200 miles away from our urban New Jersey city lives a hidden, island gem. With the nickname “Ocean State,” Rhode Island lives up to it. I wasn’t aware that we were driving towards an entirely different land – filled with salty air and mansions galore. Maybe it’s just my lack of geographical research, but I never realized how much of Rhode Island actually was filled with… islands. Getting anywhere in the state within an hour (usually less) makes it one of the most convenient places I’ve ever been. Every stop has an ocean view, delicious seafood or the nicest people – it’s rare for you to not hit that trifecta while in RI.
As the roads grew wider & trees turned a deeper shade of green, I had a feeling I was going to like this place. My first impressions without even getting out of the car was how amazingly clean it was. The New Jersey city I live in isn’t the cleanest, so any time we get out of there it’s like we are in a fairy tale land.
Our first stop was Matunuk Beach Road in South Kingstown. As we entered this little beach town, the homes & hydrangeas were all I could focus on. These beach houses range from beautiful to breathtaking. Most balconies had hammocks, a view of the ocean & were lined with vibrant flowers. Everywhere we looked was picturesque.
Most people found parking along Matunuck Beach Road, but we found a free lot a little further past all of the restaurants. Here we found locals in their surfboard strapped jeeps. We strolled to the sand right off the gravel car park and watched the surfers for a moment. There’s just something about the sea breeze hitting you for the first time – an instant mood booster. We grabbed an iced coffee and sat outside for a bit at The Pub in Matunuck. One thing I will say is, I felt very safe in Rhode Island while at restaurants. There were mandatory mask rules, always outdoor seating & socially distanced tables.
Once we were caffeinated, we headed up to Wickford to grab some lunch. This was only our second stop and I was already obsessed. Wickford is an adorable marina town on Narragansett Bay with some true north-eastern character. I felt like we traveled back in time as we walked the colonial city, which was founded in 1637.
Now, to my favorite topic – FOOD! Rhode Island is known for some amazing seafood. You know how everyone goes to Maine for lobster? Well, Rhode Island is famous for their calamari. Now, drop what you’re doing and start driving east because Tavern by the Sea has the best calamari I have ever consumed. Their ‘Calamari Giovanni’ is breaded and mixed with banana peppers, roasted red peppers and topped off with a delicious white wine garlic sauce for the perfect amount of spice. Are you drooling yet? While I could have had seven plates of the calamari, I had to give in to Chris’s lobster roll obsession, which also didn’t disappoint.
We walked along the water and strolled the streets for a bit. We stumbled upon an amazing antique store that just so happened to have a nose of an airplane outside, so we obviously had to take a look. My only regret for the day was not stopping at the Del’s Frozen Lemonade truck, which is also a famous Rhode Island treat. That’s definitely on the list for next time.
Newport was next on our list. After researching the state a bit, Newport was the most talked about in other travel blogs. It is located on an island and has many charming reasons to visit. From the endless mansions on the cliff walk to the perfect spot for sunset, I couldn’t get enough. This was definitely the most touristy spot we went to in Rhode Island. For parking in Newport, there are only a few places for non-residents to park their cars during a visit. It may be difficult for us as tourists, but it ensures that residents always have guaranteed parking on their island home – which I thought was a really nice concept.
The touristy area to hang out is Bowen’s Wharf. There are countless cute shops, to die for restaurants and endless yacht views. After researching the best places to eat, we decided to dine at The Landing Restaurant. My tip: make a reservation in advance. Most of the restaurants on the wharf are booked solid each night. We had an appetite from our long travel day and ordered stuffed quahogs (also known as stuffies, another RI favorite), lobster bisque and the broiled seafood plate. My favorites of the night were the stuffies and the scallops. Of course, we also had to order a couple of local beers: the Whalers Rhode Island APA for me and the Narragansett Fresh Catch for Chris, which he may or may not have ordered just to match his lobster shorts. The Landing was a delicious choice accompanied by the perfect water view.
Day one ended by walking through most of the wharf, and even found a boat with my name on it. Chris surprised me with a night cap of ice cream and espresso at Newport Sticks & Cones before we headed to our hotel. It was some of the most delicious vegan ice cream I’ve ever had, so it’s definitely worth the wait if there is a line.
Now remember how I said you can get anywhere in an hour? We took full advantage of that to save some money. If you’re looking for accommodation down by the coast and islands, the average rate was up to $400 or more per night. We decided it would be best to stay at an airport hotel, which was much cheaper. Not only did this allow us to save money, but we were still only 30 minutes max from all of the adventuring we wanted to do.
Chris had never been to an authentic American diner before, so on the morning of day two we found the cutest airplane inspired diner (of course). The Seaplane Diner is located in Providence and was such a fun little stop. After breakfast we took a drive through the city to check it out before we headed back to the coast. I was pleasantly surprised with how gorgeous Providence is. Beautifully kept buildings and fluffy dogs made for a scenic city drive.
Our coastal agenda for the day started with a stop at the picture perfect Newport Vineyards. This was one of my favorite parts about the entire trip. We sipped flights of vino in the sunshine and enjoyed some fresh, local food. We sat outside on the patio with a view of the grape vines. My top sip of the day was the Pinot Gris. It is a dry, crisp white wine that pairs perfectly with any hot day. Not a fan of wine? No worries, the Taproot Brewing Co. is also connected to the building.
Wherever you go in Newport, you are surrounded by timeless, vintage mansions. But, the most famous of the magnificent houses are the ones along the famous Newport Cliff Walk. This beautiful path takes you on a 3.5 mile coastal journey. You get the sea crashing with surfers on one side and breathtaking, historical mansions on the other. It takes about two hours to walk from start to finish – but trust me, you’ll stop in awe multiple times as you roam. If you’ve ever heard of The Breakers, this is where you’ll stumble upon it.
With sunset only a few hours away, we grabbed a quick bite at The Lobster Bar and then made our way to a local spot for sunset. Our goal was to catch golden hour at the Castle Hill Lighthouse, but our plans were interrupted. Due to COVID-19, you are only allowed on to the lighthouse grounds if you are staying at the hotel, or have a reservation at the restaurant. This was on my RI bucket list, so I highly recommend planning in advance for this view. Instead, a local told us to head to Brenton Point State Park. This is where a lot of locals come to watch the sunset away from the tourists. Some sat on top of their cars, set up chairs on the cliff or like us, took blankets down near the ocean rocks.
This was one of the most peaceful, beautiful sunsets I have seen in a long time. With full hearts from our little weekend getaway, we watched the sun go down. I reminisced on how lucky I was to be there with my best friend and fully take in these unforgettable experiences. As the sun faded below the horizon, we took one last breath of the fresh ocean air.
After the sunset, we packed up our car and headed west to NJ. With flying on somewhat of a halt, it was wonderful to drive only a few hours and experience a state that is so close to us. If our far away travels weren’t cancelled, we may have never found this hidden gem right in our backyard that we will hold near and dear to us forever.