Top 5 Ways to Let Your Quirky Flag Fly on Long Island

Long Island is becoming a pretty diverse place these days. There is diversity not just in ethnicity and experience, but also in tangible things, too, like the resources that contribute to one's quality of life. If you like fine dining or shopping, for instance, you're in luck. If you're a parent looking for things to do with your children, or if you're a naturalist looking for ways to enjoy the outdoors, opportunities also abound. And if your interests fall somewhere, let's just say, "outside the lines" of those newly popular coloring books for adults, then Long Island has much to offer you, too.

The contents of this top five list were generated based on the personal experiences of a self-described quirky Long Islander, and were honed with careful consideration of their respective unusual or unique characteristics. Inquiry-based criteria were incorporated, such as "How is this usually depicted in mainstream films?" and "What does this cultural oddity have in common with other cultural oddities?" Much remains to be explored, of course, but here are a few top ways to let your quirky flag fly here on Long Island.

5. Collect selfies at roadside attractions.
Most cities and towns have some form of them, and entire Hollywood movies have been made featuring them prominently. Long Island has quite a few really good ones. Among them are the Big Duck in Flanders, literally a giant white duck on the side of the road, from which a couple of duck farmers once sold their ducks; Massapequa's Big Chief Lewis, an enormous statue of a fictitious Native American, along with a horse, buffalo, and totem pole that are thought to bring good luck to those who make wishes there; and a huge bust of Hercules, once the actual figurehead of an old Naval ship, that gazes off into the distance off a harbor-side road in Stony Brook.

4. Go on an out-of-the-ordinary shopping spree.
If you don't know what Yesterday's Treasures in Southampton is, you're going to do a double-take when you pass it as you head into the Hamptons. You'll know it by its outdoor display of lifelike dinosaur sculptures, statues of fictional people like Superman, Elvis, and (spoilers) Santa Claus, and animal after animal carved in stone or cast in plaster, but inside, the store sells smaller stuff, too. Yesterday's Treasures is only one of many unique stores on Long Island. TrainLand in Lynbrook is for the hardcore model train enthusiast — so much so that its website notes most of its products "are not intended for use by children under the age of 14." The Silver Broom in Sayville, which has an associated Wiccan congregation, seasonal herb and flower garden, and event space, sells artisans' wares and necessities and accessories for spiritual practices. The Brothers Grimm in Selden sells games and collectibles and offers gaming space and computers for trying out games and playing tournaments. The St. James General Store in St. James is a hometown treasure built in and operated since 1857 that currently sells toys, old books, Long Island historic memorabilia, and more. It's also rumored to be haunted. Utopia, which sells hard-to-find clothing, accessories, home décor, smoking accessories and more at its Hicksville and Centereach shops, is so cool and weird it's almost intimidating. The list goes on and on.

3. Channel your inner circus freak.
I.Fly Trapeze School should come with a warning: Flying through the air, learning actual circus tricks that would make your mother cringe, and then free-falling into the net below is pretty addicting. With locations in East Meadow and Long Beach, I.Fly is open April through October. Group lessons range from beginner to advanced; parties, workshops, and corporate events are also available. Forget the creepy circus organ music — personal experience says trapeze school is pure rock and roll.

2. Choose your con.
If crossing bridges and tunnels isn't your thing, yet you feel your soul being sucked Death-Eater-style toward New York Comic Con, you can still have plenty of fangirl and fanboy fun on Long Island. Eternal Con is coming up from June 17-19, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. Eternal Con bills itself as "The Long Island Comic Con." The convention that used to be known as I-CON, held for about 30 years at Stony Brook University, was reborn in 2014 as LI CON. It began as a science fiction convention, expanded into the anime and fantasy genres, and soon also encompassed comics, gaming, and more. No date for the next LI Con has been announced, but keep your eye on its website for more information. And, since bow ties are cool, Long Island also has its very own Doctor Who themed convention, LI Who, now in its fourth year and set for Nov. 11-13. There's also Long Island Geek, a sci-fi and fantasy convention, planned for April 2-3 this year.

And the number-one way to express your inner quirk on Long Island?

1. Admit you're obsessed with penguins.
There's a real thing on Long Island called the Penguin Encounter. You'll find it at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, and for this experience, you'll get to step into the penguin habitat, see young African penguins up-close at the "Penguin Preschool," and even take pictures with them. Children under 5 are not permitted, and kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult, for whom admission is also required. While the Penguin Encounter has a $50 price tag on top of general aquarium admission, think about it realistically. How else are you going to see a penguin like this? Book a trip to Antarctica yourself? Didn't think so.

Christine Sampson is a full-time journalist who has lived on Long Island for more than 30 years.