For all of my exploits across my beloved Southern New England shoreline, it was a surprise to a number of friends when I mentioned I had never been to Block Island. It’s so easy to get into a travel rut, and busy summer weekends can make it harder to try something new. So a quick overnight midweek trip was planned to help me get to know the place the Narragansett Indians called Manisses (Island of the Little God).
We started our day with a quick drive to Port Judith, where you have your choice of a 30 minute fast ferry or the traditional service that clocks in at just under an hour. With a limited time frame ahead of us, we chose the quickest route to get to the island, which is located just about 13 miles from the Rhode Island shore.
Depending on the weather, grab a cocktail from the main deck and head upstairs to take a seat in the stern. While the view is limited when you pull out of port (the fog is pretty thick along the coast) it’s such a beautiful site as the grey mist clears about 10 minutes out and you spy the island cliffs coming up on the horizon. You can never go wrong with the sea scent and breeze that immediately puts you in vacation mode.
From the minute the boat starts pulling into port, it’s easy to see what makes the island an ideal trip to manage in a day. Within one glance, you can see hotels, stores, restaurants and beaches all in a row, making it a very easy place to plan and navigate on foot.
We embarked and quickly walked up to our hotel, the classic Spring House, a historic 19th century hotel. The hotel itself is a throwback with its wraparound veranda, red french sloping roof, a towering cupola, and breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. A row of white adirondack chairs line up facing the water, beckoning you take a seat and a load off. The interior is equally as charming; there is a distinct Victorian era feel to the architecture. Our water view room had a delightful old school brass key ring, but still felt refreshingly modern and updated. The hotel bar located on the main floor porch beckons with a fantastic cocktail menu, but it will have to wait as it’s time for the beach!
We made our way down to the little town and headed over to the Ballard’s Beach Inn, which is located just to the right of the ferry docks. The oceanfront beach club offers pristine sand and ocean size waves. A festive tiki bar and seaside restaurant offers a fantastic menu of craft cocktails & beer as well as a great selection of seaside snacks. Lounge chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, and the waitstaff come around to take orders right from your beach blanket. There is dancing and live music just off the doors of an enormous indoor bar, or if you’re looking for some action, there are beach volleyball nets and cornhole set up for you to play. After a few hours of sun and fun, you can rinse off under one of their complimentary showers. Tanned, rested and ready, we were ready to move on to the next adventure on the trip.
After a quick clean up back at the hotel, we booked our one cab excursion to the middle of the island to grab dinner at the popular Oar Restaurant & Bar. Be prepared to wait as the Oar does not take reservations. But with amazing views overlooking the Great Salt Pond, you won’t mind the wait as you cozy up in one of the teak chairs overlooking the harbor and grab one of their famous Mud Slides. The walls of the restaurant are covered in, you guessed it, painted oars that offer an amazing history of the patrons and visitors to this local legend. As the sun slowly sets behind the horizon, there is a glow about this place that it is easily one of the more beautiful dusk settings in all of New England.
The food is your typical seafood offerings, with lobster rolls, sushi and clam strips being the stars of the show. The atmosphere on the open aired dining deck is fun and casual and it’s easy to linger a little longer after your table is cleared to soak up the charm of a waterfront nightfall. This is seaside buzz at it’s best.
We retreated to the porch bar back at the Spring House and enjoyed cocktails overlooking a moonlit ocean. It doesn’t get much better than this. There is an eclectic mix of hotel guests, locals and island tourists and the din is happy and humming. It is the perfect way to end the day.
The next morning, it was time to do some exploring, and we planned a hike around the southern tip of the island. First, we fueled up at with a fantastic breakfast at Ernie’s, a fun little cafe located down on Water Street. The outdoor back deck overlooks the ferry harbor, and the friendly waitstaff makes the morning even brighter. The traditional menu of eggs, bacon, waffles and pancakes was actually really good and abundant, and the prices were extremely reasonable considering the prime tourist location.
We chose to hike to the Mohegan Bluffs, one of the island’s most spectacular viewpoints and a must on any sightseeing tour. A good hillside climb and 30 minute walk up Spring Street yields a breathtaking view of the south end of the island. The historic Southeast Lighthouse is the highlight of this trip and the offshore windmills reminds you just how quaint and remote a spot this really is. You can walk further down to the entrance to the bluffs that is marked and easily visible from the road. There’s a small parking area and a path leading to a steep set of 141 stairs; once down, you can navigate your way through the rocks to one of the most beautiful stretches of beach available.
A morning of exploration gave us plenty of time for an afternoon of shopping. You’ll find your usual selection of tourist gift shops and a handful of resort clothing retailers. We found Tipsy Mermaid to have a great selection of preppy nautical frocks and the Star Department store was a great souvenir shop for hats, t-shirts and the usual coastal trinkets. I always grab a christmas ornament from everywhere I travel, and this year’s tree will have a little wooden trawler to remind us of this wonderful trip. Another great stop for pet owners is the IslandDog, which had a funny selection of animal novelty items.
With just a few hours left, we grabbed a late lunch at Finn’s Seafood; the lobster rolls and fish tacos got very enthusiastic thumbs up from our table. Rebecca’s is another great quick and casual place to grab a bite with the kids. And of course, no trip would be complete without a homespun ice cream stop; you’ll find a choice of about 5 different places within 2 blocks to get your fix before the horn of the ferry beckons.
As we made our way back to the harbor to catch our ride home, we caught a glimpse of a tourist guidebook on the rack in the ticket office that had the tagline, ”Close to Home, A World Away”. As our ferry steamed out to the open sea, we knew exactly what it meant; this little island casts a spell that won’t soon be broken.