Moon Rhode Island
By Liz Lee
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- Flexible, strategic itineraries including a weeklong tour of the state and a coastal weekend getaway, with ideas for families, foodies, beachgoers, and art lovers
- The top sights and unique experiences: Admire the elegant mansions of Newport, relax on the beach in Little Compton, or take a sailing lesson. Stroll through Providence’s Waterplace Park and take a scenic bike ride on Block Island. Visit a world-class museum, gallery-hop in College Hill, or check out the underground music scene. Feast on authentic Italian dishes in Federal Hill or try one of Rhode Island’s iconic foods, like quahogs and stuffies
- Honest advice from longtime local Liz Lee on when to go, how to get around, where to eat, and where to stay, from budget-friendly hotels to historic inns
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Handy tools including tips for seniors, visitors with disabilities, and traveling with kids
- In-depth background on the culture, history, weather, and wildlife
- Full coverage of Providence, Newport, Block Island, the East Bay and Sakonnet, and South County
DISCOVER Rhode Island
6 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
The Best of Rhode Island
FOOD IN THE OCEAN STATE
Contrary to what Rhode Island locals might tell you, nothing within the state’s boundaries is actually “far away” from anything else. Rhode Island comprises only about 1,500 square miles (over 500 of which are in territorial waters), and one can easily drive from one end of the state to the other in about an hour. But despite the relative ease with which one might cross a state line, there is something about Rhode Island that makes it difficult to leave. In fact, this tendency of Rhode Islanders to stay put has become something of a joke over the years; local gift shops have taken to selling bumper stickers and T-shirts depicting an anchor chained to the phrase “I never leave Rhode Island.”
The anchor, of course, is part of the state’s official insignia, a symbol representing steadfastness and hope. And like so much of Rhode Island’s history, culture, people, and landscape, it also represents an inextricable link to the sea.
The ocean permeates everything in Rhode Island, from the sandy beaches and inland farms to city streets where seagulls can still be heard crying overhead and salty breezes blow in from the bay. In Rhode Island, the ocean creates jobs, supplies, food, and provides recreation and respite from the daily grind. It’s where the state gets its official name (after all, an island can’t exist without the sea), and it’s where it gets its nickname as well—the Ocean State.
Perhaps this is why Rhode Islanders live for summer, when rising tempera-tures and sunny skies make the coast that much more appealing. But as with all New England states, Rhode Island has appeal in every season. Autumn means brilliant bright-orange and red foliage, and apple picking and hayrides at family-run orchards. Spring is an excuse to seek out the diaphanous pink blooms of the cherry blossom trees at one of more than over two-dozen state parks. Even in the coldest winter months, visitors can enjoy the ineffable beauty of the Atlantic from behind the windowpanes of cozy seaside B&Bs or simply find warmth in the diversity and vibrancy of Providence or Newport—two of the nation’s most historic cities.
And the best thing about Rhode Island? Everything is a day trip—which sort of makes it difficult to leave.
6 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Wander the Cliff Walk in Newport: Nature lovers and history buffs alike will enjoy this 3.5-mile coastline trail.
2 Visit the Newport Mansions: Newport’s wealthy elite was so overcome with their own opulence that they gave their sprawling estates names like “Rosecliff,” “The Breakers,” and “Chateau sur Mer.” Once you see them, you’ll understand why.
3 Enjoy Beaches across the State: Rhode Islanders take their beaching very seriously, and it shows: It’s a salty, sundrenched satisfaction that is not easy to replicate.
4 Get Artistic: Providence is called the Creative Capital because of art experiences like the impressive pyrotechnic installation WaterFire, but there are fantastic galleries and museums throughout the state.
5 Cycle the State: Admire the scenic and popular East Bay Trail or the isolated and beautiful Block Island on two wheels.
6 Drink and Dine: Mouthwatering Italian dishes in Providence, seafood fresh from sandy shores, and thirst-quenching craft brews are just some of the tasty delights to enjoy.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
In terms of tourism, little Rhode Island is a land of separate communities. You don’t so much vacation in Rhode Island as you do in Providence, Newport, South County, or Block Island. That being said, if you spend time in any one part of Rhode Island, you’ll find it quite simple to venture over to any other town in the state, which are all just a short drive away.
Providence and Vicinity
Providence somehow manages to feel like the cool college town it is while maintaining a very genuine blue-collar vibe at the same time. It also offers a culinary experience you may expect of a city several times its size, some beautifully preserved colonial and 19th-century architecture, and a youthful, unconventional, and thriving music, art, and club scene, largely due to the presence of Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and Johnson & Wales.
Greater Providence encapsulates a diversity of environments that reward day trips, drive-throughs, and even longer stays. The Blackstone River Valley features recreational opportunities, thanks to the historically notable Blackstone River.
Newport, known for its posh luxury hotels and elite seaside estates, offers the lodging and dining variety you might expect of much larger East Coast cities, and yet it’s a fairly small place that’s easy to navigate. It’s a well-preserved colonial seaport community and a living-history museum of the Gilded Age, with stunning mansions situated on rocky cliffs. But you needn’t be rich to enjoy the natural beauty of Newport’s scenic coastline and sandy beaches.
Block Island is both beautiful and accessible, thanks to a conservancy that preserves more than a quarter of the island’s open spaces. You’ll find historic bed-and-breakfasts and inns here, including several mammoth Victorian hotels, as well as some of the most breathtaking stretches of coastline in the state.
The East Bay and Sakonnet
East Bay is a great weekend destination: Warren is an antiques hub with a few excellent restaurants, while Bristol offers charming inns and museums. Sakonnet makes a great day trip as it’s laced with country roads and contains a handful of fun shops, cafés, roadside farm stands, and a bit of beach access. Alas, there are hardly any accommodations in Sakonnet’s two towns, Little Compton and Tiverton, but it’s a short drive from either Aquidneck Island or Bristol.
This part of Rhode Island offers a mix of colorful beach towns studded with condos, motels, and guesthouses along with quieter interior communities known for lush forests, rippling ponds and rivers, and great hiking. The coastal area tends to be seasonal and is best visited from spring through summer. This is a very family-friendly part of Rhode Island, owing to its busy beaches with kid-oriented diversions, from water sports and whale watches to carousels and miniature golf.
When to Go
Rhode Island is a year-round destination, but if you’re planning to take advantage of the Ocean State’s vast access to the water, focus your visit around the warmest months, generally from mid-May through mid-October and especially from mid-June through Labor Day. Keep in mind, however, that in Newport, Block Island, and South County, you’ll be competing with throngs of other sea lovers for space and parking at the beach, in restaurants, and at hotels.
Newport and parts of South County have made an effort to attract off-season visitors; museums have begun keeping longer winter hours, and many hotels offer special rates in the off-season. Block Island, however, has few hotel options and even fewer dining options in winter.
The best compromise could be to visit in the shoulder season—in May, before Memorial Day, when the days are often warm and sunny, or in September, after Labor Day, when the ocean is at its warmest.
Because the colleges in Providence infuse downtown and College Hill with energy when the schools are in session, some visitors prefer fall, spring, and even winter in the state capital, which can seem empty in summer when there aren’t as many students. While Providence can sometimes be uncomfortably hot and muggy in July and August, it’s only a 45-minute drive to most of the state’s beaches, making it a completely reasonable place to make your home base for a summer visit. Winters are not brutal, but the state does get socked by the occasional snow or ice storms, and the wind and frigidity can be uncomfortable from December through March.
The most bewitching and scenic seasons in Rhode Island are spring, when the entire state is abloom with greenery and flowers, and fall, when the foliage changes color, and the woods light up with brilliant swamp maples.
The Best of Rhode Island
With a week to explore Rhode Island, you can easily see the state’s key towns and cities and enjoy a sampling of its major attractions. This approach begins in Providence and then steers you down through the state’s coastal hubs, ending in Bristol, just an hour’s drive from Providence. It’s not difficult to manage this tour in just five to six days by using Providence and Newport as your bases and spending one night instead of two on Block Island, but to fully soak up the region’s appeal, plan to take seven full days to get around.
Providence’s renaissance has occurred largely around its downtown riverfront, so spend your first day getting acquainted with the area. Spend some time checking out the shops and cafés in Downcity, then walk over to Waterplace Park, where you can take a gondola ride during the warmer months. On many Saturday evenings from March through November you can also watch the dazzling WaterFire, a dramatic display of bonfires set in cauldrons along the river.
In the same day, you can cross the river to College Hill, home to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design as well as several other attractions, some of them related to the neighborhood’s academic institutions. Must-sees include the RISD Museum of Art and the Providence Athenaeum. Be sure to stroll along Benefit Street, which is lined with gorgeous colonial and Victorian homes, and check out the excellent shopping, gallery-hopping, and inexpensive dining along both Thayer and Wickenden Streets.
On your second day, venture out to Roger Williams Park, which is an easy 4 -mi (6.4-km) drive or bus ride south from downtown. This sprawling green park contains Roger Williams Park Zoo and the excellent Museum of Natural History, which includes a planetarium, making it an especially nice option if you have kids in tow. Alternatively, make a day trip north of the city to Slater Mill Historic Site, a linchpin of the American Industrial Revolution, located in downtown Pawtucket, a 15-minute drive north of Providence. Finish off the day with dinner and a stroll through Federal Hill, Providence’s Little Italy, or check out one of the many other eclectic and highly acclaimed restaurants in the West Side neighborhood.
You should not visit Newport without taking a road trip along winding Ocean Drive, which meanders along the waterfront and affords close-up views of some of this small city’s prettiest homes. Spend the rest of your first day becoming acquainted with the compact and highly walkable downtown, checking out the shops and the well-preserved colonial and Victorian architecture of Historic District, or enjoying the exhibits at the excellent Newport Art Museum.
Save your second day in Newport for touring the massive summer homes of the Gilded Age along Bellevue Avenue, the most famous of which is The Breakers. After the imposing Breakers, if you have time to see only one other mansion, your best bet is The Elms. If you’re a tennis fan, you might consider a visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and its museum.
If mansions aren’t your thing, head north to visit the towns of Portsmouth and Middletown, where sightseeing highlights include the Norman Bird Sanctuary, Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, and Green Animals Topiary Garden, as well as some of the best sandy beaches in the state.
Laid-back South County contains some of Rhode Island’s best beaches as well as copious opportunities for hiking, boating, swimming, and sunbathing. It’s also where you catch the ferry to the next place on this tour, Block Island.
A great way to make the most of a day in South County is to drive along the shore, beginning in the quaint Victorian seaside town of Watch Hill and continuing along Route 1A and U.S. 1 (and some side roads) through such charming seaside communities as Weekapaug, Misquamicut, Charlestown, Galilee, and Point Judith. A bit north, Narragansett is home to the South County Museum, which preserves the legacy of a gentleman’s farm, and the Gilbert Stuart Museum, the home of George Washington’s foremost portraitist. Don’t feel like you have to spend the day sightseeing, however—when you find the beach that matches your personality, whether that’s kid-friendly Watch Hill, pristine Charlestown, or raucous Misquamicut, feel free to pull out that towel and sunbathe.
Beautiful and isolated Block Island, just 10 mi (16 km) or so south of the mainland, feels a world away from the rest of the state. Far less developed than other New England island retreats, such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Block Island is home to numerous nature preserves as well as some of the grandest Victorian seaside resorts in the country. While it’s possible to visit for an afternoon, you’ll want to spend a night and really get the feel of the island. Go for a bike ride, hike along the grounds of Southeast Light or through Rodman’s Hollow preserve, grab an ice-cream cone at Aldo’s, or simply laze away your time reading in a lounge chair at Crescent Beach.
The East Bay and Sakonnet
End your tour of Rhode Island with a visit to the quiet East Bay area, which you can reach from Newport more scenically by making a short detour through Sakonnet, a small patch of villages bordering Massachusetts and the ocean and home to the state’s best winery, Sakonnet Vineyards. If the vineyard doesn’t appeal to you, consider a trip to Goosewing Beach and Nature Preserve, a great place to watch the sunset or observe the enormous flocks of piping plover and other birds that congregate here.
Head north to reach the East Bay, where the main towns are Bristol and Warren. Bristol may be relatively small, but it’s home to some historic attractions, including Blithewold Mansion and Arboretum, as well as a charming downtown neighborhood. Head to Warren for dinner at one of the several hip and eclectic restaurants that have cropped up here in recent years.
Newport ranks among the most appealing long-weekend destinations in New England, but lesser-known coastal towns to the south—like Narragansett, Charlestown, and Wickford—offer a down-to-earth charm that appeals to broader sensibilities. Spend a day soaking up the gorgeous views and rich history of posh Newport, then head to South County for a truly relaxing day in one of Rhode Island’s smaller, more laid-back beach communities.
Begin on Ocean Drive, the famously scenic route that loops around for about 10 mi (16 km), edging the sea and passing dramatic summer homes. Then continue onto tree-shaded Bellevue Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Newport’s Gilded Age, studded with palatial mansions that have been converted into house-museums. Both The Breakers and The Elms are among the best mansions to tour.
Several lanes headed east from Bellevue provide access to the Cliff Walk, a rocky path that runs along a bluff and affords exceptional views of Rhode Island Sound as well as the backyards of several waterfront estates; definitely plan to hike along at least a section of this path if the weather permits. After that, you might just want to spend the rest of the afternoon swimming and lounging in the sand at Easton’s Beach, but if there’s rain in the forecast, consider checking out the exhibits at the Newport Art Museum. Plan on an early-ish dinner at the cozy Perro Salado in Washington Square. Then give yourself enough time to end the day by heading over the bridge to Jamestown, where you can watch the sunset from the rocky cliffs at Beavertail State Park.
- On Sale
- May 19, 2020
- Page Count
- 284 pages
- Moon Travel