I’ve been carrying a secret with me for 18 years. I have hesitated to share it with others, but I have learned that I’m not the only one with the same secret. You see, once you hear about my secret, you, too, will want to keep it all for yourself. So really, today is your lucky day. You have stumbled upon a story about a destination so wonderful, and so family-friendly, that you may just be tempted to rip this article from the magazine so no one else finds it.
Not too far away, there is an island off the New England coast with rolling green pastures, cliff-side beaches, and clear green waters. Your initial thought might be Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. While they are beautiful places, they are too touristy for my taste. I’m referring to Block Island, an island seven miles long and three miles wide, and inhabited by only 1,000 residents year-round. Block Island belongs to the state of Rhode Island and is directly north of Montauk, Long Island.
What is most appealing about Block Island is its laid-back atmosphere, gorgeous scenery, and its un-commercialized restaurants and stores. It may be hard for you to believe, but Starbucks has yet to claim a stake on the island (shhh, don’t tell them!). You need not pack anything but flip-flops and shorts, because almost all of the restaurants “require” a relaxed dress code. And because the island is so small, you can walk or ride your bike just about anywhere, so bring a good pair of walking shoes.
The island is shaped like a pork chop and covers 7,000 acres. Looking at the island map, you will notice a large pool of water in the center of the island – this is the Great Salt Pond, where all boaters anchor or moor. Along the left side of the island is Cresent Beach, which stretches for two and a half miles, offering soft white sand, medium-sized waves and high cliffs. If you walk along the beach, closer to town, the waves are minimal, which are perfect for younger kids.
As small as the island is, it is still blessed with a wonderful town called New Shoreham. In fact, it is the smallest town in the United States. It faces the shoreline and is bustling with tourists, taxis and ferry-goers. Be sure to have lunch at the Harborside Inn and get a seat on its large, wrap-around porch that’s perched high off the main street. Order their fish sandwich and a cold drink and you can sit for hours just people-watching. There are dozens of shops and ice cream parlors to sift through, but you won’t find anything too unique. It’s a fun place to visit on a rainy day or just by yourself.
By Car: If you are renting a cottage for the week, it would be helpful to have a car, but it is not necessary. You could ride your bike or rely on taxi cab services, although cab fares could add up. The only vehicle ferry to Block Island leaves out of Point Judith, RI, and vehicle reservations are required. If you are making plans for next summer, be sure to reserve your car as early as January.
Ferry tickets for your vehicle alone range from $90-$100 round-trip. Round-trip passenger tickets are $21 per adult, and $11 per child, ages four and under tickets are free. Bicycles and mopeds also require a fare, so visit blockislandferry.com for more fares and schedules. The ferry leaves Point Judith about every hour, and it’s a 55-minute trip.
Without a Car: It’s not uncommon for many visitors to leave their car on the mainland and take the high-speed ferry. This is a great option if you are visiting just for the weekend, and you can still bring your bike on the high-speed. If you choose the high-speed, you have more departure cities from which to choose. You can leave from Point Judith or Newport (blockislandferry.com), or New London, CT (blockislandexpress.com). My family always leaves from New London since it’s the closest city from Maryland. You should reserve your tickets online at least one week before your trip. But please make one important note: If you park your car in the ferry parking lot on the mainland, be sure to check their payment methods. New London is a cash-only lot and the nearest ATM machine is an annoying walk when you’re tired and want to go home.
By Boat: You will want to anchor or moor in New Harbor on the West Side of the Island, in the Great Salt Pond. New Harbor has three large marinas, 90 town moorings and a 75-acre anchorage for vessels. Moorings can be rented for $40 per night and can accommodate vessels up to 50 feet. Reservations are first come, first served. It is a three minute taxi ride or 15 minute walk from New Harbor to town or to Crescent Beach.
Where to stay
The best part about the island is that there are no bad places to stay. There are numerous B&B’s and hotels, but if you are traveling with children, you should rent a cottage. There are seven real estate companies that can help you and all of them list their properties online. Go to blockislandinfo.com to see each realtor and hotel listing.
What to do
As any New England town, the weather can be very unpredictable. In August I have seen it be humid, cold, foggy, terribly windy, and very stormy — and that can happen in just one week. Luckily, the island is so dense with things to do, the weather doesn’t get in the way. Crescent Beach is the most popular place for kids, but if you have older kids and enjoy a good nature hike, the east side of the island has a spectacular beach with rocks and cliffs, you will think you are on the coast of Ireland. Other activities include kayaking, horseback riding, parasailing and hiking.
What not to miss on Block Island:
- The Oar Restaurant: Sipping their specialty Mud-Slides, watching the sunset in their Adirondack chairs while your kids look for crabs along the rocks and make new friends. It can’t get more perfect.
- The Narrangansett Inn: Weekend brunch buffet. You don’t have to be a hotel resident to enjoy their awesome breakfast.
- If you are staying on a boat, every morning you will see Aldo’s bakery whizzing by on his boat screaming “Andiamo!”, Italian for “let’s go.” Toot your horn or call him on the VHF and he will pull up to your boat and tempt you with pastries and hot coffee.
By Lindsey Athanitis