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Downtown Wading River from above in the early morning hours. (Credit: David Benthal)

The hamlet of Wading River often leads a double life.

It’s part of both Riverhead and Brookhaven towns and it’s split between a pair of school districts, with children sent to Shoreham-Wading River and Riverhead schools. Its more-often-traveled main roads are also far different from its bucolic back roads. 

Wading River is ultimately where the North Fork way of life begins — with its farm stands and nature — though geographically speaking, it’s not quite on the fork.

The feeling you’re someplace different starts as you travel on North Country Road into the hamlet’s sleepy downtown. There you’ll find the peaceful Duck Ponds and a handful of dining options you can easily take to-go for a picnic. Directly across from the ponds is Mesquite, a Tex-Mex spot offering up some of the best specialty tacos around. Just to the west is the always smoky North Fork Bacon & Smokehouse and My Creperie, located where the old Wading River General Store once existed.

Unlike the hamlets to the east, no vineyards dot the landscape in Wading River, but they do have Phil’s, a top neighborhood bar and grill that has operated out of the former Judge’s Hotel for the better part of three decades. And at the western edge of Sound Avenue, Pure North Fork is a refuge for fans of craft drinks and tasty bites, a great final stop after a day spent at the nearby spa and shops at East Wind.

Names and numbers

English name: Wading River

Indian name: Pauquaconsuk

Settled: 1671

Area: 9.8 square miles

Population: 7,719

ZIP code: 11792

School nickname: Wildcats

If you’re planning a beach day in Wading River, it’s not a bad idea to consider fueling up first at Brekky, a tiny coffee shop serving up fresh baked goods and acai bowls.

Located on the Long Island Sound, Wading River Beach is widely considered one of the best places to catch a sunset in town and many locals and visitors to the hamlet make it a date night with a walk across the street for drinks and fine dining at La Plage — a true hidden gem of the East End.

Located west of the Peconics, only the north side of Wading River features waterfront views — a minus when compared to points east — but the rural farmhouse charm north of Route 25A is akin to what can be found in the historic hamlets of Orient to the east and Stony Brook to the west. And like those other communities, Wading River boasts a state park that draws many visitors to the area for camping, swimming, fishing and hiking. Located on the eastern edge of Wading River, Wildwood State Park encompasses 767 acres on the Long Island Sound.

What ultimately makes Wading River the gateway to the North Fork is its handful of farm stands, which include the always popular Lewin Farms, the quieter Andrews Family Farm, the more agritainment-based Fink’s, and Leannes Country Gardens, which boasts plants and flowers to beautify your yard.

Wading River may not be the North Fork, but it still carries a similiar charm.