Cruisin’ the Dunes on Block Island
I just got back from a three-day jaunt over to Block Island, a three by seven-mile stretch of paradise just 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Block Island was deemed by the Nature Conservancy as “one of the twelve last great places in the Western Hemisphere.”
Pulling up to the dock in Block Island, the first thing that struck me was the unique turquoise color of the water at the shore line, something I generally associate with Bermuda or the Caribbean, not chilly gray New England. The coast of the island was breathtaking, and the natural foliage that surrounds it made it even more so.
Wild roses abounded each bluff overlooking the expanse of sea, with small farmhouses peeking off the cliffs for a view of the sparkling water. Block Island stood out from afar as an extraordinary place to visit.
The National Hotel
We bunked at the National Hotel, an old Victorian era hotel with a great view of the ocean and a rocking bar and restaurant. Located in the heart of the island’s only town, the gleaming white hotel is surrounded by specialty shops and restaurants, in a row of similarly antiquated buildings on the main strip across from the ferry landing.
The National is not known for its spacious rooms or air conditioning so I was not sure how family friendly we would find it, but I was surprised to find that we were quite comfortable there. I am a heavy sleeper, so live music doesn’t bother me, and on the nights we were there this was not an issue, but be forewarned: if you are not a night owl and cannot sleep through a party, this might not be the place for you. That being said, if you like a good time, good food, and a great view then the National could be your home away from home for a trip to Block Island.
The staff members at the National are courteous and helpful, although it was obvious that many of them had just arrived to the island themselves and were still getting acquainted with the surroundings. That said, I found the multicultural crew more than willing to try and help us figure out the details of our stay. Breakfast was included, and the view from the restaurant deck was a great way to wake up.
After first rejecting our third floor room with the gorgeous view (I have to say that I am the type of mom who will do anything to avoid carrying a child up four flights of stairs) we settled in to a comfortable garden view setup just one floor up from the lobby. Fine by me, as my room is not where I spend most of my time while on vacation.
Getting Back to Basics
We spent a lot of time on the beach during our stay, hitting up several sandy beaches in walking distance to our hotel. The best thing about our time on the beach was my utter amazement at my son, who at six is mostly obsessed with all things plug-in. TV, computer, video games, tiny iPods; you name it, Nathan loves it.
Our first night on island we dined at the Mohegan Café, a local pub-style eatery. The burgers and burritos were surprisingly delicious, and the drinks were tall and strong, what else do you need after a long drive and ferry ride? Dessert was a molten chocolate cake and ice cream for the kids from the local scoop.
Our second day on island we rented bikes from Block Island Bike Rentals, seemingly a harmless and fun family activity. Wrong. Biking around Block Island is not for the weak or the young (as in six). We made it (creeping along) maybe a 1/2 mile before Nathan collapsed into a heap on the side of the small winding road (no bike trails on this undeveloped patch of land) and cried "I can't do it anymore! We must turn back!"
I did manage to sneak in a few hours on my bike with Sofie in the baby seat on the back. We rode north towards the islands’ tip, winding down a breezy coastal road. Sofie napped in the back for almost an hour so I had the pleasure of noticing every little shingled house and enjoy the ocean view from the bluffs with the scent of wildflowers dancing in my nose. My brain was buzzing with the sounds of summer when we finally made our way back to join our family for cards and cocktails on the hotel porch. What a great way to get out and enjoy the day.
Dinner on the Cheap Side
The downside to staying in hotels when you vacation is the toll it takes on your wallet when mealtime rolls around several times a day. Feeding a family of four in restaurants is not cheap, and touristy prices do add up. For lunch on our second day we grabbed deli sandwiches from the Block Island Grocery and ate them on the sand, saving us the money, and time away from the beach.
For dinner our second night we stumbled upon the Poor Man’s Pub. The name alone let us know we had to try it out, and I’m glad we did. This sweet little spot serves up burgers for just $5, and pizza for less than $10, and all of it outstanding. With a wide range of fun cocktails to comfortable outside seating the Poor Man’s Pub was definitely a good choice for us.
Cruisin’ the Dunes
The last day we made up for lost time by renting a convertible jeep from Old Harbor Bike Rentals to
tool around the island and check out the spots we had missed on our unsuccessful bike venture. $70 got us two hours of jeep time, and it turns out it was money well spent. This was the highlight of the trip, and quite possibly of my children's lives.
What says fun to a kid like riding around in a bright red convertible Jeep in the summer sun, screaming "Cruisin’ the dunes baby!" at the top of your lungs. Clearly there is nothing like it, and now Nathan is insisting I look into trading in our minivan for a sportier ride.
While the strict guidelines of the car rental company and Block Island police dictate that you may not actually cruise on the dunes, or the beach for that matter, we did get a lot of mileage out of our new found catch phrase.
We drove our jeep around the island in less than one hour, stopping at the north lighthouse on Sandy Point, and down to the southern end of the island to Mohegan Bluffs. These 185-foot cliffs are one of the most reputable natural attractions Block Island has to offer, and to reach the beach you must be able-bodied and willing.
We attempted to climb down the seemingly endless staircase to the beach, but when we reached the end of the stairs we realized that there were many more (steep) rocks to scale, and with Sofie on my hip I didn’t think I could make it.
We finished the visit with a trip to the Fred Benson town beach. Soft, sandy, with easy walk on and bathroom access this beach is great for little ones. The wide stretch of sand is great for walking or jogging without feeling crowded by other tourists, and was the
It was refreshing to visit an island that has still avoided the built up commercialization that so many places are overrun with. Block Island offered us the luxuries associated with vacation coupled with a natural, undisturbed beauty that is so rare these days.
Kate Cosme, a mother of two from South Deerfield, MA, is a regular contributor to GoNOMAD's Family Travel Section. Read her blog, Running in Circles, and visit her contributor's page with links to all of her articles.
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