It's hard to imagine that from the center of New York's Time Square, among the bright lights and tourists, you're a short train ride away from white sand, surfing, and quietude. If you're looking to get out of the big city – whether that metropolis is New York, Boston, LA, or Houston – look offshore. Islands like South Manitou and Madeline have been passed over and left alone – making them the perfect, close-to-home refuge for city-dwellers. Here are the top island getaways that are a hop from civilization.
Block Island, RI
It's always amazing that Block Island's flood of summer beachcombers, backwoods hikers, and fresh-off-the-boat lobster lovers turns into a trickle as soon as the calendar flips past Labor Day. Mother Nature, of course, doesn't work that quickly. The waters surrounding this rustic, 10-square-mile island remain warm and swimmable well into October. Its Victorian hilltop hotels stay open to travelers, and its dockside seafood restaurants – like The Oar on New Harbor, with its collection of several hundred hand-painted oars covering the ceiling and outside patio walls – are still lively, but with fewer diners jostling to watch the sunset. "It's a much slower pace and really enjoyable for cycling, because there are fewer cars on the road and people on the beaches," says George Venezia, 57, who's been general manager of The Oar for 16 years. Among his favorite activities: hiking the island's 25 miles of Greenway Trails, through tunnels of laurel branches or along the wildflower basin at Rodman's Hollow. One of the best spots for swimming is the white-sand Crescent Beach, with its shallow, calm waters – an easy walk or bike ride from the ferry landing in Old Harbor. On the island's Atlantic side, past rolling farmland and stone walls left by 16th-century settlers, stand the dramatic 150-foot Mohegan Bluffs. It's a breathtaking walk down the wooden staircase that leads to the rocky beach below, but worth it for that edge-of-the-world feeling it gives you.
Where to stay: There's a cheerful collection of B&Bs in town, such as the Sheffield House, with its crow's-nest turret. Open through October 20. [from $69; blockislandbedandbreakfast.com]
Best outfitter: Island Moped and Bike, located just around the corner from the Block Island Ferry terminal, rents scooters and cruisers by the hour, day, or week. [bimopeds.com]
Credit: Jodi Hilton / The New York Times / Redux