Little Black Book

Find Summer Bliss on Block Island

by California Chaney
Mohegan Bluffs. Photo courtesy of Visit Rhode Island.

BLOCK ISLAND, Rhode Island — On any given summer day, ferries from four different states — Rhode Island (departing Newport and Point Judith), New York (Montauk), Connecticut (New London), and Massachusetts (Fall River) — bound across the Atlantic coast to tiny, seven-mile-long Block Island for its long stretches of soft sand beaches, dramatic bluffs, and ever-present New England charm. Classic Victorian inns peek out from tall, rolling hills. Blackberry bushels and wispy grass lead to uncrowded shores with gentle rolling waves. 

Block Island's legacy as a dreamy summer destination traces its roots to the Victorian era when well-off visitors arrived via steamer ship and began plotting to build giant mansions on the vibrant land. Showing great foresight, the island's locals fought off big developers for decades (keeping the docks small to prevent big boats) until fortunately they partnered with the Nature Conservancy in 1991, who declared the land one of the "Last Great Places on Earth," and have actively protected the island, building several miles of nature trails and creating wildlife sanctuaries to protect the lively ecosystem. 

Ever since, the local community has stuck together to preserve the beauty of the island through thriving local business initiatives. Chain stores and restaurants are not allowed, and the flashiness you might find at other New England beach destinations is turned away at the dock. That means that summers here are spent on two wheels, biking to various beaches, taking dips and riding waves in the clear blue water, eating freshly caught seafood, and dancing the night away at the salty sailor bars at the end of the docks.

Herewith, the best places to eat, beach, and sleep on the island of summertime bliss.

Photo courtesy of Champlin's Marina & Resort.

Where to Stay

Champlin's Marina & Resort
For more than 70 years, seafarers have dropped anchor at this marina and resort looking for one thing: The infamous Mudslide cocktail. In 2020, when the property was purchased by new ownership, the incoming staff received threats to not mess with the frozen chocolaty libation. They kept the secret recipe stashed and went to work on the 46 hotel rooms, doing a total overhaul with new nautical furnishings and cozy linens. Rooms are divided across four buildings named to honor the property's maritime history (Crows Nest, Upper Deck, Midship and Pier 76), and all overlook the Great Salt Pond and marina, which houses more than 100 boats ranging from dinghies to mega yachts. The renovation included a restored restaurant, The Galley House, and a new dockside cafe serving coffee and bagels for breakfast, as well as pizzas to eat on the outdoor picnic tables or to bring back to your boat. The hotel also has a private beach and an ice cream parlor — handy when you want a cones for a stroll down the dock. Next summer will bring an updated infinity pool and new cocktails to the poolside menu. Whether you're a guest by boat or on land, the warm hospitality is felt across the board. And the locals are happy to have their Mudslides back.

Block Island Beach House
In 2019, Lark Hotels lovingly restored the island's iconic oceanfront Surf Hotel, transforming it into a coastal-chic oasis with surfboards strewn about and a sun-kissed decor reminiscent of '60s California surf culture. Balconies overlook the morning surf break, while fresh margaritas are served on the wraparound porch and seashell beach bar.
Read more on Fathom: Surf's Up and Spirits are High at Block Island Beach House

Eli's martini and veggie bao buns. Photo by California Chaney.

Where to Eat

Eli's
Since 1994, the warm, wooden space of this local classic has fed and quenched locals and visitors alike with a fresh and creative menu made from local ingredients and fresh catches from the sea. The vegetarian menu offers intriguing, meat-free takes on bao buns — fried eggplant and a spicy gochujang sauce with pickled veggies along with algae nachos. Since this place is known for their fish, the pan-seared local halibut with a lemon orzo is an easy next choice. The best part of the meal? Peeking into the kitchen to see the young woman chef, Erika Monat, leading the team.

Spring House
The iconic, red-roofed cupola of the historic Victorian building at the top of Spring Street peeks out from the island's bluffs, and Adirondack chairs dot the lawn and ocean views on the large white wraparound porch. Cocktail hour is the most popular, for sunset views on the lawn, but it's worth coming for a lunch of grilled pizzas and house-made clam chowder made fresh every day with local ingredients. The ocean breeze adds to the ambience. On a clear day, you can spot the Long Island coast.

Dead Eye Dick's
The name says it all. This salty sailor bar has been a mainstay in the New Harbor since 1950, serving the freshest surf 'n' turf on the island. The summer season starts here with a lobster roll on the deck overlooking the harbor.

Persephone's Kitchen
Tiny yet mighty, this cafe and coffee shop off the downtown main strip serves freshly made breakfasts of quiche, frittatas, egg sandwiches, smoothie bowls, and a variety of toasts topped with local, fresh ingredients. Snag a table in the flower-filled courtyard and make a game plan for your beach day with healthy snacks from their to-go counter.

Payne's Donuts
The recipe to these holy grail donuts served from a roadside trailer has been kept secret for more than 50 years. But the word's out, they sell out. Rise and line up at 7 a.m. with the rest of the island's sugar connoisseurs for an extra hot dozen to enjoy on the docks.

Block Island Oyster Bar
Simple and fresh, this local staple has everything you would expect — and want — from a good local oyster bar with an added bonus of a great view of the Great Salt Pond. A round of dirty martinis sets the mood as the oysters are shucked from the day's harvest off the island coast.

What to Do

Hunt for Treasure
Every summer, local artist and treasure hunt enthusiast Eben Horton hides hundreds of hand-blown glass orbs on the island's beaches and nature trails for a free and adventurous scavenger hunt. The rule is simple: Find an orb and it's yours! Take only one, and let others track down the rest. If you find one, you should register it with the tourism council so they can keep track of how many are still out there.

Take a Ride
To explore the dry offerings on the island, rent a bike or moped from Island Mopeds and cruise around, making stops at various beaches for a cooling dip. The Mohegan Bluffs are a popular viewpoint, with a 200-foot descent down a staircase down to a secluded beach with towering bluffs all around. Take a picnic before sunset and watch the sun dip below the sea.

Hit the Trails
Although Block Island is only three miles wide and seven miles long, it's home to 25 miles of hiking trails protected by The Nature Conservancy. Pick up a map for the Greenway Trails and stroll through the rolling hills with freshwater meadows and ocean views. Look out for the glass orbs along the way: Lucky seekers often find them at Clay Head Preserve and Rodman’s Hollow.

Sing It Out
Live music fills the streets of downtown nightly — cover bands sing all-American classics and large brass bands groove to jazz. Start the night at Mahogany Shoals at Payne's Dock, a teeny-tiny bar covered in oars with just enough space for a one-man band. Crowds quickly fill the dock, dancing and drinking the island's favorite brew, Whalers. As the night continues, pick between Captain Nick's Rock-n-Roll Bar or Yellow Kittens for a large cover band show and a crowded dance floor.

Hit the Beach

Crescent Beach
This is the closest beach to the ferry stop where you'll find calm waters and a long stretch of soft sand with people biking along, beach chairs and picnic spreads in tow.

Mansion Beach
If the name is any indication, this beach was originally home to a large mansion that burned down in the 1960s and was never rebuilt. Today, its picturesque strip of sand and rolling waves makes it a destination for surfers and bodysurfers. Located off Corn Neck Road, where you'll end up at the foundation of the house with a short path to the sand.

Ballard's Beach
If your beach style involves buckets of White Claw and an all-day party, Ballard's is the place to go for the full-service bar and rotating live music on weekends.

Baby Beach
A well sheltered stretch ideal for an early Sunday morning stroll or for kids and babies taking their first dip in the Atlantic.

Andy's Way
The large crescent sandy beach is on the pond side, protected from wind and waves, making it ideal for crabbing. (Make sure you get a permit from the harbormaster shack first.) Look out for hermit crabs and egrets: The Nature Conservancy leads marsh-mucking walks for kids. If you have a kayak in tow, it's a great place to launch into Great Salt Pond and cruise around the serene ocean bay.

Black Rock
Known for its gentle, yet smooth waves that call beginners and experienced surfers to the point when the swells come in. Local surfers working at Diamondblue Surf Shop will rent gear and provide daily lessons and wave refreshers.

Rainy Day Fun

Empire Theater
Built in 1882, Block Island's historic theater has lived many lives, including as a roller rink in the 1890s and later a playhouse. Today, the 139-year-old theater shows daily movies, among them the classic black-and-white films that were originally screened in the 1930s.

Spring Street Gallery
Located in an old horse barn, the 40-year-old cooperative gallery is run by community members who keep the island's art culture alive with rotating exhibits of local arts, jewelry makers, frequent art classes, workshops, and film screenings.

Mary MacGill
Part gallery, part concept store, part jewelry store, part tea room, part book shop. There's always a treasure to be found at the local sculptor's curated store and showroom. 

Keep Exploring Rhode Island

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Little Black Book: Coastal Rhode Island
Make the Most of a Weekend in Providence