I grew up in Massachusetts, but I suppose you could say I spent the bulk of my summers in Rhode Island.
From where I lived in the southeastern part of the commonwealth, Newport was just an easier drive than Hyannis. Block Island was a notoriously less busy island than Massachusetts counterparts Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. I had access to family boats in Tiverton, where I also attempted — and failed — at learning how to windsail. Back in my day, there was always Rocky Point’s amusement park to fill a summer day, capped off by some of the best clam cakes and chowder in the region.
So, while the Ocean State wasn’t normally a spot I would frequent during the winter months (sorry, Yawgoo), it was a favorite place to soak up the sun during the summer, with more than 400 miles of coastline to explore. Here are some of the best places and activities I’ve enjoyed in Rhode Island over the years.
Keep in mind, while these destinations were open at press time and welcoming visitors during COVID-19 precautions, it’s imperative to check websites prior to your anticipated arrival and to call ahead for updates. In some cases, reservations may be required.
Every summer, in my post-collegiate days, a group of friends and I would rent a house on Block Island for a week, an annual vacation that was bit parts rowdy, relaxing and inspiring. As the years went by, the party atmosphere that pervades this island started to diminish a bit from within our group, leaving those mornings (normally reserved for sleeping in) open to indulge in its beauty and access.
You’ll find that many of the guests on the island flock to Chapel Street at the beginning of each day. That’s where you can grab a breakfast croissant at Aldo’s Bakery, then step outside where the long-established outfitter has a variety of bikes (prices vary based on rental time — full-day rentals, $30; weekly rental, $60) and mopeds (starting at $21.25 per hour) for rent. Aldo’s also is committed to sanitizing each bike and moped following use. (www.aldosmopedsbi.com)
It’s the perfect way to navigate the stunning scenery on Block Island. Be sure to check out Fred Benson Town Beach and grab lunch outside on the deck at the Beachhead. But one must-stop along the way is the Mohegan Bluffs, a rocky beach at the end of the island that is enveloped by the 200-foot cliffs that look over the scene. It’s easy to feel transported to another realm at this spot, with a secluded and dramatic view of the Atlantic Ocean.
The island is open for business in the wake of the pandemic, and ferries are running daily from Point Judith (www.blockislandferry.com). High-speed ferries, which resumed mid-June, also are available at Point Judith, Newport and Fall River, Mass. Visit www.blockislandreservations.com for a variety of overnight and weekly rentals for accommodations.
There’s plenty of paddling to be done on the mainland as well. In Narragansett, Narrow River Kayaks ($30 rental for two hours, $60 for full-day) offers a variety of tours as well as classes focused on kayak introduction, stand-up paddling instructions, and yoga SUP. The Pettaquamscutt Watershed, or Narrow River, boasts a number of options for all abilities to paddle, providing an immersion into nature, as far as the far end of Narragansett Beach. (www.narrowriverkayaks.com)
For a completely different type of paddling experience, there’s Providence Kayak (www.providencekayak.com). Here, you’ll be able to take a downtown kayak tour of the state capital, navigating past bridges, cobblestone walkways, and other sights of the historic city ($20 for 40 minutes; $30 for 90 minutes). Ninety-minute guided tours will provide a closer look at the Providence and Woonasquatucket rivers, Riverwalk and Waterplace Park.
Roger Williams Zoo
Elsewhere in Providence, you’ll find perhaps the best collection of wildlife in all of New England. The Roger Williams Zoo (www.rwpzoo.org) is open for the summer with dozens of exotic animals on display. Many of the zoo’s events have been postponed though, and admission will be based on a timed ticketed system. Tickets only can be purchased online, in advance. See website for details.
During the summer, the seaside town and sailing mecca of Newport was, naturally, a more frequent destination of mine than Providence.
Whether you’re a sailor or not, the atmosphere and energy of downtown Newport is incomparable, a summer destination with a variety of activities for everybody. There are a number of outlets you’ll find down on Bowens Wharf, where you can procure a sailboat outing, including Sightsailing of Newport (sightsailing.com), which offers both public sails (daysails, $38 per person; nightsails $48 with complementary beer, wine or soda) and private charters. For another taste of the sort of activity that makes Newport special, check out Newport Polo (www.nptpolo.com). The Newport International Polo Series has been cleared for play this summer, with an extensive list of game-day policies. See website for a complete outline.
Maybe the most popular attraction in Newport is the famous Cliff Walk (www.cliffwalk.com), a winding path along the ocean shoreline that provides dramatic, natural views on one side, as well as the opulence and history of the Newport mansions on the other. If you’re not in the mood to stretch your legs, the Ten-Mile Drive (www.oceandrivenewport.com) delivers a similar observation of the structural history of Newport, as well as a dive into its recreational treasures.
Strolling along the wharfs — featuring seaside life and an abundance of shopping — is one way to experience Newport on foot, as is sampling the many restaurants and pubs along Thames Street. But head over to Fort Adams to enjoy an evening stroll that will deliver — hands down — one of the best sunsets you’ll see in all of southern New England. This is a picturesque park situated along the ocean that provides a sometimes quiet, sometimes bustling — depending on the day — respite. (fortadams.org)
Some of my tastiest summer memories came after water skiing on Nannaquaket Pond in Tiverton. My aunt kept her boat docked nearby and, after a few hours of making waves, we’d inevitably head over to the dock at Evelyn’s Drive-In, arguably the best clam shack in all of New England. The clam cakes — served in a grease-tinged paper bag — are steaming, crisp and filled with clams. The stuffies (stuffed quahog) are bursting with flavor, and if you’re on the hunt for the elusive chow mein sandwich, a regional specialty in southern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island, you’ll find it here. Diners are encouraged to bring their own picnic gear, blankets and seats to the premises (also easily reached by the road) with COVID-19 seating restrictions in place for its picnic tables. www.evelynsdrivein.com
Of course, few snacks define Rhode Island summers like Del’s Lemonade, the tarty, refreshing slush that is perfect for a midday cool down, or an after-dinner treat. There are some two dozen locations in the Ocean State alone, with a handful more popping up in Massachusetts. (www.dels.com)
Looking for something a bit heavier? There are 10 Newport Creamery locations where you can try and put down an Awful Awful, the ultra-thick milkshake that isn’t anything like what the company calls it. Oh, the food isn’t bad either, featuring breakfast, burgers, salads and sandwiches, but it’s the Awful Awful that has been this restaurant’s calling card for decades. (www.newportcreamery.com)
Of course, Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood is one of the Northeast’s must-visit locales for Italian food lovers.
Finally, if you need a way to work all that off (and you will), visit Sachuest Point (www.fws.gov/refuge/Sachuest_Point), one of five national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island. Located in Charlestown, visitors here will find an abundance of wildlife to observe, including ducks, cottontails and sparrows, all while walking through a serene salt marsh and beach.