Cross a small bridge five minutes from the highway--just 20 minutes from Manhattan--and you're in the laid-back mariner land of City Island, in the Bronx. Boat moorings, lobster houses, diners and markets belie the teeming city visible across Long Island Sound.

To further distance yourself from the bustle, step into Le Refuge B&B (620 City Island Ave., 718-885-2478), a French-themed Victorian boardinghouse. Proof of its detachment from urbanity: I arrived at midnight to find my room key taped to the unlocked front door. The 19th-century sea captain's house boasts eight guest rooms (two with private baths), a spacious breakfast area and a pleasant back porch. Rooms start at $65 a night; prix fixe dinner is $40.

City Island Avenue, running about one mile from the bridge to the sound front, harbors many restaurants, boat supply stores and other establishments of necessity.

Rent a boat from Daybreak (718-409-9765) or take a charter fishing trip from Riptide (718-885-0236; full day with gear for about $40); both are in the cluster of businesses just over the bridge, behind Le Refuge.

Prefer to keep your feet on the ground? Visit Orchard Beach (within a mile of City Island; follow signs as you head back toward I-95) and take a stroll on the sand. A wide promenade lined with seasonally operating refreshment stalls ensures lively people-watching on sunny summer days.

City Island is remarkable for its ability to sustain a small-town look, feel and pace so close to one of the world's most vibrant cities, and that quality makes it a perfect stop for folks who need a break near New York City but don't want to bunk in the Big Apple.