Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it was also the first British colony to declare independence. With this fierce, determined-spirit, it is no coincidence that Rhode Island developed its own distinctive culture. From "stuffies" (baked stuffed clams) to "bubblers" (Rhode Island slang for a water fountain), there is no end to the surprises waiting in the Ocean State. Combining a clearly individual heritage with endless coastline, soaring bluffs, and well-preserved historical sites, there is no better place for a vacation that will suit every palate.
A unique fact about Rhode Island is that often, many "villages" will be considered part of a "town," so the following must-visit towns comprise smaller villages. This configuration gives an even wider set of options for a Rhode Island small-town getaway.
For the quintessential Rhode Island experience, Newport is an absolute must. The Newport Mansions are the pinnacle of Gilded Age luxury, many of them modeled on European palaces such as French châteaux, complete with unparalleled art collections and ornate embellishments. Each mansion has a different story and style, from the classical Roman influences at "The Breakers" to the ornate woodwork featured at Hunter House.
After seeing the historical beauty of Newport, the Cliff Walk will satisfy the need for nature. Rustic shoreline views of jagged dark cliff stones embracing the sapphire waters, coupled with proximity to the glittering Newport Mansions and their soaring facades, will inspire even the most jaded of visitors.
Grab calamari or stuffies straight from the sea at Newport's numerous seafood shacks and restaurants. Another great option is to visit the White Horse Tavern, America's oldest restaurant, which has been serving patrons since 1673. It currently serves upscale fare with an eclectic menu, including a raw bar, beef wellington, and Rhode Island's famous clam chowder.
Across from Newport on the Sakonnet Peninsula is Little Compton, the home of the Rhode Island Red Chicken. The poultry is so popular that there is a must-see small monument from 1925 commemorating the breed!
Go on a trip through the past in the Wilbor House Museum, a well-restored house museum depicting the history of the area from 1690 to 1920 through period rooms. Highlights include an artist's studio constructed out of a catboat and an 18th-century outhouse.
Carolyn's Sakonnet Vineyards has been providing delicious wine for the area since 1975, with a variety of 19 wines ranging from an award-winning bright Gerwürztraminer to, not surprisingly, a playful red blend called Rhode Island Red. Guests can enjoy a tasting flight while savoring the pastoral views.
75 acres of interconnected barrier beaches, dunes, and coastal ponds comprise the nearby Goosewing Beach and Nature Reserve. The Nature Conservancy's Benjamin Family Environmental Center is an excellent educational opportunity for those curious about the wildlife of the area, such as the threatened piping plover.
Down the coast from the Sakonnet peninsula, Narragansett is more than just a classic beach town full of charm. Turn back the clock and visit the four historic districts are scattered around town, featuring elegant beach houses from the late 19th to early 20th century, as well as St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, made in the distinct English Gothic style, with glittering Tiffany stained-glass windows.
The Towers are an instantly recognizable landmark of Narragansett, standing tall as the iconic remnants of the Narragansett Pier Casino, the former center of all activity in Narragansett. Renovated after countless natural disasters, the Towers provide an timelessly elegant backdrop for contemplative strolls and amazing photographs.
Near the Towers, the Coast Guard House provides local seafood with unparalleled views of the Bay. Dig into a plate of hearty stuffed clams paired with wine from their extensive list.
Scarborough and Narragansett Beaches are great places to sunbathe and people-watch, while Salty Brine Beach is well-known for calm waters and ideal for families with children. Roger W. Wheeler Beach is another large beach optimal for those wanting a gentle ocean experience.
Slightly further down the coast, Charlestown provides the best of land and sea. With pristine beaches and the rustic moraine landscape of Charlestown Moraine Preserve, outdoor lovers will find their cup overflowing.
Take a hike over the rocks at the Preserve to soak in the thousands of years of history, the smell of huckleberries and mountain laurel permeating the air. After a brisk hike, a more calming activity would be stargazing at the Frosty Drew Observatory, with astronomers explaining the twinkling lights of the dark sky. Or head to East Beach and Blue Shutters Beach trail along the thin ribbon of shoreline detached from the rest of Charlestown. Turquoise waters and soft sand await on these untouched stretches of shoreline, with panoramic unobstructed views.
No trip to Charlestown would be complete without a stop at the Fantastic Umbrella Factory. Despite the name, this is a complex of buildings modeled after a bazaar. Funky and retro, get lost amidst the "department store without departments" and find treasures from stained glass to old-fashioned sweets.
Another coastal town, Westerly exhibits a unique juxtaposition of old-fashioned authentic charm and upscale glamour. Watch Hill is a neighborhood of glamorous mansions (Taylor Swift's residence is one of them), but not too far from there, Napatree Point Conservation Area puts a spotlight on the natural beauty of the area.
The extravagant amount of shoreline Westerly has is seen in the wide swathe of beaches, from Fenway Beach's enchanting scenic overlook, to rustic East Beach in Watch Hill jutting up against the lighthouse. There is a beach in Westerly to suit any personality.
Take a nostalgic ride on the most endearing symbol of Watch Hill, the carousel that is said to be the oldest continuously operating merry-go-round in the United States. After that, visit the Watch Hill Lighthouse, where a lighthouse has stood since 1745, for unmatched views of the waterfront as well as lavish homes.
Napatree Point Conservation Area is 86 acres of carefully maintained habitats of osprey, oystercatchers with bright red bills, horseshoe crabs, and many other species. Aspiring photographers will find Napatree to be a goldmine of inspiration.
New Shoreham (Block Island)
Hop on a ferry away from the coast and experience naturally beautiful New Shoreham on Block Island. Incorporated in 1672 but noted before by an Italian explorer, New Shoreham has the distinction of being the smallest town in the smallest state. It was even invaded by pirates!
Mohegan Bluffs provide sweeping views of the water from a vantage point of almost 200 feet up on rocky clifftops. Pack a lot of water, because the hills to get to the Bluffs and the over 140 steps to get to the stunning shore below can be a challenging journey, but the dramatic views are well worth it!
The natural beauty of Block Island seems to be without end, as after a jaunt to the bluffs, the 134-acre Block Island National Wildlife Refuge awaits. Over 70 species of migratory songbirds chirp and dart across azure skies, setting the scene for a perfect calm hike through sandy terrain dotted with beach plums, pine trees, and wild roses.
1661 Farm and Gardens is a treat for all ages. A hobby farm near the 1661 Inn, visitors can interact with animals ranging from the typical (donkeys, goats, and ducks), to the unexpected (fainting goats and kangaroos).
About 2 hours north of Block Island, North Kingstown is a town with deep historic roots built around a natural harbor. With sites ranging from a house built in the 1660s (the Stephen Northrup house) to a Baptist church built in 1703 (Six Principle Baptist Church), North Kingstown is a destination second to none for history buffs.
Wickford Village is a treasure trove of incredibly well-maintained Colonial and Federal period homes, interspersed with shops selling jewelry, handicrafts, and other artisanal goods. Rent a kayak or boat and relax in the harbor. Poplar Point Light, a wooden lighthouse built in 1831, is the oldest lighthouse in the state still on its original site.
The Seabee Museum celebrates the "can-do attitude" of the Seabees, members of the military tasked with providing critical construction support. Learn their history, see the restored Quonset huts, and contemplate the light streaming from the stained-glass windows of the Chapel in the Pines.
Get up close and personal with the animals of Narragansett Bay at the Biomes Marine Biology Center. Pufferfish, sharks, and horseshoe crabs are just a sample of what is represented at the Center. Take a chance and touch a shark!
On the east side of the Narragansett Bay, Bristol is a model New England waterfront town with something for everyone. Whether you are interested in history, nature, or relaxation, Bristol has you covered!
The Blithewold Estate is a sprawling 33 acres of historic mansion, gardens, and arboretum, established by the Van Wickle family in the late 19th and early 20th century. Explore the grounds (an excellent example of the Country Place Era of gardening) and experience a dazzling variety of gardens, from the charming Rock Garden to the formal lush North Garden.
Colt State Park is mere steps away from the Bay and the historic district. Grab a kite and enjoy the breeze off the Bay, or use the boat ramp to go sailing. Don't miss Coggeshall Farm Museum within the park, a recreation of a late 18th-century salt marsh farm.
A very unique museum, the Herreshoff Marine Museum preserves the history of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company through carefully researched models of over 60 boats, over 500 models, and thousands of tools. Also at the museum, the America's Cup Hall of Fame documents the legends of the international sailing competition (that is one of the oldest still running!).
With a historic waterfront, interesting local beverages, and a wildlife refuge perfect for birdwatchers and hikers, Warren should not be overlooked. Warren's waterfront district has been in operation from the mid-1600s until today, making it one of the oldest in the United States. This district quickly expanded from the 1700s, with an array of architectural styles ranging from Georgian to even late 20th-century bungalows represented. Particular standouts include the historic Masonic Lodge (the second longest continuously used lodge in the country), built around 1800 with Greek touches, and the restored Warren Armory, built in 1842 in the Gothic Revival style that resembles a medieval castle, turrets, and all!
A coffee cabinet is a must-try Rhode Island indulgent combination of coffee syrup, milk, and ice cream. Grab one at Delekta's soda fountain to get a tasty buzz! For a lighter beverage, Del's Lemonade (started in Rhode Island) carries frozen lemonades with flavors ranging from classic to wild (including apple cider for fall and watermelon).
The Audubon Touisset Marsh Wildlife Refuge is dense with hardwood forests and flowery fields, home to butterflies and an assortment of birds, especially in the warmer months. In the colder months, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing are popular pastimes.
Northwest of Warren, Glocester is a great place to visit for small-town life at its best. Shop in Chepachet Village, taste local wines at Mulberry Vineyard and hike in the Pulaski State Park.
Chepachet Village has long been a destination for history aficionados, being put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Browse antiques at The Town Trader, housed in a 1690s trading post, or shop for penny candy and gourmet goods at Brown & Hopkins Country store (founded in 1809).
After shopping and perusing the houses and shops of the historic district, get some fresh air at the Pulaski State Park and Recreation Area. Fish for trout, cross-country ski during winter, or swim in the cool waters of the pond. This park truly is one for all seasons!
The final destination in Glocester should be Mulberry Vineyard. Tastings are available, and oenophiles can pick up bottles of a unique black muscat, sweet honey crisp hard cider, or a rich cabernet sauvignon reserve. Sip and chill out in the peaceful setting of the historical Glocester!
Small but Mighty
Rhode Island possesses a fierce spirit, a unique culture, and a long history. All of these are evident in the small towns that trail along the coast, as well as scattered among the inland lakes and rivers. Although it is the smallest state, it is rich in experiences that are waiting for those who seek adventure in Little Rhody.
Unlock treasured memories in small-town Rhode Island!