3. Port Jefferson
Port Jefferson, a village in the Town of Brookhaven, is one of the more popular tourist destinations in Suffolk County, yet the area has quite of a lot of obscure sites and under-the-radar eateries to explore. In the mid-1600s, the first settlers bought a tract of land from the Setalcott Indians, which included Port Jefferson and neighboring villages on the North Shore. Known as Sowasset, or “place of small pines,” Port Jefferson began to develop into a small settlement of five homes in the 1680s after Irish Protestant shoemaker John Roe built a home in the current downtown, which still stands today.
There is some debate about whether John Paul Jones had a ship manufactured in Port Jefferson, but it is certain that the village constructed its first shipyard in 1797. A small fort was built on Port Jefferson Harbor after two British warships sent boats into the harbor during the War of 1812. As Port Jefferson further grew its shipbuilding industry, P.T. Barnum actually bought a tract of land in the village as the home base for his circus, yet residents were quick to stop him. By the 1940s, the harbor was repurposed for oil transportation and rum-running for a short time during Prohibition. The downtown was revitalized in the 1970s after its 1963 incorporation, including new waterfront shops and restaurants.
Many historic buildings from the 1840s through the 1870s can be found in the Port Jefferson Village Historic District, with many structures in the Greek Revival and Italianate styles. Other Port Jefferson locates on the NRHP include Bayles Shipyard and the First National Bank of Port Jefferson along Main Street. Right in the downtown is Danford’s Hotel and Marina, which features a walkable pier and a small park. Other Port Jefferson Parks include the quiet Harborfront Park, Rocketship Park, and Founders Park. As the county begins to open up more, notable museums include The Mather House, reminiscent of the mid-19th century, and the Long Island Explorium. The village also features a number of sculptures and murals by local artists, as well as a few small galleries.
Port Jefferson’s downtown is a mix of both historic and new, and many restaurants try to fuse classic recipes with more contemporary cooking styles. Old Fields Restaurant, which opened its first location in 1956, is best known for their marinated steaks but also has introduced more modern options like street tacos. Popular seafood options include The Steam Room and Fifth Season Restaurant, while Italian options range from Ruvo to Pasta Pasta. Tacos and other Mexican options are available at Barito Tacos & Cocktails and Salsa Salsa, while baked goods are the star at East Main & Main and The Secret Garden Tea Cafe. Other notable restaurants include Slurp Ramen, Cest Cheese, and Prohibition Port Jefferson. A little further inland at Port Jefferson Station, next to the train station, are two more seafood spots: the dive bar Tara Inn serving affordable lobsters and more, and PJ Lobster House.