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Block Island, Rhode Island

What to Do

OUTDOORS All things natural are revered on Block Island, and the Nature Conservancy supplies a detailed map and booklet outlining every species and plant you could hope to observe during your trip. You can pick up the information from Elva Derby at either the Block Island Chamber of Commerce (800/383-2474 or 401/466-2474) or the conservancy's office (High St.; 401/466-2129). One of the nicest walks is at Mohegan Bluffs, which has a lookout point and more than 150 steps leading down to a dramatically beautiful, rocky beach. Along the way, watch for belted kingfishers, oystercatchers, sanderlings, and Canada geese.

BIKING This is the primary pastime on Block Island. Heavy competition among rental outfits (though close inspection reveals that several of them are in fact run by members of the Aldo family) means there will always be a bicycle available somewhere, and nearly all are of the same sturdy quality and style. During high season a day's rental will cost about $20. Aldo (Weldon's Way; 401/466-5018) has a location at both harbors. Another option: Beach Rose Bicycles (behind the Rose Farm Inn, accessible via Roslyn Road or the Spring House Hotel driveway; 401/466-2034). The Old Harbor Bike Shop (401/466-2029) rents bikes, mopeds, and cars. The chamber of commerce, which has an office in the parking lot across from the Block Island ferries, publishes a biking guide with a beautiful map and descriptions of the most scenic routes.

PARASAILING The best way to appreciate how unspoiled Block Island really is may be to see it from 1,200 feet up. Only one company, Block Island Parasail (401/864-2474; $55 for a half-hour), offers parasailing. It also rents out jet boats by the half-hour ($55).

SNORKELING AND DIVING Snorkel equipment is available at a good price from Oceans & Ponds (Ocean and Connecticut Aves.; 800/678-4701 or 401/466-5131). The best diving outfitter is Island Outfitters & Dive Shop (Ocean Ave.; 401/466-5502). Daily dive charters include a tour of nine island wrecks.

KAYAKING Roadside at the Great Salt Pond near Champlin's Marina, the Aldo family rears its head again. This time it's to offer kayak, bumper boat, and paddleboat rentals on the pond, by the hour (reservations are recommended; 401/466-5811). The price is good, but the clerk is likely to be a teenager who doesn't have a lot to say about where you should go. If you're more serious about kayaking, and would like a full-service rental with all the advice and help you may need, try Block Island's Orvis dealer, Oceans & Ponds (see above). As the name implies, this shop will facilitate both ocean and pond kayaking or canoeing for you, by the half-day ($35 for two people) or longer. It also offers private, one-day fly-fishing instruction and charter fishing trips.

HORSEBACK RIDING Rustic Rides Farm (West Side Rd.; 401/466-5060; $30) is the real deal. If you didn't grow up on a farm, you might experience a little culture shock. You sign up for your trip beside the paddock, amid freely wandering peacocks, and then pick out your horse with the staff. (The farm's widely distributed coupon reads BUCK OFF!) One guided ride follows a nature trail, and another takes you to a beach. If your guide happens to show up riding bareback and shirtless, wearing surfer shorts that reveal the word Tennessee tattooed across his lower back, consider yourself lucky: he's very friendly and well-informed, and his tour is excellent. (FYI, Tennessee is the name of his horse back home.)

Strange Island Ways

PILING ROCKS No matter how remote the beach you find yourself on, you'll discover pillars of carefully stacked round rocks. Your role: Add one to the top without toppling the masterpiece — and sometimes it really is a masterpiece.

LEMONADE STANDS Throughout the island, there are self-serve stands for visiting walkers and bikers. Your role: Decide which has the most beautiful sign and which has the best-tasting lemonade. Our vote for best sign is the one across from Eastgate House (see Where to Stay).

PAINTED ROCK In the middle of the T-junction of Mohegan Trail and Lakeside Drive, there is a large rock on which a new painted message and decoration mysteriously appear almost every day or night. You might find WELCOME HOME DANNY, SUE LOVES JIM, or a polka-dot-adorned PAINT THIS AND DIE. Your role: Take note and move on.

Shop to It!

There's no shortage of tourist-inspired clothing and knickknacks on the island's main shopping drags, Dodge and Water Streets. But there are also a number of shops that would be standouts anywhere. If you want to write home on Papier Vergé de France stationery, or would consider wearing your new Kaminski hat back on the ferry, the only place to get it is the Glass Onion (241 Water St.; 401/466-5161). The store also stocks a variety of handled baskets that make great beach bags.

Boatworks (Corn Neck Rd.; 401/466-2033) is the place for all the essentials of island life — sandals, bathing suits, hammocks, Adirondack chairs, and beach umbrellas.

The two-story Red Herring (232 Water St.; 401/466-2541) sells everything from blank books to furniture, and delivers. It stocks Maine Cottage Furniture's full line — a surprising number of travelers seem to buy Maine-style furniture here — as well as Silas Hall pine tables and wall cabinets, made in Rhode Island.

Among the large and varied selection of gift items at Watercolors (Dodge St.; 401/466-2538) are glass-tiled canisters and apothecary jars, engraved copper frames, and jewelry made with local sea glass. The shelves at Scarlett Begonia (Dodge St.; 401/466-5024) are packed with objects that betray a deep nostalgia for the Victorian era, including reasonably priced dolls made of patterned chenille bedspreads. There are local finds here, too, such as tiles by Melinda Kelley, who has a studio on the west side of the island; and resident Pat Doyle's scone and bread mixes. Another good place to see islanders' creative work is the Spring Street Gallery (Spring St.; 401/466-5374).


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