In the summer, people flock to the Ocean State to spend their vacation time frolicking on our beaches and taking in our gorgeous scenery. As Rhode Islanders, we’re lucky to call this place home – but, because we’re Rhode Islanders, we don’t take advantage of the more touristy parts of the state the way we should be.
For example, Newport, Block Island and Watch Hill are some of the best tourist destinations on the entire East Coast. Chances are you avoid them in the summer, or go maybe once or twice. Too much traffic, too many people, too long waits at iconic restaurants. But, there are too many good things to stay away entirely. That’s why September and October are the best months of the year around here: the weather is beautiful, and we Rhode Islanders have the whole place to ourselves.
Between the historic landmarks like the Newport Mansions, the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the American Museum of Illustration; gorgeous scenery on Ocean Road and Bellevue Avenue; a thriving dining scene and tons of great places to get a cocktail, there’s a lot to do in Newport. Too much for one day. Better make a weekend of it.
Castle Hill tops out at over $1,000 a night for the private cottages and the best suites in the hotel; the same goes with the Chanler at Cliff Walk and the Vanderbilt Grace. But once Labor Day is over, those room rates drop, and drop even further after Columbus Day. To encourage day trippers to become staycationers, the hotels offer dinner and room packages at a huge savings over in-season rates.
Delicious mainstays like The Mooring (1 Sayers Wharf, Newport. 846-2260), which serves some of the best, freshest, most sustainably-minded seafood in New England, and steakhouse extraordinaire 22 Bowens Wharf (22 Bowens Wharf, Newport. 841-8884) have historically been popular, large-scale dining destinations in Newport. In the last few years, though, Newport has fostered a crop of innovative, fresh-thinking young chefs who have created a whole new dining scene.
Tallulah on Thames (464 Thames Street, Newport. 849-2433) has been getting so much local attention that they opened another outpost, Talullah’s Taqueria (146 Ives Street, Providence. 849-2433), in Providence. Chef Jake Rojas’ modern cuisine changes with each season. At Thames Street Kitchen (677 Thames Street, Newport. 846-9100), the drinks may be BYOB, but the farm-to-fork cuisine is all pro. Chefs Chad Hoffer and Tyler Burnley met in New York, married twin sisters Julia and Anna Jenkins, and moved to the ladies’ hometown of Newport with their taste for fresh, urban cuisine. The Revolving Door Restaurant (509 Thames St, Newport. 846-0400) is a new concept: guest chefs can visit Newport for a month, and create their own pop-up restaurant on a “working vacation.” While there are house specials that stay consistent, no meal at The Revolving Door, an extension of Bouchard’s Inn, is the same twice.
You’ve heard the song a million times, but when was the last time you actually sailed away on the Block Island Ferry? The traditional ferry operates through December: it’s a 55 minute ride, and it feels like a world away. A Taste of Block Island event is happening in September (read more on page 61). Most restaurants and shops stay open through mid-late October, but everything reopens for a holiday shopping weekend that starts on Black Friday. But once you get on the island, your schedule disappears. All you have to do is remember to get on the return boat... eventually.
Exploring the Island
The Nature Conservancy named Block Island one of the world’s “last great places,” and for good reason. The island’s stewards carefully protect its open spaces, ensuring that it remains an island paradise in the truest sense. To that end, there are nearly 30 miles of dedicated Greenway Trails for walking and birdwatching. Check out Rodman’s Hollow and Clay Head Trail for gorgeous views of the island and the ocean.
While most of Block Island is easily walkable, head out to the North Light and New Harbor on a moped or a bike. As soon as you disembark from the ferry, there are several within a minute’s walk. Stop in at the Block Island Tourism office at the ferry terminal for deals and discounts.
Opulent Watch Hill in Westerly is a playground for the rich and famous – Taylor Swift paid cash for a multimillion dollar estate there, and she and her celeb friends like Lena Dunham, Lorde and Selena Gomez are spotted there every so often. In the off season, though, there is a bit more room for us regular folk.
Easily walkable Watch Hill is full of stylish, nautical-inspired shops (many of which offer end of season discounts into October). Stroll through, take a ride on the carousel – which has a claim on being the oldest in the country – and stop to have lunch or dinner. Olympia Tea Room (74 Bay Street, Westerly. 348-8211) is in its 98th season of serving modern, classic cuisine. If the weather is nice, walk out to Napatree Point, one of the best beaches for birdwatching in the state.
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