Only 13 miles of Atlantic Ocean separate a bubble of nearly autonomous New England charm from mainland reality.
With its white-sand beaches, towering bluffs, and glacier-carved hillsides speckled with colonial cottages, Block Island is completely walkable, stretching just 7 miles at its longest and 3 at its widest. Hovering below the radar of other, more spot-lit destinations of the Northeast, this storied enclave offers a Victorian-style escape, just a quick whisk away on a Tradewind on-demand charter flight.
From quintessential coastal retreats to hikes along Block Island’s distinctive shoreline, here are our top recommendations to make the most of your getaway from the first minute you touch down and inhale the bayberry and salt air.
Where to Stay
Due to regional governance, Block Island remains one of the few places in the modern world that keeps corporate conglomerates marooned on the mainland in favor of local mainstays. The area’s innate resistance to chains extends well past coffee shops and fast food. Much like Block Island’s overarching essence, its locally-owned hotels afford guests an opportunity to delve back into the mid-19th century.
There’s Hotel Manisses, a renovated boutique replete with claw-foot tubs and other Victorian-era antiques, sitting seaside and piped with white-trimmed porches perfect for gazing at the shifting Atlantic. While there is no shortage of inspired eats on the island, Manisses houses its own renowned restaurant showcasing the very best in local seafood.
Then there’s the 1661 Inn, another beloved boutique hotel just down Spring Street whose flower-flecked open patios and sloping lawns greet the vast ocean to the east. It’s not just the Inn’s distinct ambiance that invokes notions of old-time Northeast; it is home to an acclaimed New England buffet breakfast—complete with locally-caught baked bluefish, omelets, pastries, pancakes, and of course, champagne.
Because the area’s hotels are family-owned, they usually offer an underlying bonus to visitors. By fostering inherent local connections, they can help guide itineraries or spontaneous adventures true to the steadfast spirit of the community—making an Atlantic getaway all the more immersive.
Where to Eat
At first glance, Eli’s seems like a house plucked and placed from another whimsical era. Considered off-the-beaten-path from the island’s main attractions, this quaint eatery has been a local favorite since 1994, when it started offering Asian-inspired comfort food with upscale service and presentation. Eli’s seasonally-shifting menu offers everything from marbled-cut Bavette bistro steak to Nicoise-style seared tuna to an old-fashioned root beer float.
Just a few hundred feet to the northwest, Winfield’s Restaurant provides an informally cozy yet traditional setting in which to enjoy fresh seafood and local produce. “Simple elegance” is how Chef Berke Marye describes his Southern twist on haute cuisine, though you’ll find unmistakable hints of Italian, new American, and Asian influence in his island-inspired dishes as well.
For a spectacular dinner setting, the Atlantic Ocean backdrop of the Spring House Hotel can also be enjoyed from its charming in-house restaurant, which serves succulent dishes made from local meats and fresh sea catches, along with fruits and vegetables grown in its very own garden.
What to Do
With 40 percent of the island set aside for conservation, there’s a reason why its sprawling seaside plains and windswept hills boast some of the most treasured island hikes and birdwatching on the planet.
The island’s seven nature trails add up to 25 total miles which can be explored via hike, bike, or horseback. Each one highlights a unique perspective of wildlife or ocean view—like Clay Head Hill Trail, which rambles along dramatic bluffs on the northeast shore to finish at the historical marker and sunset vantage dubbed Settlers’ Rock.
Lighthouse aficionados will find two attractive beacons on Block Island. Less than a half mile from Settlers’ Rock, the octagonal tower of North Light stands sentinel to the Atlantic tide. On the south side, raised 200 feet above the ocean on the Mohegan Bluffs, stands the red-bricked and architecturally-refined Southeast Light.
While the island is nearly surrounded by beaches—17 circuitous miles of them—a few are worth mentioning above the rest.
Fred Benson Town Beach provides the most traditional beach setting on the island, complete with pavilion, lifeguard patrol, bathrooms, concession stand, and rentals. Some, however, may want to pursue a more private stretch of sandy coast, and to find it they only have to venture north.
There you’ll find Scotch Beach, where white sands and few rocks set the ideal stage for body surfers and body boarders to ride the tide. Even further north lies Mansion Beach. Named for a burned-down manor and farthest away from town, it’s generally known for clearer waters, smaller crowds, and even larger waves.
Its undulating landscape blending seamlessly into sea and sky, Block Island remains one of the few places where you can start your day with a stunning sunrise on the eastern shore, bask in an island daydream all but lost in time, and bookend it all with a beautiful sunset on the western coast.
Featured Photo: Block Island Tourism Council