The Word On The Block
Many a visitor has landed on this wind-whipped glacial outcrop, 12 miles (19km) off the Rhode Island coast, and thought immediately of Ireland -- those dramatic clay cliffs, hundreds of sweet-water ponds nestling in the rolling green interior, dry-stone walls overgrown with moss, wild roses clambering over beach dunes. Most of Block Island's hotel rooms are still in late 19th century Victorian-style seaside inns, and there's not much point in bringing a car over on the ferry, since the island is a mere 7 miles long by 3 miles wide (11 by 4.8km). Most visitors make do with bicycles or mopeds, or call a taxi when they need to get somewhere faster.
After you've strolled through the Block Island Historical Society Museum, Old Town Road at Ocean Avenue (tel. 401/466-2481), and pedaled out to tour the two 19th-century lighthouses -- Southeast Lighthouse, on Mohegan Trail a couple miles south of Old Harbor, and North Lighthouse, on Corn Neck Road north of Crescent Beach -- you're done with sightseeing and ready to hit the beach. Block Island has 17 miles (27km) of beach, so there's always a place to spread your towel. Only two beaches have lifeguards, food service, and rental facilities -- Pebbly Beach, just south of the Old Harbor, and 3-mile-long (4.8km) Crescent Beach, north of Old Harbor. Other beaches, at the end of dirt roads off Corn Neck Road or West Side Road, may offer more solitude, if that's what you're after.
On Block Island's winding scenic roads, cycling isn't just transportation, it's a way to coast down hills, cool off in patches of shady woods or stop for a dip in a pond. You can also gallop on horseback along a beach (Rustic Rides Farm; tel. 401/466-5060), tramp along 17 miles (27km) of walking trails laid out by the Nature Conservancy (nearly a quarter of the island is conservation land), go parasailing (tel. 401/864-2474; www.blockislandparasail.com), or kayak around Great Salt Pond -- rent a kayak from Pond & Beyond (tel. 401/466-5105; www.blockisland.com/kayakbi) or Champlin's Resort, on Great Salt Pond (tel. 401/466-2641; www.champlinsresort.com). Sailboats bob in the marinas, and sunburned guests sip cold drinks on the long porches of those historic inns.
Information: Tourist office, Old Harbor ferry landing (tel. 800/383-2474; www.blockislandchamber.com).
Getting There: Block Island, 15-min. flight from Westerly, Rhode Island, on New England Airlines (tel. 800/243-2460; www.block-island.com/nea). From Newport (2 hr.) or Point Judith (30-min. passenger ferry, 1-hr. car ferry; www.blockislandferry.com); New London, Connecticut (1 hr., 15 min.; tel. 860/444-4624); Montauk, New York (1 hr., tel. 888/358-7477).
Where to Stay: Atlantic Inn, High St. (tel. 800/224-7422 or 401/466-5883; www.atlanticinn.com). Spring House Hotel, 902 Spring St. (tel. 800/234-9263 or 401/466-5844; www.springhousehotel.com).