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Block Island Is Lively, Not Lonely

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block island vacation

Solitude can be tough to find on the beautiful, busy beaches of Miami, Los Angeles or Cancun. But that’s not so at Block Island, 12 miles off the southern coast of Rhode Island. There are no lack of tourist-friendly amenities: grand Victorian seaside inns and cozy little bed-and-breakfasts; cute shops offering ocean-themed trinkets and treasures; bustling beaches just steps from the central Old Harbor commercial district.

Visiting Block Island

But Block Island RI has a prominent natural side, too. The Island has a wide-open feel, despite the throngs of visitors arriving every summer day. More than 40 percent of the island remains undeveloped, thanks in part to national and local conservation organizations that have helped preserve large tracts.

Visitors can rent cars on the island, although bicycles are a popular option. Mopeds are another choice, although they (but not cars) are banned from the many dirt roads, making a bike the best vehicle for a leisurely exploration of the island’s more natural side. Block Island (like Big and Little Darby creeks in central Ohio) was named a “Last Great Place” by the Island’s Nature Conservancy office.

Although the first white settlers landed in 1661, the island outpost was extremely sleepy for a couple of centuries, until a breakwater was built at Old Harbor in 1870, allowing boats to safely dock. The island’s other commercial center, New Harbor, was established in 1895 after a large channel was cut from the open ocean into Great Salt Pond, the large saltwater lake at the center of the island. Although the harbor entrances are on opposite sides of the island, New Harbor is only about a mile from Old Harbor as the crow flies or the hiker walks.

New Harbor is smaller than Old but has several popular attractions such as Payne’s Dock, a center of activity for both boaters and landlubbers. It’s a good spot to rent a kayak and explore the Great Salt Pond or the channels and quiet connecting bodies such as Harbor Pond and Trim’s Pond.

Although it’s simple to find solitude, the friendly denizens also make it easy to make new acquaintances.You can see huge yachts and spectacular summer homes, but Block Island also is comfortably scruffy around the edges, in contrast to local mainland resort towns such as Newport. In addition to the trails, the island is ringed by 17 miles of beach and dotted with dozens (local legend says hundreds) of small freshwater ponds.

Those who are willing to make a long trek, or have a wheeled vehicle, might also want to explore historic lighthouses at both the north and south ends of the island. Because, as nice as finding solitude can be, sometimes a traveler likes to hear the friendly voices of his fellow humans. Fortunately, a Block Island vacation is a great place for both.

Block Island Travel Guide

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Block Island Bed and Breakfast

Looking into visiting the East Coast for your next vacation? Look no further than Block Island, Rhode Island. We may be small, but there is certainly no shortage of activities to experience on the island! Looking for some tips? Keep reading our quick Block Island travel guide!

Your Block Island Travel Guide

About 12 miles off of Rhode Island’s southern coast, Block Island is the smallest state’s answer to nearby bigger and ritzier Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. With 17 miles of beaches that—unlike many of those on its Massachusetts sister islands—are open to everyone, it has been a vacation destination since the 19th century. Despite the number of summer visitors and thanks to the efforts of local conservationists, the island’s beauty remains intact (more than 43% of the land is preserved); its 365 freshwater ponds support thousands of species of birds that migrate seasonally along the Atlantic Flyway.

The original inhabitants of the island were Native Americans who called it Manisses, or “isle of the little god.” Following a 1614 visit by Dutch explorer Adrian Block, the island was given the name Adrian’s Eyelant, and later Block Island. In 1661 it was settled by farmers and fishermen from Massachusetts Bay Colony, who established its second official name, the Town of New Shoreham, when it became part of Rhode Island in 1672.

Block Island RI, with 950 year-round residents, is a laid-back community. You can dine at any of the island’s establishments in shorts and a T-shirt. The busiest season, when the population explodes to about 15,000, is between May and Columbus Day—at other times most restaurants, inns, stores, and visitor services close down. If you plan to stay overnight in summer, make reservations well in advance (try one of our many vacation rentals!); for weekends in July and August, March is not too early.