4. Rockville Centre
With a population of over 24,000, Rockville Centre is one of Nassau County’s largest villages with a bustling downtown. Bordered by Lynbrook and Oceanside, Rockville Centre is not too frequently visited by New York City residents, but the village has a large selection of shops, restaurants, and parks for an escape from the city. Rockville Centre was previously a Lenape settlement in the 1600s, but many of these Lenape were pushed out of their homeland by the Dutch and English. The village gained its current name from Methodist preacher Mordecai “Rock” Smith, and by the early 1900s Rockville Centre became a commuter town that was affordable for many people with easy city access.
Rockville Centre was also a major hub of the Civil Rights Movement on Long Island, in opposition to the considerable number of KKK supporters living in the village. Supposedly in 1923, the KKK put a wreath on the town’s war memorial, but the American Legion removed it in protest. In the 1960s, the village was accused of failing to maintain proper living standards for African Americans, and in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. visited Rockville Centre to speak to a large audience at South Side Junior High School.
The Golden Reef Diner in Rockville Center
Rockville Centre is home to a number of parks and nature preserves, including Morgan Days Park on Smith Pond, Mill River Complex Park, and Tanglewood Preserve. The village also houses the Phillips House Museum, a restored Victorian-era home dedicated to depicting life in Rockville Centre during the 19th and 20th centuries. According to Newsday, Rockville Centre has around 100 active restaurants, and the village is in the process of renovating its downtown by burying power lines, rebuilding roads and sidewalks, and installing new lights and decorations. The village is often considered an urban suburb and a “mini-Manhattan” due to its eclectic downtown yet Tudor and Victorian houses.
Living up to its urban atmosphere, Rockville Centre’s food scene is vibrant and creative, with a mix of old-time favorites and more contemporary eateries. The area is home to an abundance of Asian eateries, ranging from 8 Ramen to Tum Thai Cuisine to Kashi Japanese. Due to its proximity to the water, seafood features prominently on the menus of long-time favorite Bigelow’s New England Fried Clams and Cajun restaurant Voodoo Crab. Blue Moon and Nick’s serve up classic New York-style pizza, while Dodici and Viaggio offer a more modern take on Italian cooking. Taverns and bars like The Dark Horse Tavern have flourished in the village, and coffee shops like Kookaburra Coffee have been popping up over the last decade. Other restaurants to note include Mexican eatery Mesita, sandwich shop Press 195 (with a location in Bayside), and Dominican restaurant Punta Cana Grill.