Block Island has an otherworldly air, forgotten by time and lost in the Atlantic. If Martha’s Vineyard is the summer resort of Democratic leaders and Nantucket a mecca of New England preppies, Block Island, which lies 12 miles south of the coast of Rhode Island and 14 miles off the eastern tip of Long Island, is decidedly more humble. It’s a nice respite from the tourist hoards one encounters on the other two islands.
Most of the island, all 10 square miles of it, is dotted with parks. Some 43 percent of the island has been protected from development, earning Block Island a spot on the Nature Conservancy’s list of the twelve “Last Great Places” in the western hemisphere. Most visitors come in the summer, when the gentle ocean breezes and plentiful sand lure urbanites wanting a quick break from the steam of the city. But the best time to go is during the shoulder season, which runs from Labor Day till Thanksgiving. During this time you’ll find quiet dunes, empty beaches and a near-desolate nature trail leading through scrubland to coastal bluffs. Expect to spend at least some days waiting out storms curled up fireside with a novel. When you emerge it will be to dramatic windswept dunes, often cloudy skies and a topography that feels more Scottish than Caribbean. The principal appeals of Block Island off-season, experienced by only a few of its annual visitors, are solitude and silence.
The compact size of the island and its relatively flat terrain also make it an ideal green vacation destination. Leave your car at home as the entire island can easily be explored on bike in an afternoon, from the Mohegan Bluffs on the southern coast with views of Montauk on clear days to Sachem Pond and the North Lighthouse at the island’s other end. And if you are staying at a hotel in Old Harbor, every dining option is only a short walk away.
Almost all of the hotels face the Old Harbor, constructed in the 1870s. (New Harbor, which sits on the island’s Great Salt Pond, is almost as old, having been built in 1895.) And prices drop dramatically as the days grow shorter. A room at the Hotel Manisses that is $220 a night in the height of summer can be had for only $75 in October. From November to April, all rooms at it and its sister property, the 1661 Inn include a lavish breakfast buffet in the rate. Double rooms at the harbor front National Hotel start at $199 in the summer, but only $99 in October.
Hotel Manisses at night. Photo by Eric Johnson (View 836)
You won’t find the same discounts when it comes to dining, however, side from some specials on fudge as candy stores prepare to shutter for the winter, but the island has a range of restaurants from upscale options such as the Spring House—especially popular for cocktails at sunset—to casual lobster shacks. One downside, however, of visiting off-season is that some restaurants, such as the Hotel Manisses’s, close before the end of October.
Getting around is cheaper, too. The Old Harbor Bike Shop doesn’t have special seasonal rates, but print out the coupons found at bnockislandtransportation.com for $10 off of moped rentals or $5 off of bicycle rentals.
Although Block Island is served by ferries from New London, Connecticut, and Montauk, New York, in the summer, after the end of September, the only way to reach the island is via the ferry from Port Judith in Rhode Island. If it’s a bit harder to get there, it just means it will be easy to find the peace and quiet you were searching for.
John Newton is a Brooklyn-based travel writer and a former editor at Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.