Call us sentimental, but the East Bay really is a special place. We have islands, lighthouses, and inns. We’ve got pebbled beaches, feisty taverns, and 200-year-old churches. In the north, manicured suburbs; in the south, rustic countryside. Our cities are small – East Providence claims fewer than 50,000 souls, and the numbers drop from there – but my goodness, do we make up for it in character. There is so much to admire about our side of the state, and our blessings are as diverse as our people. Here at The Bay, we’ve been gushing about this community for a solid decade – and to honor that milestone, here are 10 reasons to love the East Bay.
Rhode Island is crisscrossed with multi-use trails, but the best-used is the East Bay Bike Path. The blacktop surface is smooth and fast, running all the way from India Point Park to south Bristol. Most state paths are low-key routes for quiet reflection, but not this one. Every warm day, thousands of riders roll over the path, from kids on trikes to race-trainers and bona fide bike commuters. Crossing multiple bridges and connecting five distinct towns, the bike path is like an eco-friendly freeway.
Europeans first settled in the East Bay nearly 400 years ago, and it shows: Our cottages, farms, mills, squares, and cemeteries reflect every kind of American architecture from colonial cabins to modern ranch houses. To fully appreciate this evolution, you can tour hallowed homesteads like the Mount Hope or Coggeshall Farms and see how manual tillage was once done. For a taste of vintage grandeur, explore the opulent grounds of Blithewold, Linden Place, and Glen House Manor. Fancy yourself a history buff? Some monuments are little-known even among locals, like the Bristol Train of Artillery that first opened in 1776.
As universities go, RWU is still young – only 63 years – but the school is an academic cornerstone of the East Bay, and it takes that distinction seriously. With 5,000 students from around the world, plus competitive Aquaculture and Cybersecurity programs, RWU is a boon to Rhode Island education. Meanwhile, the Community Partnerships Center is abuzz with local initiatives, helping such diverse organizations as Linden House, the Boys & Girls Club of Fall River, and the Bioreserve Discovery Center. Whether or not you set foot on Bristol’s main campus, RWU influences the community in countless ways.
Nothing gets your heart racing like the whoosh of falcon wings. You can hear this dramatic sound at Raptor Weekend (September 7 & 8), the annual showcase of predatory avians at the Audubon Nature Center & Aquarium. But nature is a year-round experience in the East Bay: You can walk the grassy grounds of Bristol’s Colt State Park, tote binoculars through the 325 protected acres of the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, and browse the Audubon Center’s indoor exhibits about regional wildlife. Beyond the bike path, our towns are webbed with hiking trails, many of them skirting the water.
We’ve always boasted a strong dining scene, especially where seafood is concerned, but the Hope & Main culinary incubator program has profoundly expanded our palates – as well as our dining options. Early successes like Beth Bakes and the Backyard Food Company proved how special this institution is, and its shared commercial kitchen has helped birth supermarket items, food trucks, and whole restaurants. Visitors can drop in for the weekly Schoolyard Market, and organizers are known for giving personal tours at the drop of a hat.
Between Tiverton and Dartmouth, Massachusetts, “FarmCoast” is the nickname for this stretch of southern New England, and the term aptly describes the region’s rural beauty. The East Bay is home to many of the state’s most recognized growers, from Sweet Berry Farm and Newport Vineyards in Middletown to Wishing Stone Farm and Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard in Little Compton. Many of these estates are also destinations: The Escobar Corn Maze in Portsmouth is an autumnal treat, and Sandywoods Farm in Tiverton doubles as a Center for the Arts.
No small town is complete without a lively Main Street, and the East Bay is full of them. This is deliberate: The East Bay Chamber of Commerce works diligently to foster small businesses, as do the all-volunteer merchant associations, and each year new entrepreneurs open their storefronts. Places like Prica Farina (specialty pasta), Ink Fish Books (cookbook store), and the revamped Bristol Oyster Bar are just a few of the new and restored businesses in the East Bay. Unlike the sprawling suburbs of bigger towns, our best commercial districts are walkable, so you can window-shop, eat a meal, and even grab a late-night cocktail without ever re-parking your car.
Warren is sometimes described as the “Brooklyn of Rhode Island,” but in our opinion, it’s even better. With performances at The Galactic Theatre, local handicrafts on display at Made in Warren, and scores of aspiring artists taking workshops at The Collaborative, this little village is overflowing with creative characters. The summertime Bristol-Warren Art Night is a great excuse to meet creative folks outside their ateliers. And Warren isn’t alone: Art galleries line the Bristol waterfront and congregate at Tiverton Four Corners. Live music and open mics dot the East Bay, and Bold Point Park, that massive new concert venue in East Providence, is hitting its stride. In every town, there’s an arts event worth investigating.
Nobody parties like we do. Yes, the East Bay is tranquil and easygoing most of the year, but when we get together to celebrate something – watch out. Bristol’s Fourth of July celebration is, of course, world-renowned, and the relatively new Warren Folk’s Fest attracts music fans from across the state. The Tiverton Arts and Artisan Festival floods the Mill Pond Shops with culturati, and don’t forget Saint Patrick’s Day at Aidan’s Pub in Bristol. Bonus: Whenever the action dies down around here, there’s almost always something cooking in Newport.
Most Rhode Islanders know that Barrington has the best public schools in the state. This is a point of pride, and it's just one of the many civic achievements the East Bay can claim. Our towns are safe and well policed; from the palatial new Tiverton Public Library to the award-winning wastewater treatment facility in Warren, from the WEBOND women's empowerment group to the many local farmers markets, the East Bay shows a startling commitment to community advancement. Wherever you go, there's a way to find people – and feel like you belong.
Join us in celebrating 10 years of The Bay Magazine at The Bay Bash, September 12 at The Wharf. There will be food, live music, and more!