What are the best things to do on Rhode Island's time-forgotten Block Island? With its Victorian charm and windswept beauty, Block Island appeals to both outdoorsy travelers who want to hike, bike, boat and explore and to those who simply want to abandon reality back on the mainland. Getting to Block Island can be a bit tricky, but once you're over that hurdle, deciding what to do on this three-by-seven-mile, pork chop-shaped isle is relatively easy. Block Island is so laid back, some visitors choose to do practically nothing. But you really shouldn't miss these 10 best Block Island attractions and experiences once you've made the journey.
See Mohegan Bluffs
As dramatic as any scenery in New England, the Mohegan Bluffs are 150-foot clay cliffs on the south side of Block Island. Unforgettable Atlantic Ocean views await those who descend a wooden staircase more than 140 steps to the sliver of sand below. This remote beach is so serene, it's hard to believe the cliffs were named for a violent event that occurred in 1590, when a band of Mohegans attempted to invade Block Island. The native Manisseans were not amused, and they drove their adversaries over the bluffs and into the sea. The only protection you'll need when you invade this spot is… sunscreen.
Laze on a Beach
Block Island has 17 miles of ocean beach, and some visitors never wander farther than the southern end of Crescent Beach, which is just steps from the Old Harbor ferry dock. Admission to all of Block Island's beaches is free, and Caribbean-blue water will entice you to splash right in. Your dog can join you. This dog-friendly island allows leashed dogs to enjoy a day at the beach, too.
Climb to the Top of Southeast Light
Like the invading Mohegans, Block Island's Southeast Light seemed doomed to fall into the sea. Erosion threatened this 1874 brick beacon atop Mohegan Bluffs until it was safely moved inland from its precarious location in 1993. The Victorian Gothic-style lighthouse's small museum is open free to the public between Memorial Day weekend and Columbus Day, and for a fee, you can often venture to the top of the tower on a tour: The 360-degree island views are worth it.
Hike at Clay Head Preserve
More than 45 percent of Block Island's 6,200 acres are preserved in their wild and scenic state thanks to the foresight and efforts of three organizations: the Block Island Conservancy, the Block Island Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy. You'll find pristine places to hike all over the island, but one of the most spectacular spots for a memorable trek is the Nature Conservancy's 150-acre Clay Head Preserve. Whether you walk along the otherworldly beach or wander the inland-reaching trails known as "the maze," you'll be wowed by some of the most exceptional views not only on Block Island but in all of New England.
Devour Killer Donuts
The sign says: "Home of the Killer Donuts!" And that's no small claim considering New Englanders are overly fond of donuts. Believe the hype, though. Payne's Donuts at 1 Ocean Avenue is worth finding while you're on Block Island. Although these donuts only come in three simple flavors—sugar, cinnamon and plain—you'll be hooked from your first bite into one of these warm and crispy, yet tender treats.
Learn About Block Island's History
Block Island was settled by 16 farming and fishing families in 1661, but more than 200 years ebbed by before it became a destination. Victorian-era hotels built around the turn of the 20th still give the island its throwback appeal. As you might imagine, isolation has made this a land of colorful stories, and the best place to discover them is the Block Island Historical Society, which operates a museum and gallery that is open daily in the summer, weekends during shoulder seasons, and off-season by appointment. In addition to showcasing island artifacts, each year, a special exhibition takes a look at island history through a specific lens.
Have a Drink at The Oar
The Oar is to Block Island as Margaritaville is to Key West: It’s the island’s laidback watering hole, where locals and in-the-know tourists kick back and enjoy food, booze and the water view. The Oar’s specialty? Frozen Mudslides. The best seats in the house? On the deck, looking out over Great Salt Pond. Open seasonally from mid-May through mid-October, The Oar does not accept reservations, but if there’s a wait for a table or a seat at the bar, you can pass the time boat-watching or playing a game of cornhole on the lawn.
Meet Exotic Animals
We'll bet you didn't expect to bump into a yak, red kangaroos, camels and a zebu on Block Island. At 1661 Farm and Garden (also known as Abrams' Animal Farm)—across the street from the 1661 Inn and just a short walk from the ferry dock—you can meet a variety of exotic animals. This free mini zoo is popular with families. Be sure to wander over to nearby North Light Fibers, where friendly alpacas are also eager to meet you, and yarns made from their fiber are handcrafted on-site.
Paddle the Great Salt Pond
To fully appreciate Block Island's ecological wonders, you'll want to get out on the water. Pond and Beyond Kayak offers two-and-a-half-hour small group ecotours of the Great Salt Pond that are perfect for even inexperienced paddlers. You'll be able to ask questions and hear local insights, in addition to spying on wildlife and oyster farms. If you're an experienced kayaker, you can also rent a kayak and explore on your own.
Take a Taxi Tour
Bringing a car to Block Island requires advance planning, and you really won't need one. Taxis are readily available, and island taxi drivers are known for being real characters, who regale passengers with entertaining anecdotes and island gossip. If this is your first visit to Block Island, a taxi tour is an especially good way to see the entire island and its highlights. Want to be dropped off to explore on your own? Ask your driver for a phone number to call when you're ready to be picked up.