Westerly, Rhode Island: High Street with colourful buildings and a few people. via peeterv / iStock.com

8 Most Vibrant Towns in Rhode Island

Rhode Island, the smallest state in the United States by area, holds a significant place in American history and culture. Known as "The Ocean State," Rhode Island boasts over 400 miles of coastline. Founded in 1636 by Roger Williams for religious freedom, it became the first of the Thirteen Colonies to renounce allegiance to the British Crown. Beyond the hustle and bustle of city life in Providence and Warwick, Rhode Island's smaller towns are distinct slices of New England's heritage and the state's diverse natural surroundings, revealing the vibrancy beyond its more famous cities.

Little Compton

Sakonnet Lighthouse and Harbor in Little Compton, Rhode Island.
Sakonnet Lighthouse and Harbor in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

Little Compton, Rhode Island, is a coastal town in Newport County. Established in the 17th century, it has Colonial-era homes, stone walls crisscrossing the countryside, and farms that hint at its agricultural roots. Little Compton is perhaps best known for its quiet beaches, such as Goosewing Beach. The town center, anchored by the Commons, a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, frequently hosts local events and gatherings.

Carolyn's Sakonnet Vineyard in Little Compton is known for its local wines and vineyards that exemplify the region's potential for viticulture. The vineyard, established in 1975, is a scenic spot for wine tasting. Peckham's Greenhouse, another attraction, is a testament to Little Compton's agricultural roots. This family-owned business has a vibrant display of horticulture that draws gardening enthusiasts and visitors to explore the local flora. Lastly, Goosewing Beach Preserve has sandy beaches and protected sand dunes. Wildlife is often spotted here, and it is a retreat for those seeking to connect with nature.

New Shoreham

Block Island North Light Lighthouse in New Shoreham, Rhode Island
Block Island North Light Lighthouse in New Shoreham, Rhode Island

New Shoreham, Rhode Island, holds a distinction as the sole town on Block Island, about 12 miles off the state's mainland coast. It is an outdoor haven, with bluffs, beaches, and over 200 freshwater ponds. Established in 1664, the town's compact size encourages exploration by bike or on foot. Much of the island remains undeveloped, so visitors can enjoy an array of flora and fauna in a relatively untouched setting.

One of the island's natural attractions is Mohegan Bluffs, clay cliffs that offer views of the Atlantic Ocean. A series of wooden steps take visitors to a secluded beach below. Nearby, the Southeast Light is a historic lighthouse moved from its original location to prevent erosion. It has been guiding ships since 1875, and its design examples Victorian Gothic architecture. For those interested in the arts, Spring Street Gallery is an artist-run cooperative that shows the work of Block Island artists. The displays capture the island's spirit and nature.


Street view in Westerly, Rhode Island
Street view in Westerly, Rhode Island, via peeterv / iStock.com

Westerly was established in 1669 and is at the southwestern tip of the state, bordering Connecticut. Its beaches, such as Misquamicut State Beach and Watch Hill Beach, draw visitors for their summer scenes. Westerly's downtown area is a blend of historic architecture and modern sophistication, with a variety of boutique restaurants, such as The Café, and galleries, including the Artists Cooperative Gallery of Westerly.

Napatree Point Beach is a stretch of shoreline that extends into the Atlantic Ocean. This area is a haven for birdwatching and a site of historical significance, with remnants of past military installations subtly reminding visitors of its role in coastal defense. Manfredi Farms is a family-run operation that partakes in local farming practices. Here, guests can purchase fresh, locally-grown produce. The farm exemplifies sustainable farming. Meanwhile, Savoy Bookshop is housed in a restored historic building. The bookshop fosters a love for reading with its curated selection of books, reading nooks, and a schedule of community events that range from author readings to book clubs.


Entrance of Wickford Harbor in the Narragansett Bay.
Entrance of Wickford Harbor in the Narragansett Bay.

Narragansett, Rhode Island, is an oceanside town that embodies the coastal ecosystem of the New England shoreline. The town's climate, typical of coastal Rhode Island, features mild summers and cool winters. As a community, Narragansett prioritizes education, with schools and institutions focusing on marine science and environmental studies.

The Towers on Narragansett Pier is a remnant of the area's Gilded Age past and marks the entrance to Narragansett's historic district. It was originally part of a larger casino complex that served as a social hub in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For outdoor enthusiasts, The Black Point Trail has coastal paths that meander along cliffs. Hikers gain access to secluded coves and beaches on this trail. Lastly, Judith Point Light is an active lighthouse located at the entrance of Narragansett Bay. Though access to the lighthouse itself is restricted, the area around it is a popular spot for photography, fishing, and soaking in the vistas of the bay and ocean.


Foster Public Library in Foster, Rhode Island.
Foster Public Library in Foster, Rhode Island. By John Phelan, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Foster, Rhode Island, is a quintessential town that was founded in 1781 and is situated in the western part of the state. The town is home to a host of historical landmarks, including well-preserved 18th and 19th-century homes, the Foster Center Historic District, and the iconic Foster Town House, reflecting its colonial history. Foster's landscape is dotted with small farms and orchards, supporting a local agriculture that depends on community support.

The Swamp Meadow Covered Bridge in Foster is the state's only remaining covered bridge open to public traffic. This wooden bridge, reconstructed in the 1990s to replicate the traditional style of the 19th century, spans the Hemlock Brook and is a spot for photography. Nickle Creek Vineyard is a family-owned boutique winery. The vineyard emphasizes sustainable practices and the cultivation of grapes suited to the Rhode Island climate. For those seeking outdoor adventure, the Jerimoth Hill hike is a gentle trail leading to Rhode Island's highest natural point. Although modest in elevation, the hike is an escape into the woods and provokes a sense of accomplishment upon reaching the state's summit.

East Greenwich

Street view of East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Street view of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Image credit digidreamgrafix via Shutterstock.com

East Greenwich is the wealthiest municipality in Rhode Island and blends its historical roots with a distinctly affluent lifestyle. Founded in the mid-17th century, its Main Street area has well-preserved buildings and public spaces that echo the town's original colonial settlement. East Greenwich's location along Narragansett Bay initially made it a maritime and trading hub. Today, it enriches the town's quality of life, where the natural environment and suburban living coexist.

Goddard Memorial State Park is the largest public park in the state and has a variety of landscapes, including beaches, forested areas, and open fields. Here, visitors can go horseback riding, golfing, and picnicking. Frenchtown Park & Frye Nature Preserve is a more isolated natural setting. Its walking trails meander wetlands and forests. This area is ideal for bird watching and hiking. On the cultural front, the Greenwich Odeum is a historic theater, dating back to the 1920s, that has been restored to its former glory. It now hosts a variety of live performances, including music, comedy, and theater.


Sakonnet River and a small Tiverton, Rhode Island residential neighborhood.
Sakonnet River and a small Tiverton, Rhode Island residential neighborhood.

Tiverton, one of Rhode Island's most welcoming towns, is located on the state's southeastern border. The town's landscape ranges from waterfronts along Narragansett Bay and the Sakonnet River to rolling hills and farmlands inland. This geographic diversity has shaped the town's economy and culture, fostering a community deeply connected to the sea and the land. The town has also become a place for artists and craftspeople, drawn by its nature and lifestyle, contributing to a local arts scene.

The Weetamoo Woods and Pardon Gray Preserve in Tiverton comprise over 750 acres of protected woodlands and farmland. Well-marked trails traverse through diverse habitats, from dense forests to open fields. It is a prime destination for hiking. For those who appreciate the arts, Arch Contemporary Ceramics is a space for both aspiring and established ceramists to explore and hone their craft. The studio and gallery have workshops and classes. Meanwhile, Fogland Beach is known for its gentle surf and sandy shores. It is a favorite among locals and visitors for swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing.


A busy sea beach in Middletown, Rhode Island.
A busy sea beach in Middletown, Rhode Island.

Middletown, Rhode Island, is a town on Aquidneck Island, sharing its borders with Portsmouth to the north and Newport to the south. Established in the 17th century, Middletown has evolved from its agricultural roots into a suburban community. Its geography is varied, with rolling hills, farmlands, and a rugged coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.

The Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown has over 240 acres of habitats, including salt marshes, rocky shores, and sandy beaches. This refuge is a sanctuary for a wide variety of wildlife, especially migratory birds. Hike along well-maintained trails, or participate in environmental education programs. The Middletown Historical Society has collections, exhibits, and historic properties. It is a resource for those interested in learning about the area's development, cultural heritage, and the people who have shaped its story. Simmons Farm Organics is a family-run farm that practices organic farming methods to produce fruits, vegetables, and livestock products. Visitors can participate in farm tours and community-supported agriculture programs.

In Summary

Rhode Island extends far beyond its famous cities, revealing several quieter small towns. From the farmlands of Little Compton to the artistic communities in Tiverton, these towns represent the state's varied character. The seaside setting of New Shoreham and the historical layers of Middletown highlight the appeal of Rhode Island's less-traveled corners. Whether it's the ocean's pull, the murmur of history, or the local arts and farming scenes that draw people in, it's clear that the essence of Rhode Island's beauty and vibrancy knows no bounds.

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