Beach in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Image credit Ritu Manoj Jethani via Shutterstock

The Best Small Towns in Rhode Island for a Weekend Retreat

Rhode Island is a top travel destination for a weekend retreat thanks to its stunning coastline, rich history, vibrant arts scene, and great food. Visitors can enjoy beautiful beaches, explore historic mansions in Newport, and experience cultural events like the Wickford Art Festival. The state offers a unique blend of natural beauty in charming small towns like Bristol and East Greenwich, and lighthouse enthusiasts will love Watch Hill, Jamestown, and East Compton. With its convenient size, Rhode Island lets visitors explore unique small towns while enjoying New England hospitality and a welcoming community atmosphere wherever you go.


Gooseneck Cove in Newport, Rhode Island.
Gooseneck Cove in Newport, Rhode Island.

It’s no surprise that Newport ranked Number 6 in USA Today’s 10 Best Coastal Small Towns in 2024. A must-visit for historians and architectural aficionados, the town of 25,000 residents is home to several historic mansions, notably the Breakers and the Marble House—the summer residences of the wealthy Vanderbilts. Both mansions are on the famous 3.5-mile Cliff Walk, a scenic trail with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Near the entrance to the Cliff Walk, visitors will discover the beautiful Easton’s (First) Beach, which is ideal for surfing, body boarding, or soaking up the rays.

Consider staying close to the Gilded Age mansions by booking a luxurious at The Cliffside Inn—a boutique hotel in an updated Victorian mansion in the heart of the historic district; or the Jailhouse Inn, built in 1772 as Newport’s colonial jail near popular landmark sites like Colony House, the fourth oldest statehouse in the United States, the 1838-era Newport Artillery Company, and the Great Friends Meeting House, which was built in 1699 and is the oldest surviving house of worship in the state. Tennis enthusiasts will enjoy visiting the nearby International Tennis Hall of Fame, which has more than 30,000 artifacts, or the Enshrinement Gallery in the museum, which celebrates 262 distinguished Tennis Hall of Fame inductees representing 27 different countries.


The Port at Bristol, Rhode Island.
The Port at Bristol, Rhode Island.

Established in 1681, the waterfront town of Bristol is definitely an all-American town, as evidenced by the red, white, and blue strip of paint running down Main Street. Visitors searching for outdoor adventure or a place to hang out in nature should visit Colt State Park's 464 acres of lush green lawns. Known as the "Gem” of the Rhode Island state parks system, it offers hiking trails, paved bike paths, and a panoramic view of Narragansett Bay.

Sites to see during a weekend getaway to Bristol include the Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, a 45-room English-style manor surrounded by award-winning gardens. Wander the estate or book a guided tour, followed by iced tea on the porch. The nearby 1810-built Linden Mansion is also open to tours. The Herreshoff Marine Museum pays tribute to Bristol’s maritime heritage with its Hall of Boats, housing more than 60 historically significant boats, and the America’s Cup Hall of Fame. In keeping with the coastal theme, book an overnight at the boutique Bristol Harbor Inn and stop in for dinner and drinks at the famous DeWolf Tavern, once the 1818 DeWolf Rum Distillery, right across the street.


Beautiful historic home in Wickford, Rhode Island.
Beautiful historic home in Wickford, Rhode Island.

The historic village of Wickford in North Kingstown was originally settled in the mid-1600s as a small trading post. Still, today, it’s considered one of America’s ten best historic small towns in a USA Today poll, with one of the densest collections of 18th-century houses in New England. The village’s walkable streets are lined with small, unique independent shops, outdoor cafés, and restaurants. Spend an afternoon shopping for home decor at The Wickford Collection, Eclectic Bungalow, or nautical jewelry from the Green River Silver Co. Grab a bite to eat at Wickford on the Water or Tavern by the Sea. Since 1962, the town has celebrated the annual Wickford Art Festival, which brings together over 200 well-known New England and local artists from July 13 to 14, 2024.

One of the area’s most visited historical locations is Smith’s Castle, built in 1678 by the son of one of Wickford’s earliest European settlers. While there are no hotels directly in the village, The Break Hotel in nearby Narragansett is the perfect place to unpack and unwind with an artisanal cocktail in Chair 5, their rooftop lounge overlooking the ocean.

Watch Hill

Luxury waterfront houses in Watch Hill Westerly, Rhode Island.
Luxury waterfront houses in Watch Hill, Westerly, Rhode Island.

While towns like Newport may attract more tourist attention, the tiny neighborhood of Watch Hill in Westerly has much to offer visitors, from its spectacular beaches to its 137-year-old ice cream parlor, The St. Clair Annex. There is so much to see and do in Watch Hill that visitors will definitely want to book a night or two at the iconic New England resort Ocean House. The ultimate in luxury, this five-star hotel even has a “Pooch Program” for visitors who can’t imagine leaving the pup at home.

Start a visit to Watch Hill with a walk to the 1807-built Watch Hill Lighthouse on a rocky peninsula with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, Little Narragansett Bay, and Block Island Sound. Enjoy exploring the Napatree Point Conservation Area, adjacent to the lighthouse, which is perfect for bird-watching and enjoying nature. Other local landmarks include the Flying Horse Carousel, rumored to be the oldest continuously operating carousel in the US, and the Olympia Tea Room—a 108-year-old institution serving over 100 award-winning wines by the bottle and a selection of hand-picked wines by the glass.


The Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown, Rhode Island.
The Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

The town of Jamestown encompasses Conanicut Island, the second largest island in Narragansett Bay, as well as Dutch Island and Gould Island. While it might be best known as the starting point of the Conanicut Sailing Around the World Competition, Jamestown has plenty to offer visitors. Start the weekend in Jamestown by booking a stay at the Lionel Champlin Guest House—a three-story 1920s Victorian tea room converted into an en-suite inn. Drop by Slice of Heaven for something from the coffee bar and pastry case, then head to the town’s most visited landmark, the Beavertail Lighthouse—the 3rd oldest lighthouse in North America. Visit the lighthouse’s onsite museum, which catalogs over 1,000 shipwrecks that have occurred offshore.

Beavertail State Park, near the lighthouse, is the perfect location for a coastal hike and a picnic. Spend time downtown browsing the many shops, cafés, and pubs, like the Narragansett Café (known to locals as the Ganny), Village Hearth Bakery & Café, and the popular JB’s on the Water, whose lobster rolls are legendary.

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 charming, tranquil coastal town ideal for a weekend getaway. It is known for its scenic beauty, quaint village atmosphere, and historic sites like the Wilbor House Museum, which showcases rooms from life in Little Compton from 1690 to 1920. Plan to stay at the Stone House Inn, a seaside, historic inn on the tip of Sakonnet Point, constructed initially as a private home in 1854, and enjoy a three-course dinner in their Tap Room Restaurant, a former speakeasy during the Prohibition era. Visitors can borrow bikes from the inn for a short ride to the Sakonnet Lighthouse, established on November 1, 1884.

Spend time on either of its beautiful beaches, South Shore Beach and Goosewing Beach Preserve, then head off to explore local art galleries and shops like The Nitro Bar at Walkers and the Barn Restaurant. Take a short drive along the stunning farm coast and discover Carolyn's Sakonnet Vineyard, New England’s oldest vineyard.

East Greenwich

East Greenwich, Rhode Island waterfront scenes.
East Greenwich, Rhode Island waterfront scenes.

For an upscale small-town experience, look no further than East Greenwich. Enjoy the town’s Historic Hill and Main Street with its eclectic restaurants like La Masseria, which serves food inspired by ancient Italian farmhouses, Besos Tapas & Wine Bar, or Dante’s Kitchen, whose motto is “American Fare with Southern Flare.” History buffs will enjoy learning about the area’s past at the 1773-era Varnum House Museum, which displays artifacts from the late 17th to mid-19th centuries, the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum, and the New England Wireless and Steam Museum. For fresh air, visit Goddard Memorial State Park—Rhode Island’s most popular Metropolitan Park. The park offers a nine-hole golf course, hiking trails, and 18 miles of bridle trails.

For an overnight stay in East Greenwich, consider a 10-minute drive to the budget-friendly Blue Beach Motel in North Kingstown, near the banks of Mill Cove on Narragansett Bay. Be sure to visit the West Passage Brewing Company, where craft beer is brewed daily.

Rhode Island's coastal towns offer various options for the ideal weekend retreat. Consider Newport's opulent mansions and scenic Cliff Walk; Bristol's Colt State Park and historic Blithewold Mansion; Wickford's 18th-century houses and charming shops; Watch Hill's beautiful beaches and landmark lighthouse; Jamestown's Beavertail Lighthouse and State Park; Little Compton's tranquil scenery and Wilbor House Museum; and East Greenwich's upscale dining and historical sites provide a perfect escape from everyday life.

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