Block Island: The perfect place for a New England beach getaway

For travelers who want to experience New England's charm on a weekend getaway (without the crowds), there’s a beautiful, often overlooked option: Block Island, Rhode Island has been New England’s best kept secret — until now. Read on to find our how to get there, where to stay, what to eat and what to do on this little island paradise.

BI Town Beach at sunset
The beaches are absolutely pristine — 90% of the 7-mile island is a preserved nature space © Evan Shenkler

Getting to Block Island

Part of what has kept Block Island free from the crowds that plague similar destinations is that it is slightly remote — it can only be accessed by ferry. Ferries leave from New York State, Connecticut and Rhode Island; ports include Montauk, NY, New London, CT and Point Judith, RI. Several ports can be reached by train. You can bring a car on the ferry if you’d like, but many visitors choose not to, because Block Island can be traversed fairly easily by bicycle (and bikes can easily be rented on the island). The ferry itself is part of the Block island experience, with beautiful views of the ocean and the island itself. 

National Hotel Fireside, Block Island. Chairs and parasols are in front of the white building.
Block Island has all of New England's charm — with a fraction of the crowds © Casey O'Brien / Lonely Planet

Visit the beaches

Of course, no island getaway would be complete without enjoying the beach! Block Island has a lot of them, each with a unique feel. If you want a convenient one near town with amenities, the best bet is Fred Benson Town Beach; it has a lifeguard, a pavilion with a restroom and changing rooms, a concessions stand, plus umbrella and chair rentals. 

For visitors who want to enjoy a cocktail with their toes in the sand, Ballard’s Beach fits the bill; it has a hotel and restaurant, but its most popular attractions are its tiki bars. Scotch Beach is a little quieter and less crowded than Ballard’s and Town Beach, and has long, open stretches of sand without too many rocks. Don't stop there. There are many other beaches in the area to peruse. 

See the sights by bike 

Biking is popular on Block Island, and a great way to see some of its most beautiful views, like its two stunning lighthouses, and special local traditions like Painted Rock, a boulder that has been painted thousands of times over with messages and pictures from residents and visitors. You could fuel up for a day of biking at Block Island’s popular farmers’ market, which runs from mid-June to mid-October and includes everything from pastries and artisan cheese to island-grown produce. A self-guided tour of the island will also bring you past historic, stately buildings like the beautiful Spring House Hotel, founded in 1852.  

A rocky New England beach, on Block Island, at dusk. The outline of houses is visible in the distance.
Another of Block Island's picturesque beaches  © Casey O'Brien / Lonely Planet

Shop for island-inspired treasures

Water Street is the main drag of the town on Block Island, New Shoreham. Lined with boutiques, galleries and cafes, it is sure to delight whether you are a souvenir seeker or just a people-watcher. Water Street and the surrounding avenues have plenty to fill a day with happy browsing. For beautiful, unique jewelry and beachy home décor, stop by Watercolors. If you fancy a book on the beach, the best place to pick one out is Islandbound, the island’s year-round independent bookseller.

Dog lovers, grab a t-shirt at the Salty Dog, whose exclusive designs are beloved on the island. During the last weekend of September, many boutiques, hotels and restaurants have booths for the Experience Block Island event, so it's the perfect time to grab a souvenir.

What to eat 

Block Island is home to many amazing restaurants and food trucks that range from fancy 5-star dining to roadside operations; what they all have in common is delicious, fresh ingredients. A visit to New England is not complete without a lobster roll: a traditional sandwich either served cold with mayonnaise or hot with butter. 

Some of the most delicious lobster on the island can be found at the Southeast Light Delights, a food truck next to the Lighthouse which serves classic rolls as well as twists like a lobster grilled cheese and a chipotle lobster roll, along with ice cream and frozen lemonade. For a more upscale dining experience, check out Winfield’s; they serve the requisite fresh seafood but also great roast chicken, steak and vegetarian options, all locally sourced. The Oar is a great place for a casual sunset dinner, with spectacular views of the Island’s marina. For dessert, make a stop by Smitty’s Ice Cream for delicious flavors unique to New England, like Black Raspberry. 

A food stall called 'Southeast Light Delights'. There's a man in a white t-shirt ordering food, and an American flag draped from the stall is blowing in the wind.
Southeast delights, one of the island's many stops for delicious local delicacies © Casey O'Brien / Lonely Planet

Where to stay 

Block Island is home to many charming accommodations. For more modern tastes, there's the newly remodeled Block Island Beach House, which is beautifully updated while still keeping a retro-inspired (and very Instagram-friendly) look.

If you are looking for a more timeless, classic hotel experience, check out the Victorian National Hotel, which has become a local landmark, or the Spring House Hotel. The island also has a number of cozy bed and breakfasts like the Sheffield House, where visitors can get to know friendly local owners and enjoy a hot meal before starting a busy day of exploring. If you would prefer to have a bit more privacy, there are also many vacation rental homes . 

Block Island is small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm and beauty. This little island is the perfect place for a magical beach vacation!  

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