Rhode Island- Finding the Ocean State of Mind

Art, culture, and a sublime food scene may not be the things you would think of when Rhode Island is mentioned, but maybe they should. Known mostly for its white-sand beaches, Newport mansions and sailing regattas, the state hosts a coastline of over 400 miles despite its small stature, and was aptly given the nickname “The Ocean State.” Nestled in the southeast corner of New England, just under Massachusetts and to the east of Connecticut, the Atlantic’s waves lap against its vast shorelines.  Also not an island, it is connected to the mainland with a series of islands off the coast.

“Rhode Island” is a nickname in itself as its proper name is, in fact, “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” This original colony was founded in 1636 by Puritan minister and author Roger Williams sometime after he was banished from Massachusetts for his nonconformist views. He purchased land from the natives, founded the town of Providence (now a city) and the colony of Rhode Island, which became a haven for the religiously persecuted. 

Rhode Island has drastically changed since the days of Roger Williams, becoming a melting pot of mainly Italian, Irish, and Portuguese immigrants. With the tight-knit communities created by these cultures, there is no shortage of fantastic restaurants and cultural events throughout the state. 

The capital city of Providence is a bit of a college town with educational institutions Providence College, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Johnson & Wales, and the ivy league accredited Brown University. More recent history in the past few decades has brought about a renaissance of the capital city, revitalizing it after years of dire financial troubles, organized crime, and corruption. Led by Mayor Buddy Cianci (AKA The Prince of Providence), the art scene was revived, the Providence River was uncovered and moved to create Waterplace Park (an urban park that runs alongside the water), Providence Place Mall was built, and businesses started to thrive again. With the city rejuvenated, it has become a destination.

And then there is Newport, located on Aquidneck Island and connected to the mainland by the Newport Bridge, it has often been host to the American’s Cup, has one of the few grass tennis courts in the country located at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and is home to a number of astonishing historic mansions built along the Bellvue Avenue during the Gilded Age. It is a breathtaking little city with plenty of restaurants, shops, pristine beaches, and ways to relax.

Rhode Island may be small in stature but it sure packs a huge punch when it comes to things to do and, more importantly, places to eat as there is no shortage of excellent restaurants here! RI as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is why I can’t just talk about my hometown of Smithfield but rather the entire state which feels like one large town. It’s a place where everyone seems to know each other and community bonds are strong. I feel so lucky to have grown up in this state – there’s nowhere else quite like it with its unique dialect and accent, its vibrant diversity, beautiful beaches, places to eat and culture. I wish for everyone to experience it at least once in their lives!

Sights:

Roger Williams Park & Zoo (RWPZ) is named after RI’s founding father and is the third oldest zoo in the states, opened since 1872. It houses a wide variety of animals including elephants, anteaters, barnyard animals, and a komodo dragon. Outside the zoo and in the park, you can take an amphibious vehicle tour, ride a carousel, or even go hiking. It’s a spectacular place for the whole family! If you are visiting in the summer check the calendar for special events such as their annual Zoobilee fundraising event where you can sample a variety of cuisine and beverages from around the state as you listen to music and socialize. Location: 1000 Elmwood Ave, Providence, RI 02907. Ph. (401)785-3510. Website: www.rwpzoo.org

What started out as a small commissioned art installation to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the city’s First Night event, Waterfire Providence has grown into a regular seasonal event that draws thousands upon thousands of people to Waterplace Park.  Artist Barbaby Evans created sculptures that are filled with firewood and lit, producing mesmerizing bonfires that look like they float along the three rivers downtown. From the first Waterfire in 1994 with eight sculptures to today, it has now grown to over one-hundred! Location: Providence Place Park (check the calendar online for dates. Held in summers and on special occasions throughout the year). Ph. (401)273-1155. Website: www.waterfire.org

Providence Performing Arts Center, opened in 1928, was once known as Loews Movie Palace and has become a historic landmark playing host to the best of Broadway shows, musicians and comedians over the decades. If you are in town, check the schedule online, purchase tickets and plan on dinner at Capriccio’s beforehand for a perfect night out! Location: 220 Weybosset St, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401)42102787. www.ppacri.org

RISD Museum: With over 100,000 items in its collection ranging from ancient art to pieces from today, this museum is a Rhode Island staple and is part of the Rhode Island School of Design. Location: 20 N Main St, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401)454-6500. https://risdmuseum.org/

Newport Polo: Attend a polo match between the first polo club in the United States and a team from another part of the world or country. Bring a picnic and drinks (or purchase drinks at the event) and join in the join in the traditional divot stomping during half-time! Location: 250 Linden Ln, Portsmouth, RI 02871. Ph. (401)846-0200. www.nptpolo.com. (Seasonal. Check calendar for dates). 

Newport Mansions: A trip to RI cannot be complete without visiting at least one of the historic Newport mansions. Mostly located on Bellevue Ave, these grand mansions were mainly summer homes to the some of the country’s elite in the late 19th to early 20th centuries during Newport’s Gilded Age. The Breakers is perhaps the most well-known, but you will enjoy touring any of them and seeing how the wealthy from back in the day lived. Location: Bellevue Ave, Newport, RI. Ph. (401)847-1000. www.newportmansions.org 

Cliff Walk: As one of the top attractions in Newport, this 3.5-mile path will take you along the top of the cliffs overlooking the water on one side, and the backyards of several mansions on the other. Bring good walking shoes as some of the trails is a bit rocky. Location: Starting point at either Easton’s or First Beach a Memorial Blvd, Newport, RI. Ph. (401)845-5300. www.cliffwalk.com

Whether you are a sailing aficionado, a beginner, or just want to try, take a sailing lesson or charter a boat with Sail Newport. Sailing is one of the most popular sports in the state and why not make your trip more memorable by sailing beautiful Narragansett Bay? Location: 72 Fort Adams Dr, Newport, RI 02840. Ph. (401)846-1983. www.sailnewport.org

Jaswell’s Farm is a place I have been coming to since childhood (and I happen to know the owners quite well). Gourmet candy apples. Cider donuts. Farm fresh apple cider. Pick your own apples. Fresh local produce. What more could you want? This family-owned-and-operated farm has been run by four generations since 1899 and is located in what is known as Apple Valley. Call for pick your own schedule. Fall is the best time to visit. Location: 50 Swan Rd, Smithfield, RI 02917. Ph. (401)231-9043. www.jaswellsfarm.com.

With 17 miles of pristine beaches and a beautiful lighthouse overlooking the bluffs, Block Island is worth a ferry ride from the mainland. When you arrive, rent a bike or moped to cruise around this 7-by-3-mile island. Along the way, stop to take a nature walk, visit one (or more) of the 365 ponds around the island, or take a dip in the ocean. After your trek around this Atlantic gem, stop for a bite and beer in the town of New Shoreham before you get back on the ferry to the mainland. Location: Take the ferry from Point Judith located at 304 Great Island Rd, Narragansett, RI 02882. Ph. (401)783-7996. www.blockislandferry.com

Bites:

Capriccio’s is one of the best restaurants in the city of Providence and its unexpected location is in the basement of a historic building. With a stone fireplace, exposed brick and stone walls, and elegant linens covering the tables surrounded by high-backed chairs, the ambiance hints at the quality of food and service before you even sit down. Homemade pasta and table side flambées are a well-known part of their seasonally rotating menus of classic European fare. Served by tuxedo-clad career waitstaff catering to your every dining need, your experience here will be hard to beat. If you have theatre tickets in the area, come here for dinner beforehand and enjoy their three-course pre-fixe menu. This is my favorite restaurant in the state! Reservations strongly suggested. Location: 2 Pine St, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401) 421-1320.  www.capriccios.com

Camilles: Opened in 1914, this Federal Hill restaurant has become a RI institution. Known for its classic Italian fare and paired with excellent service and atmosphere, dining here is sure to be an unforgettable experience! Location: 71 Bradford Street, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401) 751-4812.  www.camillesonthehill.com

If you are looking for a completely unique dining experience, look no further than CAV Restaurant. With its eclectic decor of antiques and mismatched chandeliers adorning the ceiling, there’s quite a bohemian flair here. Any dish you order is sure to be delicious and as varied as the furniture surrounding you. Cocktails and coffee alike are all handcrafted and excellent. It’s a great place for a boozy brunch, or any time really! And if you’re in a shopping mood, everything here is for sale…Everything! Location: 14 Imperial Pl Providence, RI 02903. Ph: (401)751-9164. www.cavrestaurant.com

Jacky’s Galaxie Waterplace Providence location is perfect, especially if you make a reservation for the same night at Waterfire. Located along, and with a birds’ eye view of the river, Jacky’s is high up on my list of places to eat in the city. It is tastefully decorated with modern decor and some absolutely stunning chandeliers, and the way the Asian fusion food is plated matches the restaurant’s beautiful decor (not to mention that every bite of food here is heavenly!).  Location: 200 Exchange St, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401) 383-5000. www.jackysgalaxie.com/locations/waterplace-providence

To really get to the heart of Rhode Island food culture, a trip Iggy’s Doughboys & Chowder House is a must! Here you will find local favorites such as clam cakes (think a savory doughnut hole with clams baked inside – trust me, they are delicious!), doughboys (fried dough), clams in a variety of other forms like strips or on a roll, and many other seafood favorites. Iggy’s Boardwalk is their takeaway place, accessed from the sidewalk and is a good option if you want to eat at the beach down the street and watch the sunset while you eat, or you can dine in at the main restaurant which also has outdoor seating. It touts itself as “A Rhode Island Tradition” and that’s exactly what Iggy’s is! Location: 9616, 889 Oakland Beach Ave, Warwick, RI 02889. Ph. (401) 737-9459. www.iggysdoughboys.com

The Vanderbilt Grill located at The Vanderbilt Hotel in Newport will surely please anyone’s taste buds with their contemporary New England cuisine. Try the octopus appetizer and the squid ink linguine, or, if you are more adventurous, how about the crab and sea urchin cavatelli? Any menu choice you make will be an excellent one and there is a small bar in the restaurant that serves themed drinks created by a professional mixologist which only adds to a great evening here. The ambiance in the restaurant will make you feel as though you are dining with the Vanderbilt family from Newport’s Gilded Age, and that part is worth a reservation in itself! Location: 41 Mary Street, Newport, RI 02840. Ph. (401) 324-0117. www.aubergeresorts.com/vanderbilt/dine/

Sweets:

Wright’s Dairy Farm: As a family-owned and operated dairy farm located in the northern part of the state, witness cows being milked (between the hours of 3-4: 30 pm daily) before heading into the large bakery where you can grab some lunch and treats to go. Snag RI favorites like a spinach pie or pizza strip for lunch, a hermit or lemon square for dessert and coffee milk to wash it all down.  Location: 200 Woonsocket Hill Rd, North Smithfield, RI 02896. Ph. (401)767-3014. www.wrightsdairyfarm.com

Pastiche: You will feel like you are in Italy sitting in this cafe as you sip on an espresso while savoring forkful after forkful one of their mouth-watering pastries. Located in the historic Federal Hill, known for its Italian restaurants and emporiums, an after-dessert stroll may be in order. Location: 92 Spruce St, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401)861-5190. www.pastichefinedesserts.com

A trip to RI in the summer months is not complete without trying a Del’s Lemonade, a lemon slush made of ice, lemons, and sugar. Although there are other flavors, the original is still the best! Take some to go and mix with an alcohol of your choice for a refreshing summer drink. Visit one of their lemonade stands/stores throughout the state. Ph. (401)463-6190. www.dels.com

Libations:

The Pineapple Club at the Gurneys Resort is a summer destination in itself. With its water views, poolside cabanas, use of their pool, tropical drinks, and live music, you are sure to have a great time! Open May through September. Location: 1 Goat Island, Newport, RI 02840. Ph. (401) 849-2600. www.gurneysresorts.com/newport/dining/pineapples

Besos in East Greenwich is not only a fantastic place for brunch but for some craft cocktails using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. It’s a place where bartending is an art and they take it seriously! Innovation is key to creating new drinks so you will always be surprised at what they come up with, but they will make the old standbys, too, if you prefer to play it safe. Location: 378 Main St, East Greenwich, RI 02818. Ph. (401) 398-8855. www.besoskitchenandcocktails.com

Sometimes, the best bars are located inside the best restaurants, which is what you will find at the Oberlin. With its extensive wine, sake, and draught beer list, along with the cozy, intimate atmosphere, you can’t go wrong coming here. Location: 186 Union St, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401) 588-8755. http://oberlinrestaurant.com

If you want to imbibe at a place with a speakeasy vibe, The Avery in Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood is the place to go. You will be surrounded by art deco-style decor as you sip on a hand-crafted cocktail or locally brewed beer. Location: 18 Luongo Square, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401) 751-5920. www.averyprovidence.com

Stays:

Hotel Providence is a boutique hotel that has kept some of its 19th century historic New England charm and matched it with a European flair. Tastefully decorated with vintage furnishings and art, you will sleep comfortably in your spacious room after a night out on the town. Location: 139 Mathewson St, Providence, RI 02903. Ph. (401) 861-8000. www.hotelprovidence.com

If you are looking to stay at an iconic New England gem that is continuously rated at one of the top hotels in the U.S., then you must stay at Ocean House. Part of the Relais & Chateaux hotel group, you will encounter the best of the best in service, food, and luxury. There’s an award-winning spa on the property to be pampered at, so be sure to book yourself a massage or facial here. With no shortage of amenities,, including a private beach (and if you take a walk down the beach, you can take a peek at Taylor Swift’s beach house/mansion that sits high up on a hill), you may still want to leave the property (although, probably not). If you do want to venture out, borrow one of the Mercedes Benz they have available to hotel guests. This place is just incredible! Location: 1 Bluff Ave, Westerly, RI 02891. Ph. (401) 584-7000.www.oceanhouseri.com

Castle Hill Inn is another highly regarded Relais & Chateaux which is located in Newport on a peninsula, with sweeping water views that will send you into a deep state of relaxation. Once a summer home to Harvard University biologist and naturalist by the name of Alexander Agassiz in the late 19th century, it housed naval officers during World War II, functioning as a base. After the war, Castle Hill became a summer hotel which hosted Grace Kelly during the filming of the aptly-named movie High Society in the 1950s. Eventually, Castle Hill became a year-round hotel for guests to enjoy. Walking into the hotel, you get a sense of history and quickly learn why it is a destination on its own. The comfortable, well-appointed rooms will leave you feeling relaxed. Exceptional, world-class cuisine is served in both the dining room and al fresco on terrace during summer months. You may also grab a drink and head outside to enjoy on an Adirondack chair facing the water. Castle Hill is a heavenly place for a getaway. Location: 590 Ocean Drive, Newport, RI 02840. Ph. (888) 466-1355. www.castlehillinn.com

If you want a phenomenal stay in a bed and breakfast with walkability to the heart of Newport, Sarah Kendall House Inn is the place to book. You will be greeted by attentive innkeepers who will give you the history of the house. The rooms are spacious, clean and updated while keeping an air of the inn’s past. Walk to all the action on Thames Street and Goat Island from this location. And enjoy a delectable breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, pancakes, muffins…just about anything you want, all served on antique china. The tremendous hospitality will make you want to stay forever! Location: 47 Washington St, Newport, RI 02840. Ph. (401) 846-7976. www.sarahkendallhouse.com

Close enough to Newport, but a bit further away from the action for a relaxing stay away from it all is Escobar’s Farmhouse Inn. Your innkeeper Dawn will cater to you with hospitality that will make you feel like you are at home. She is also an excellent cook and will do the best she can to accommodate any breakfast requests. Rooms are comfortable and tastefully furnished with New England antiques and there’s a large sitting room by the kitchen for you to relax in. Take a walk around the property, which is still a working dairy farm and say hello to the cows. Newport Polo is close by, so if you plan on attending a match there, Escobar’s is a great place to stay. Location: 2072 E Main Rd, Portsmouth, RI 02871. Ph. (401) 293-5777. www.escobarsinn.com

As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do, see, or eat in my home state. From city to shoreline, Rhode Island has something to offer to everyone who visits and will surely provide a time to remember!