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A North Ferry boat makes the approach to Shelter Island. (Credit: David Benthal)

It takes little more than a peek at a map to figure out how Shelter Island got its name.

The island is nestled between the north and south forks of Long Island with Robins Island to the west and Gardiners Island to the east. Its Native American name, Manhansack-aha-quash-awamock, literally translates to “island sheltered by islands.” 

This rare geography has shaped Shelter Island as a nature lover’s paradise.

A profile of the island must start with mention of Mashomack Preserve, which features 2,039 acres of interlacing tidal creeks, mature oak woodlands, fields, and freshwater marshes. Occupying 12 miles of coastland, the preserve, which is maintained by the Nature Conservancy, envelops nearly a third of the island and is often referred to as the “Jewel of the Peconic.” It’s a haven for hikers and birdwatchers alike and is considered one of the richest habitats in the northeast.

The island’s remote locale has also made it a destination for people seeking a summertime escape from New York City and beyond, particularly boaters who spend their weekends patrolling Shelter Island Sound and Gardiners Bay.

Once the boats are docked its on to one of the island’s handful of bay beaches — Wades ( with its comfort stations), Hay ( with views of Bug Light), Shell (which is largely secluded) and Crescent (with its close proximity to hotels and bars) all have unique qualities that set them apart from each other.

Names & Numbers

Indian name: Manhansack-aha-quash-awamock

Settled: 1652

Area: 12.19 square miles

Population: 2,392

ZIP Code: 11964-65

School Nickname: Indians

Coffee and pastries at Marie Eiffel Market or Stars Café are a great way to start your mornings on the island. For lunch, we recommend a takeout burrito from the unassuming Maria’s Kitchen or freshly caught fish from Commander Cody’s. Boaters can’t go wrong docking and dining at SALT.

The island boasts several fine dining options, most notably 18 Bay, Vine Street Café and Isola. Enjoy cocktails and live music at the Ram’s Head Inn or have a nightcap at The Dory.

The Chequit is a more than formidable option for luxury accommodations and the Candlelite Inn is a casual bed and breakfast spot.

Of course, no stay on Shelter Island is complete without a little shopping and you’ll definitely want to experience the two Dabney Lee locations, one for home goods and the other for children’s and women’s clothing. Coastal Cottage is another great spot for houseware finds.

Families can scratch any itch at Jack’s Marine, a hardware store that also sells toys and more.

It’s no accident we’re highlighting Shelter Island in July. Summer is the perfect time of year to visit.

There’s just one problem with visiting an island as special as this. No matter how sheltered it is, you’ll still have to return home eventually.