Most people think of the New England islands as summer destinations. Kids spend their time riding bikes and licking ice cream cones. Their parents sip chilled cocktails on the porches of shingled cottages and gorge themselves on seafood. While everyone spends their days on the beach searching for seashells, riding the waves, and absorbing lots of Vitamin D. The fun on Block Island doesn’t have to end when fall arrives, though. In early October, there are clear skies for stargazing. The humidity has disappeared. Plus the water is still warm—by New England standards, at least.
Block Island sits 13 miles across the Block Island Sound from Rhode Island. The Niantic people lived off the land and the sea—by catching fish, growing corn and beans, and hunting deer—for centuries before the island was charted by Dutch explorers in 1614. The island eventually became known as a summer destination. Today, Victorian houses stand behind the sand dunes. Ferries arrive from Newport, Rhode Island; New London, Connecticut; and Montauk, New York. The Block Island National Wildlife Refuge protects much of the island from development. Seventeen miles of beaches line the coast. And historic lighthouses sit on the island’s northern tip and southern coast.
Your focus today, the Mohegan Bluffs, is also along the south shore. The 150-foot bluffs tower over the Atlantic Ocean. The clay cliffs were named after a battle for supremacy over the island between the Niantic and Mohegan peoples in the mid-16th century. The invading Mohegans were eventually forced over the steep cliffs by the native Niantics. It’s a much more peaceful spot now. Follow the trail out to Payne Overlook. You might see Canada geese migrating south as you walk along the path. From the edge of the cliffs, the brick Southeast Light stands to the east. Montauk Point, Long Island’s easternmost point, is in the distance to the south. While a steep staircase, with about 140 steps, leads down the cliffs to Corn Cove, a small beach.
After spending a few hours watching the surfers, searching for cairns (stacked stones that were used as trail markers), and enjoying the surprisingly warm afternoon, it’s time to head back up the wooden stairs and go to Eli’s. The island’s most exciting restaurant doesn’t take reservations; the line usually winds down Chapel Street during the summer months. But this time of year, there are plenty of tables available in the old-fashioned dining room.
Order a bottle of Pinot Grigio as you look over the menu. Everyone raves about the warm goat cheese and arugula salad, but you’re thinking about starting with Block Island oysters on the half shell that are served with a mango-chili “caviar.” The decisions don’t get any easier with the entrées. You debate over the shrimp and roasted tomato spaghetti and the roasted Georges Bank scallops right up until your server arrives. The roasted tomatoes—one last bite of summer—eventually tip the scales in the pasta’s favor. If only the rest of fall could stay this perfect.