Living in the New York area, people always think of the Hamptons as the place to go during the summertime. Sure it’s beautiful and fun and has great beaches, but it’s not the only retreat around for busy New Yorkers. Of course there’s the Jersey Shore, the Connecticut countryside, the Adirondacks, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the list goes on…and there’s also the state of Rhode Island. A 3-4 hour drive from New York City, Rhode Island offers historical seaside towns, long sandy beaches, and a low-key vibe, all without the heavy traffic of Long Island. That’s perhaps what I love about Rhode Island the most- just how easy it is to get there. A straight shot up north on I 95 (or the leafy Merrit Parkway for part of it) and before you know it you’ve crossed the Connecticut border and are in the land of some of New England’s most beautiful summer vacation destinations.
Here you will find the picturesque village of Watch Hill, the mansions of Newport, the happening beaches of Narragansset, and the escape-from-it-all Block Island, among other popular destinations such as Jamestown, Portsmouth, Little Compton and Providence. Rhode Island, small as it is, offers a lot!
I have personally spent a lot of time in Watch Hill and Newport, as I for years visited a good friend in Watch Hill every summer (including family trips in recent years), and went to high school in Newport. Rhode Island will always have a piece of my heart. It’s very family-friendly, and a great choice if you just want to get in your car and go, and not deal with crazy traffic or ferries, excluding Block island of course! (I should mention that the drive isn’t always without traffic – there is some of course, especially around the New Haven area, but if you leave at the right time it’s so much more significantly less than some other destinations) . My first post on this summer destination state will cover the scenic town of Watch Hill.
Just past the Connecticut border is the charming village of Watch Hill, located on a peninsula that jets out into the Block Island Sound. With water surrounding all three sides, it’s an ideal location. Watch Hill has always been an upscale summer destination for New England residents, but low-key ones at that. A sleepy little village atop a hill with lush, green vegetation and stunning views of the ocean, it’s a great spot for those to enjoy their favorite summer pastimes: swimming, boating, biking, beach walks, a turn on the town’s historical horse carousel – said to be the country’s oldest working carousel – and an ice cream on its quaint main street.
Though the tourist level and buzz has reached an all time high with its most famous recent resident, Taylor Swift, it’s still a discreet town full of second-homers and visitors wanting a quiet summer retreat. The Hamptons it is not. But definitely be forewarned of the gawkers and tourists hoping to get a glimpse of T Swift – people do swarm and it’s annoying – but I’m a mom of two girls so I’m not pointing any fingers! All they talk about since the last time we were there was how they could see her house from the beach…
Watch Hill is also home to the iconic, historical Ocean House, a high-end resort set on the cliffs of Watch Hill, with panoramic views of the ocean. It’s quite a spectacle, and one to definitely go see, but also quite expensive, so for lodging you may want to look into the Watch Hill Inn or the Watch Hill Court, or even hotels in nearby Westerly. But of course, if you do not want to pay hotel fees, which can be substantial anywhere during high season, I always say to check out Airbnb.
As for things to do, Watch Hill is known for its long, sandy beaches, biking and the Watch Hill Lighthouse. Watch Hill Beach, also known as Carousel Beach, is located right in town next to the carousel. Because it’s so convenient, the beach gets crowded, so for a more serene experience head to East Beach, east and over the hill from town. Like any beach town, parking is tough so you might have to do some walking. My biggest piece of advice would be to go super early and pay attention to the signage for how long different parking spaces offer. If you’re looking for a food store to go to pack a picnic, head to the Cooked Goose, just outside of town. It has delicious gourmet sandwiches and salads that you can get to go. But again, go early, as the lines develop quickly.
After the beach, spend some time in town, as Watch Hill has one of the cutest main streets around, called Bay Street. The carousel is at one end, with the harbor being toward the other, and lots of beachy stores in between. Grab an ice cream at the St. Clair Annex and peruse around, and enjoy a break on a bench by the harbor for some seaside views. The Olympia Tea Room is also a popular place to go for a snack or meal, and has been around forever. Watch Hill really is one of the most peaceful towns around and you will be sure to get your r & r in. The name says it all!
Photo credit for lead photo: Rimonthly.com