best shelter island beaches for adventure is crescent beach
Crescent Beach

When it comes to Shelter Island beaches, you simply can’t go wrong. Depending upon your mood, who you’re with and what you’re game for, the island offers an array of beaches that are perfect for any situation. The best part is that you can visit all of them!

(Please note for all Shelter Island Beaches, beach permits are free for residents; however, visitors can obtain a weekly vehicle permit at Seven B&B for access to all beaches on the Island. Also, camping, nude bathing, and motor vehicles are prohibited on all Town Public Beaches. Animals are prohibited on all Town Public Beaches from Memorial Day through Labor Day.)