With 17 miles of beaches encircling Block Island, beachcombers and solitude seekers need not worry about excessive crowds, even in the height of summer—it’s usually possible to find at least a small stretch of beach that’s nearly or entirely deserted. Keep in mind that only Benson and Ballard’s beaches are staffed by lifeguards, and riptides are a serious problem in the waters surrounding Block Island. Pay close attention to water and wind conditions before venturing into unfamiliar waters.
The most famous but also most crowded swath of sand is two-mile Crescent Beach, which stretches along Block Island’s east coast from Old Harbor to Clay Head Nature Preserve. The beach is comprised of different sections, the main one being Fred Benson Town Beach (or Benson Beach) off Corn Neck Road. This is one of the only beaches on the island where you’ll find lifeguards and public amenities like changing facilities and showers, chair and umbrella rentals, and a small snack bar (the other is Ballard’s). There’s also a large (free) parking lot with bike racks. This town beach, formerly run by the state, tends to draw the bulk of day-trippers and other visitors, especially on weekends.
South of Benson Beach, practically in Old Harbor, you’ll find the shallow pools of Baby Beach, where families often bring children. It’s a short walk from many hotels, and the tidal pools are fun for picking up fiddler and hermit crabs, collecting seashells, and swimming or wading.
On the other side, just north of Benson, the somewhat more secluded Scotch Beach section tends to draw a lot of summer workers, local teens, and the like. It’s less suitable for families than Benson. North of here, beautiful Mansion Beach forms the northern end of this stretch. It lies beneath the remains of a mansion that burned in a fire long ago. There’s not much parking here—many visitors arrive by bike. It’s a very scenic and romantic spot, perfect for a picnic or some relative peace and quiet and yet more accessible than some of the island’s most tranquil beaches.
A lively spot that gets rowdy at night, Ballard’s Beach, at the southern tip of Old Harbor’s commercial district, is right by Ballard’s seafood restaurant, just beyond the harbor’s southern breakwater. This attractive span is popular with young singles and couples: Waitstaff scurries about, delivering beer and fruity drinks, revelers play volleyball, and live bands entertain the crowds on summer afternoons. The surf can be pretty intense at times, although it’s perfectly safe for adults with swimming experience.
A short drive or bike ride from Old Harbor, West Beach (West Beach Rd.), with parking just past the town transfer station, is a relatively peaceful beach that’s ideal for a stroll, especially at sunset. From here you can hike up the entire western shore of the island, heading north to North Lighthouse. Part of this area is a bird sanctuary, so dogs are not permitted, and humans are asked to stay below the high-tide line and avoid disturbing the dunes and wildlife.
There are several other smaller and more secluded beaches around the island, many of them known only among locals and accessible primarily on foot or by bike. Favorites among these include Black Rock Beach and Vail Beach, both of which are accessible from Snake Hole Road on the south shore of the island.
Vail is a pretty if rocky spot in the shadow of Mohegan Bluffs and has some rough surf. Black Rock takes its name from the large black rock offshore; it has a series of secluded coves perfect for hiking or quiet sunbathing. You’ll want to take a bike here, as the road to the beach is more than a mile long and mopeds are forbidden. Given the seclusion of the area, some beachgoers may decide to make their excursion clothing-optional, although you didn’t hear that from us.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Rhode Island.