Unrivalled and un-mucked about with, Block Island’s 17 miles of white sand harken back to an era before ticket machines and acres of blacktop became ubiquitous beachgoing experiences. All are open to the public, and small campfires may be permitted (licenses available at the Police Station). Parking is free, and spacious expanses offer plenty of room, but amenities are few, lifeguards are fewer, and if you want to escape the crowds on a busy July or August weekend, you’ll have to hike a little. It’ll be worth it, we promise.
Walk off the ferry, turn left, and some visitors never get any further. Why? Ballard’s broad beach sits directly south of Old Harbor’s long eastern breakwater (great for exploring), so charter fishing boats and watersport rides offer plenty to see and do on the adjacent docks. To the south, there’s a path up to the Ocean View Nature Pavilion. Volleyball nets and picnic tables amp up the party atmosphere. This is the only beach on Block Island where it’s legal to drink alcohol, and the adjacent Ballard’s Inn makes the most of it with a tiki bar, outdoor music on weekends, and servers who keep the beer and daiquiris flowing right to your beach towel.
Crescent Beach & Beyond
This two-mile arc of sand is one of the first things visitors see from the decks of the ferries that pull into Old Harbor, and its southern base is just a five-minute walk from the downtown docks. Go north, and you’ll discover:
Surf Hotel Beach
College-age revelers invade on July Fourth, but otherwise this quiet, seaweedy spot below the iconic gingerbread-style hotel from which the beach takes its name draws snorkelers to explore the eelgrass beds, lobster burrows, and the tautog that haunt the big rocks just offshore; novice surfers flock to a small break to the north.
A short path from Corn Neck Road parking (look for two posts near the intersection with Beach Avenue) and gentle surf make this a popular spot for local families with young children.
Fred Benson Town Beach
Two sandy parking lots off “The Neck” of the island flank a beach pavilion that features lifeguards, bathrooms, showers, and a snack bar with burgers and fries at lunch and the best deal in town for basic breakfast sandwiches. Umbrella and beach chair rentals and softserve ice cream make this the quintessential family beach destination.
Don’t count on finding space in the small parking lot, but posts mark other access points from parking alongside Corn Neck Road. Locals set up a volleyball net every summer for hotly contested tourneys, skimboarders work the waterline, and for teens and 20-some- things, this is see-and-be-seen central. To the north, crowds thin rapidly as rocks and surfcasters dot the shoreline.
Park among the overgrown ruins of the Searles Ball mansion and hike down to find the biggest surf and the smallest crowds of all the Crescent beaches. To the north, surfers swarm Jerry’s Point, and a rocky hike around Pots and Kettles Point will bring you to the unmarked beachside access for Clay Head Nature Trail, a premier hiking area.
Southern & Western Beaches
Harder to find and often rockier or rougher than Crescent, Block Island’s less-well-known beaches offer a chance to get away. Excellent fishing draws surfcasters, spearfishers and charter boats offshore; cell reception may be spotty. Plan to bring all your snacks and drinks in (and out – there are no public waste bins). Watch for riptides.
Near the Southeast Light, a small parking lot, stunning cliff-side views and an infamous 250-step staircase greet visitors to one of the island’s best known landmarks. The physically fit are rewarded with a sandy south-facing cove and big swells. Hike to the west around a rocky outcropping and you’ll find remote Vaill Beach, where you may have the small curve of sand entirely to yourself. A little further west, Black Rock lies offshore, marking a favorite surfing spot. You can also access this area along a narrow, rocky hike from Snake Hole Road, but arrive early to bag one of a handful of parking spaces. Don’t climb on or get too close to the bluffs, which are not stable.
Dories & Grace's Coves
Pebbly west-facing beaches reached by eponymously named dirt roads are lined with big private homes and are perfect for sunset gazers.
Charlestown Beach & The Cut
Venture down Champlin Road to a small parking lot near the landmark decommissioned Coast Guard Station to be rewarded with three distinct options. Ahead lies the beach at “The Cut” into the Great Salt Pond, a wonderful spot for birdwatching, picnicking and watching yachts sail by. On the ocean side, Charlestown Beach offers undisturbed hiking along its sandy length. On the pond side, quiet Cormorant Cove is a great space for beginner swimmers and, in season (check at Town Hall), clammers.
Past the town’s Transfer Station, eroding dunes reveal the weathered refuse of the recent past (think a whole, rust-covered car), when this area was the site of a landfill. Further north, a long, quiet strip of beach may be marked off with piping plover fences; a few private homes give way to the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge and its thousands of shore birds. Up at the island’s northernmost tip lie historic North Light, Cow Cove and the Settlers’ Rock memorial to the island’s first white settlers, also accessible from the northern tip of Corn Neck Road; signs warn of dangerous riptides.