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A TANK AWAY | BLOCK ISLAND

A place to set your own pace

Beachy byways best explored on foot or bike

Southeast Light, which overlooks Mohegan Bluffs, offers guided tours. Southeast Light, which overlooks Mohegan Bluffs, offers guided tours. (Kelly Greenlee for The Boston Globe)
By Steve Greenlee
Globe Staff / July 21, 2010

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NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. — Block Island is worlds away from the rest of Rhode Island. It lies 55 minutes south of Point Judith via ferry, but it may as well be another continent. It’s nothing like the state’s other 38 cities and towns. The pace of life is slow in New Shoreham, the island’s only town. Barely 1,000 people live here year-round. There are no traffic signals, no chain stores. You walk around. You bike. Yes, tourists can rent cars and mopeds, but if they are able bodied, they shouldn’t. The island is best explored by bicycle. And it should be, since all of its byways can be traveled in a day. Bring your own ($6 round trip) or rent one from one of several bike shops in town, for about $25 a day.

Stay
Block Island has a healthy mix of hotels in the heart of town, inns tucked just off the main drags, and bed-and-breakfasts hidden in nooks around town. The National Hotel (Water Street, 401-466-2901, www.blockislandhotels.com, $99-$369), listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the island’s most famous landmarks, with 45 rooms and great views of the waterfront. The Hotel Manisses (1 Spring Street, 401-466-2421, www.blockislandresorts.com, $75-$340), is perfectly situated in the Old Harbor, within walking distance of the tourist attractions but far enough from the beaten path to offer peace and quiet. The Sheffield House (351 High St., 401-466-2494, www.thesheffieldhouse.com, $125-$225), a short walk up the hill away from the main street, is a friendly little house, with good-size rooms, pleasant amenities, and hosts who leave you alone. The Blue Dory Inn (68 Dodge St., 401-466-5891, www.blockislandinns.com, $95-$395), with 11 rooms, sits at the head of Crescent Beach but is close to the center of town.

Dine
If fried seafood is your thing, Finn’s (212 Water St., 401-466-2473, finnsseafood.com, sandwiches and entrees $5-$38) is your place — especially if you just got off the ferry and don’t feel like walking. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike would do well to eat lunch at Froozies Juice Bar & Cafe (26 Dodge St., 401-466-2230, www.frooziesblockisland.com, sandwiches $1.99-$8.59), where the mouth-watering sandwiches are packed with cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, falafel, and pretty much any other meatless thing you can imagine. Mohegan Cafe and Brewery (213 Water St., 401-466-5911, sandwiches and entrees $8-$25) serves gourmet dishes such as Asian-grilled tuna (done to perfection) and brews its own beer — try the IPA, which is darker and maltier than your run-of-the-mill Harpoon. Winfield’s (598 Corn Neck Road, 401-466-5856, mysite.verizon.net/restkino, entrees $18-$28) serves a menu inspired by French, Italian, and Asian cuisine. Aldo’s Ice Cream & Bakery (130 Weldon’s Way, 401-466-2198, $4.75 for two scoops of gelato) scoops an amazing cup of gelato — we recommend the carrot and the coconut for a mid-afternoon snack — and lays out an impressive array of breakfast pastries.

During the day
Get on a bicycle and explore. Stop at Southeast Light (off Spring Street), a gorgeous brick structure that overlooks Mohegan Bluffs (also off Spring Street). After you’ve taken the guided tour of the lighthouse (adults $10, children $5), head up the road to the wooden stairs that descend down the bluffs themselves, and explore the little beach there. Further on up the road you’ll come to Rodman’s Hollow (off Cooneymus Road), a glacial depression with several miles of hiking trails that wind through the woods. At the other end of the island is Settler’s Rock (off Corn Neck Road), which marks the point where the island’s first inhabitants were said to have arrived in 1661. Down the beach there is North Light, the island’s other lighthouse, and in between is a heck of a lot of sand. Really, you can’t go wrong wherever you stop, but here’s an insider’s tip: When you’re biking down Corn Neck Road, look for Andy’s Way, and head down the dirt road. At the end you’ll come to a little path. Park the bike and walk down to the little inlet of the Great Salt Pond (off Andy’s Way), where you can chase crabs, sunbathe, and — if you have a license — do some shellfishing. The Old Harbor is chock full of cool shops and hip boutiques, such as 234 Water (234 Water St.), which sells funky home products, and Lazy Fish (235 Dodge St.), an antique shop whose magnetic pull on my wife took an hour to break. If you have more time to spare, walk out onto one of the breakwaters in the Old Harbor. Sit and watch the world unfold.

After dark
Block Island is quiet at night, but there are a few places to catch some action. McGovern’s Yellow Kittens (596 Corn Neck Road, 401-466-5855, www.yell owkittens.net) books live music, and Captain Nick’s (34 Ocean Ave., 401-466-5670, www.cap tainnicks.com) has bands, a dance floor, and pool tables. Some hotels and inns play host to live entertainment, including the National Hotel and Ballard’s Inn (42 Water St., 401-466-2231, www.ballardsinn.com). But maybe you prefer a movie. If you’re staying in the Old Harbor, you have one choice: the Empire Theatre (17 Water St., 401-466-2555), a charming, barnlike room that has exactly one screen. Hey, at least you won’t argue over which film to see.

Steve Greenlee can be reached at greenlee@globe.com.