With no golf course and a lone museum that takes only about 15 minutes to see, little on the island distracts from the central missions of sunning, cycling, hiking, lolling, and ingesting copious quantities of lobster, clams, chowder, and alcohol. Add a couple of lighthouses, a wildlife refuge, and three topographical features of note, and that's about it, enough to provide destinations for a few leisurely bike trips. A driving tour of every site on that list takes no more than 2 hours.
A couple of miles south of Old Harbor on what starts out as Spring Street is the Southeast Lighthouse (tel. 401/466-5009; www.nps.gov). A tablet by the road claims that, in 1590, the Manisseans, the Indians of Block Island, drove a war-party of 40 Mohegans over the bluffs. An undeniably appealing Victorian structure, built in 1874, the lighthouse's claim for attention lies primarily in the fact that it had to be moved 245 feet back from the eroding precipice a few years ago to save it. That was expensive, and now another $1 million or two is desperately needed to renovate this National Historic Landmark. While a small exhibit on the ground floor can be seen for free, the admission fee to the top is $5.
Continuing along the same road, which goes through other names and soon makes a sharp right turn inland, watch for the left turn onto West Side Road. In a few hundred yards, pull over near the sign for Rodman's Hollow, a geological dent dug by a passing glacier. It's deeper than it looks, the bottom a few feet below sea level and laced with walking trails beneath a thick mantle of low trees. Much of what you see here is designated forever wild, for the Nature Conservancy has purchased about a third of the island's surface to protect it from development. A map of the 12-mile trail network can be purchased at the Chamber of Commerce building at the ferry landing.
From Old Harbor, proceed north on Corn Neck Road, skirting Crescent Beach, on the right. The paved road eventually ends at Settler's Rock, with a plaque naming the English pioneers who landed here in 1661. This is one of the loveliest spots on the island, with mirrored Chaqum Pond behind the Rock and a scimitar beach curving out to North Lighthouse, erected in 1867. In between is a national wildlife refuge that is of particular interest to birders. The lighthouse, best reached by foot along the rocky beach, is now an interpretive center of local ecology and history, open from July 5 to Labor Day daily from 10am to 4pm.
Back in Old Harbor, the Block Island Historical Society Museum, Old Town Road and Ocean Avenue (tel. 401/466-2481), was an 1871 inn that now contains a miscellany of photos, ship models, and tools. Upstairs is a room set up to reflect the Victorian period.
The beaches on Block Island will suit every taste. Immediately south of the Old Harbor, past the breakwater, is the northern end of Pebbly Beach, a section informally known as Ballard's Beach for the popular restaurant located there. Crowded with sunbathers and swimmers, it is one of only two on the island with lifeguards. The surf is often rough. Drinks are served at your towel. North of Old Harbor, beyond the Surf Hotel, starts the 3-mile-long Crescent Beach (also known as Frederick J. Benson Town Beach or simply Town Beach). The southern section, with a sandy bottom that stays shallow well out into the gentle surf, is known as Kid Beach because of its relative safety for children. Farther along is the main part, a broad strand served by a pavilion with a snack bar, bathrooms, and showers. Chairs, umbrellas, and boogie boards can be rented. The surf is higher along here and rolls straight in; lifeguards are on duty. Continuing north, and with a small parking lot reached by a dirt road off Corn Neck Road, is Scotch Beach. Consider this grown-up and R-rated, dominated by young summer workers and residents. Still farther north is Mansion Beach, with a dirt road of the same name leading in from Corn Neck Road. Somewhat more secluded, it is usually less crowded than the others. On the west side of the island, running south from the jetty that marks the entrance to New Harbor, is Charlestown Beach. Uncrowded and relatively tranquil during the day, it draws anglers from dusk into the night surf-casting for striped bass.
Apart from sunbathing, the island's most popular pursuit is bicycling. The ferries allow visitors to bring their own bikes (for a small fee), but several local agencies rent bikes as well.
Parasailing has become popular here, and chutes can be seen lifting riders up to heights of 1,200 feet above the ocean. Call Block Island Parasail (tel. 401/864-2474; www.blockislandparasail.com) with questions, but you must make reservations in person at the office near the Old Harbor ferry landing. Fares start at $70 and go up, gauged by altitude; observers are charged $20 each. The company also offers banana boat and jet boat rides, as well as dive trips.
A more old-fashioned form of transportation is provided by Rustic Rides Farm, on West Side Road (tel. 401/466-5060). A walking attendant handles the reins and protects the littlest ones on the trail. A 1-hour slow ride costs $40; a 1-hour sunset ride costs $65, and a 2-hour beach ride is $100.
Fishing, kayaking, and canoeing are hugely popular, and one name to know is Pond & Beyond (tel. 401/742-5460). The owners possess encyclopedic knowledge of the island, and their rental kayaks put in at the head of the gentle inland ponds off the Great Salt Pond (New Harbor). Guided tours are limited to five kayakers of any skill level. Tours last 2 1/2 hours and cost $50 per person. Block Island Fishworks, Ocean Avenue (tel. 401/466-5392; www.bifishworks.com), sells fishing tackle and arranges charter boat outings for both inshore and deep-water angling. Another source of boat rentals is Champlin's Resort, on Great Salt Pond (tel. 401/466-5811; www.champlinsresort.com), which has bumper boats and Zodiacs as well as kayaks.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.