“A day at the beach” means different things to different people. Some people like to load the kids and three tons of beach paraphernalia into the station wagon for a day of surfing, sandcastles and snack bars. Others prefer to spend their time strolling the beach, fishing, reading a book or hiking along rocky trails to see the sunset. One of the great things about Block Island is that it has a large variety of beaches to suit the needs of just about everyone, all located within 10 square miles.
On the east side of the island are four beaches, which comprise an uninterrupted, three-mile curved stretch of sand known collectively as Crescent Beach. Located roughly in the middle is Fred Benson Town Beach, the quintessential family vacation beach. It’s the only beach on the island with lifeguards. Parking is easy (and free), with two large lots that lead to the pavilion – good news for families who like to bring a lot of gear with them. Feel like traveling light? The pavilion offers a slew of amenities, like much-needed bathrooms, showers and super-convenient rentals, from umbrellas and cabanas to beach chairs and boogie boards. Forget to pack a lunch? Grab a burger at the snack bar and chow down at a picnic table.
At the southern end of Crescent Beach, just a short walk along Fred Benson, is Kid Beach, which is – not surprisingly – a great beach for the little ones. The waves are calmer here, and the beach has an easier slope into the shallow water, where kids can spend hours looking for crabs, mussels and other tiny marine critters.
At the northern end of Crescent Beach are Scotch Beach and Mansion Beach. They’re further away from the facilities of Fred Benson, but there are usually fewer people around. Mansion Beach is named for the house that used to overlook the spot before it burned down in the ‘60s, and it’s not hard to see why the beautiful spot was chosen for it. Both beaches have parking nearby.
Crescent Beach is conveniently located close to the town center and right next to the ferries, and with its snack bar, hot showers, bathrooms and rentals galore, it has practically everything you could ask for just shy of wireless internet. But as such, it can get pretty crowded. If you’re looking for a bit more solitude, and can go without all of the creature comforts, the west side of the island may be just the place for you.
Just south of Crescent Beach, on the other side of the ferries, is Ballard’s Beach. While it may seem like your typical busy beach, it’s got something the others lack: the eponymous Ballard’s Inn. It’s certainly a step up from your standard snack bar fare, and you can soak up the sun while the inn’s wait staff braves the hot sand and dense crowds to bring your order straight to your towel. Now that’s service.
Charlestown Beach is the perfect spot for a quiet, relaxing day. The waters are calmer and the crowds aren’t as big as on the eastern side of the island. It’s a great spot for fishing or just reading a book. The northern end of the beach used to have a Coast Guard station, but now provides convenient parking and a quiet place to watch the boats come and go in New Harbor.
South of that is Dories Cove Beach, a smaller beach with darker sand, fewer people and a great view of the sunset (and, on clear days, Long Island). Not a bad location for a picnic.
To the north is West Beach. Like the other western beaches, it has calmer waves and fewer people, and makes for an especially good walk. Just head north to the lighthouse and Settler’s Rock and enjoy the scenery. Keep it mind that it’s part of a national wildlife refuge, which means no dogs allowed and you should keep off the dunes – even seagulls deserve a bit of peace and quiet.
If you like the sound of West Beach, odds are good you care less about swimming and working on your tan and more about enjoying a walk, taking in the fresh salt air and being surrounded by the beauty of the sea. If so, switch your flip-flops for hiking boots and head down to the southern end of the island.
Vail Beach and Black Rock Beach don’t offer much in the way of soft sand or snack bars, but they more than make up for it with lush greenery, waves breaking on rocks and dramatic sun-soaked bluffs. The views are gorgeous, but you have to work to get to them: the beaches aren’t accessible by car and the trails are as rough as they are beautiful, but there’s nothing quite as rewarding as hoofing it through steep terrain only to emerge at a beautiful vista and the sound of the ocean.