For a brief but beautiful stretch of what is still the smallest state, the communities on the east side of Narragansett Bay have bragging rights to some pretty top-notch tourist destinations. There’s the Newport mansions, Blithewold, Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, and countless others, and each town has shopping and dining areas with their own distinct vibe. But what about the stops that don’t make the guide books or top the search engine lists? Borrowing from our Rhody Gem column, we’re zooming in on lesser-known special places just right for re-emerging from our collective cocoons.
Top-ranking public schools and million-dollar homes along Rumstick Road are all part of Barrington’s appeal, but in juxtaposition to landscaped lawns, the natural world is in full display at Osamequin Nature Trails and Bird Sanctuary. Just off Wampanoag Trail, this extensive inland estuarine system, noted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to be one of the 50 most important coastal marshes between Long Island and Cape Cod, features a system of flat trails with views of salt marsh islands. Minutes away is Barrington Farm School at Vendituoli Farm, a local go-to for its roadside stand selling harvested produce, flowers, and honey. Love all things lavender? Water Way Farm is the honor system cart for you. Interested in low-key beach time? Set a course for Appian Way Waterfront Public Access Point, aka Little Moussachuck Creek. Part of the Barrington Land Conservation Trust, it’s a quiet space accessed from a dead-end street with beach grasses and marsh on the Providence River. For a brisk walk along the Barrington River, go to
Mathewson Road where you’ll pass docks, homes, and the Warren skyline.
With its Fourth of July parade and year-round red, white, and blue stripe running down Hope Street, Bristol is the beating patriotic heart of Rhode Island. Guessing you’re already familiar with Blithewold, Colt State Park, and longstanding taverns DeWolf and Statesman, let’s dig in to places that residents hold close, like Quito’s. The seafood restaurant by the always-sparkling water has a designated takeout space and is the place for chowder, lobster rolls, and more. Seeking an unspoiled spot to set up a beach chair? Head to Walley Beach, next to the Herreshoff dock on Hope; this 1.3-acre park overlooks Bristol Harbor and has a small swimming area. For garden enthusiasts, Thomas Park features native plantings and gardens, walking paths, a restored stone wall and arbor, and a salt marsh bird sanctuary. Across from Mount Hope High School is Paull Park, just over 13 acres of wetland conservation with nature trails. For shopping, after strolling Hope, be sure to branch out to side streets around town to find places like Oliveira Textiles in the Byfield Building, Grasmere on Franklin, or Sea Rose Cottage on Constitution, for starters.
If there were a single word to describe Jamestown it would be scenic. Even the commercial district leads to one of the best vantage points of the Newport Bridge at East Ferry Memorial Square. After enjoying breezy shopping and dining, travel on North Street to take in the bucolic beauty of the Windmill Historic District, keeping your eyes peeled for the Hodgkiss Farm sign, a cash-only stand stocked with seasonal offerings. Back on North near Weeden Lane, there’s the windmill and Watson Farm (sheep!). Admirers of architecture and filmmaker Wes Anderson will want to continue to the tip of the island to find the red Gothic Revival Conanicut Lighthouse used as the Bishop home exterior in Moonrise Kingdom. No longer a functioning lighthouse, it’s now a private residence, so stick to the street for admiring glances. At almost the opposite end of J-Town is Hull Cove, a secluded site accessed by path to watch the surf. Jamestown Arts Center’s Outdoor Arts Experience returns with sculptures and installations around town, entitled Spacing Out(side), from late June through October 31.
With one side bordering the Sakonnet River and another the Atlantic Ocean, Little Compton is about as coastal New England as it gets. On any jaunt, admire pastoral vistas lined by rock walls and bike riders returning from the honor system stand on Brownell Road with blooms tucked into their baskets. The town’s 21st century claim to fame is Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards – but keep going, there’s more to taste! On West Main Road there’s a strip of farm stands: Peckham’s Greenhouse, Young Family Farm, and Walker’s Roadside Stand – all three bursting with charm along with flowers, fresh fruits and veggies, and small-batch products. Ready for coffee? Locals love The Art Cafe, so head to The Commons where you’ll also find Wilbur’s General Store, a must-stop for everything from note cards to PJs to deli sandwiches. LC beaches are pristine, but don’t expect a pavilion with restrooms, snack bars, or even lifeguards; although South Shore Beach is equipped with port-a-johns and food vendors. On the other end is Goosewing Beach Preserve, a coastal pond and dune system accessed by wading. Surfers can often be found at a small beach at the end of Taylor’s Lane (not far from Sakonnet Garden). Venture to Sakonnet Point where on your way to marvel at surf crashing rocks you’ll pass The Stone House, a historic inn that boasts $12 million in renovations. During the first two weeks of June, don’t miss the floral magic of the open house at Electric Moon Peony Farm.
Many of your favorite Newport beaches are actually in Middletown. Second Beach (aka Sachuest) is great for surfboard rentals and lessons; the west end is known as Surfer’s End where everyone posts photos of the Christmas tree on the beach, and third Beach has more of the same amenities. At the peninsula, explore Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, renowned for saltwater fishing and bird-watching with over 200 documented species, a newly renovated visitor center, nature trails, and viewing platforms. If picking fruit is more your speed, head to Sweet Berry Farm and cool off with something yummy in their spacious post-and-beam cafe. Flower lovers, if the flag is out at Dahlia Shed, it means posies are for sale at their self-serve stand. Did Jamestown ignite a windmill quest? Middletown has two: Boyd’s Windmill boasts one of the few surviving eight-vane smock mills in the US, and across town there’s another at Prescott Farm, a colonial farm site with historic buildings, gardens, and walking trails.
If you live in Rhode Island, it almost goes without saying that you know all about Newport. The Breakers, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, shopping, restaurants and bars, wharfs, boating, museums... So our mission is to share some things you don’t know about, and we’re going to start with Narnia. Not accessed by a wardrobe, instead this private Wildlife Sanctuary & Art Walk has more than 40 color-saturated sculptures along over a mile of trails. Want seafood with fabulous views and zero pretension? Easton’s Beach Snack Bar has delicious twin lobster roll specials that you can eat on their deck with views of the beach below (watch for seagulls). There’s also the Newport Lobster Shack where you can buy lobsters, crab, conch, and more directly from the fishermen who caught it all off Aquidneck Island from the shack they built. As far as secret beaches, tucked alongside Cliff Walk at the end of Wetmore Avenue is Sheep Point Cove; public parking is available on Wetmore but there’s no lifeguard. We’d recommend Reject’s Beach, which is free, but there’s no lot and word on the street is you’re almost guaranteed a ticket no matter where you park.
When you think of this farm-coast town, Tiverton Four Corners immediately comes to mind, as it should, with its artful mix of galleries, shops, cafes, and of course, Gray’s Ice Cream. You’re probably also familiar with Main Road, where popular Coastal Roasters and The Salt Shack offer coffee and coastal goods as close to the water as you can get. Grinnell’s Beach is no secret, nor is taking a walk along Stone Bridge to look at seagulls, but what you might not know about is Seapowet Point. A popular spot by day for shellfishing and bird-watching, and at sunset for photography, this refuge area has parking and a small boat launch ramp. Fort Barton is another gem, with an observation tower perfect for looking at Narragansett Bay and over three miles of trails that bramble over brooks via rustic bridges. Nearby is The Black Goose Cafe, with menu items like the Weetamo, a chicken salad sammie named for the nearby woods, a variety of bowls, Greek foods, and more. Minutes from Four Corners is the Little State Flower Company farm where you can treat yourself to flowers at their honor system shed.
If towns can be assigned personality traits, Warren is the cool cousin of this coastal family. It’s got eclectic shops all along Main and Water Streets, like In Your Ear record store, which many folks remember from its location on Providence’s Thayer Street; public utility boxes have been painted by local artists, and now, there’s even a dog park divided by weights, so new it’s not even on a map (just past Your Bike Shop). Across town, there’s Touisset, an enchanting area that, like Riverside, was once a summer community in the 1800s. Here, discover Touisset Marsh Wildlife Refuge, part of the Audubon Society of RI, and hike along the Kickemuit River among hardwood trees and fields of butterfly-attracting flowers. Nearby Touisset Point is a visual treat at dusk and sunset. Looking for a good place to fly a kite and don’t mind some wading? Situated between the Bike Path and Warren River is Jacob’s Point, known for its onshore breezes; swimming is permitted but there are no lifeguards and no restrooms.