The string of small, suburban towns on the East Bay is mostly known for its killer waterfront views and picturesque bike path. But the area that boasts Barrington, Warren, Bristol and Tiverton is also brimming with an eclectic and walkable mix of small boutiques, award-winning restaurants and an emerging art scene.
The town’s village center on County Road is charming any time of year, but really shines bright for the holidays. Lampposts get decked with illuminating garland and festive flags, and also provide a virtual road map for the shopping and dining opportunities that are in walking distance. The main drag of County Road (Route 114) and a handful of side streets are mostly made up of a series of plazas that offer plenty of free parking (as does the historic Town Hall). Speaking of freebies, be sure to pick up the Barrington Business Association’s annual Passport to Savings, a B-Town exclusive discount booklet, at participating merchants.
Start by grabbing a coffee or hot chocolate at the Blue Kangaroo (328 County Road, 401-289-2292), a popular breakfast and lunch spot. Stop in ZuZu’s Petals (338 County Road, 401-245-3060) and Feminine Fancies (290 County Road, 401-247-1087) for upscale trendy clothes and accessories for her, and Milan Fine Clothiers (270 County Road, 401-247-9209) and Dukes of Barrington (334 County Road, 401-247-4400) for designer duds for him.
Barrington Books (184 County Road, 401-245-7925) does indeed sell all types of books, but is also known for its large quality toy and game section and adjoining housewares and gifts boutique, The Studio. Hollies on the Avenue (8 Anoka Avenue, 401-245-0090) offers a great selection of contemporary hostess gifts while Daisy Dig’ins (123 Maple Avenue, 401-245-0580) is a expansive two-story shop that features fresh flowers, jewelry, women’s clothing and home accents.
As you make your way out of town, a drop-by at Bluewater Bar + Grill (32 Barton Avenue, 401-247-0017) is in order. This cozy waterfront restaurant features farm-to-table dining and a great bar menu, which is just what you need after a long day of shopping.
Tucked between Bristol and Barrington, Warren has a few pockets of stop-and-shop action throughout the town. A well-known hotbed for antique and artsy shoppers, Warren has also become a destination for foodies thanks to the recent gourmet additions of Eli’s Kitchen (40 Market Street, 401-245-1809), Metacom Kitchen (322 Metacom Avenue, 401-245-1193), Simone’s (275 Child Street, 401-247-1200) and Bywater (54 State Street, 401-694-0727). Stop in one of these tasty destinations before or after your shopping spree, or just do double duty and grab gift certificates while you’re there.
It’s hard not to miss Imagine (5 Miller Street, 401-245-4200), what with its façade showcasing oversized colorful cows sourced from Cow Parades around the nation. The three-story store is New England’s biggest gift shop, so chances are you’ll hit holiday gold here. For a more intimate experience, stop by Muse (279 Water Street, 401-289-2150) for a curated selection of handcrafted art, jewelry and baby gifts.
A bit off the beaten path but worth the drive is the Gift Barn at Frerich’s Farm (65 Kinnicutt Avenue, 401-245-8245). In addition to fresh Christmas trees and wreaths, you’ll find fun stuff like ornaments, home décor and free cookies and hot cider throughout their open house season. Another worthwhile stop is The Mills at 30 Cutler (30 Cutler Street), a collection of studios and art spaces ranging from a custom weathervane maker to a pottery studio.
Small town charm simply exudes in Bristol. The downtown area gets even prettier during the holiday season when oversized twinkling snowflakes hang high and bright over Hope Street. With a view of the water, easy street parking and tons of boutiques, restaurants and historic sites all within walking distance, Bristol takes holiday strolling to new heights.
Linden Place (500 Hope Street, 401-253-0390), right in the heart of town, decks its glorious halls and hosts a handful of holiday happenings. Also worth a stop is their year-round Museum Store, which features books about Bristol and Rhode Island, jewelry, toys and more. A few steps down the street brings you to Zenabelle (573 Hope Street, 401-396-9603), an all-natural health and beauty shop that stocks good-for-you makeup, skincare and a large range of personal items. While you’re there, grab an organic smoothie from their newly added-on Juice Bar, which should give you an extra boost as you continue shopping. Caron Jewelers (473 Hope Street, 401-297-3043) has a lovely selection of pre-owned watches, jewelry made from old Mount Hope Bridge tokens and custom engagement rings.
As you work your way through town, make a stop at the New Leaf Hair Studio (18 State Street, 401-254-9333) to pick up high-quality hair products or a gift certificate for the stylish lady on your list. Luna Sea (259 Thames Street, 401-256-0485) has a unique selection of mystical-inspired jewelry, handcrafted gifts and organic chocolate.
Somehow the holidays become less stressful as soon as you enter Tiverton. The breeze from the bay combined with bucolic wide-open spaces is about as perfect as it gets in Little Rhody. The town has unique small businesses through and throughout, with the heaviest concentration in historic Tiverton Four Corners. The walkable village offers a diverse collection of artisans, boutiques, food purveyors and antiques that will keep you happily on your feet for hours.
Start at the Four Corners Art Center (3852 Main Road, Tiverton, 401-624-2600), home of theatrical productions, an arts gallery, and annual cultural events. The Sculpture Park celebrates land and art with its sprawling outdoor gallery of grand sculptures. Courtyards (3980 Main Road, 401-624-8682) has a selection of fun outdoor sculptures for sale, in addition to whimsical home accents and jewelry. Gallery 4 (3848 Main Road, 401-816-0999) is an arts collaborative that features furniture and rugs from around the world from Silk Road Traders, Chinese antiques, beautiful jewelry and art from Susan Freda Studios and other fine collectibles. The diverse artwork of Katherine Lovell (3895 Main Road, 401-743-6077) can be appreciated in her own gallery space, while Tiffany Peay Jewelry (3851 Main Road, 401-816-0878) offers airy, light and heirloom jewelry made onsite by the distinguished artist. Carefully handmade jewelry and accessories inspired by the natural elements can be found a few doors down at Studio By The Sea (3879 Main Road, 401-639-4348).
After taking in all the art Tiverton Four Corners has to offer, you’ll undoubtedly need a pick-me-up. Head over to town favorite The Provender (3883 Main Road, Tiverton, 401-624-8084) for a scrumptious sandwich or pastry. Finish up your day oohing and ahhing over the luxurious home furnishings at The Cottage (3847 Main Road, 401-625-5814).
Tickle’s (2219 GAR Highway, Swansea, 508-379-0717) just over the Warren line is worth the special ride to. The massive store is chockfull of women’s fashions, jewelry, home decor and gifts for just about everyone on your list. On the edge of the Bay lies another large independent that deserves a ride and park. At MRT Jewelers (927 Warren Avenue, East Providence 401-435-3500) you’ll find exquisite jewelry and other gifts that keep on sparking. And just over the border, Deni’s Closet (937 Main Road, Westport, 508-636-0063) features a huge collection of the latest women’s fashions that would give any stylista closest envy.