The state of Rhode Island has always been one of my favorite summer destinations, as it’s close to New York, yet feels a world away. The Ocean state has 384 miles of shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean, Block Island Sound and Narragansett Bay. For the smallest state in the country, that is a lot of coast.
I love Rhode Island and its beach towns. From Weekapaug to Newport, there’s something for everyone. My favorite thing about the state is its convenience factor. A straight shot up I 95, and in a couple of hours (2 ½ from NYC) you’ve descended upon beach haven. No traffic, no ferries, no long road trips. Yet the overall feel is – summer escape.
Guide to the Best of Rhode Island Beach Towns
Just past the Connecticut border lies the tiny village of Watch Hill – technically a part of the town of Westerly. Jetting out onto a peninsula and surrounded by water on all three sides, Watch Hill is an ideal summer escape. Facing the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound, the beaches are some of Rhode Island’s best.
There is Napatree beach, beautiful and serene, just a short walk from main street in town; and Bathing Beach, right in town next to its historical carousel – said to be the oldest carousel in the country. East beach is much larger and is where the Ocean House is located – the iconic Victorian hotel perched atop Watch Hill’s bluffs. It is also home to Taylor Swift’s house, a few houses down. She brought a lot of fame to the small town, but it had long gained a reputation as one of New England’s treasures long before her arrival.
Watch Hill is a classic little beach town, with a charming main street by its harbor. This is where the Watch Hill Inn, sister hotel to the Ocean House, is located. If you’re looking for nightlife this is not the place. But if you’re wanting a seaside retreat with plenty of beachy downtime and outdoor activity, it’s an East Coast gem.
Even smaller than Watch Hill is the hamlet of Weekapaug, about a 15-20 minute drive up the shore. There’s not much of a town and it has a more laid-back feel (if that’s possible), but the shoreline is stunning, with a mixture of rocky, craggy beaches in addition to traditional, white sand ones. It is very residential, but if you’re looking for a hotel to stay in, the Weekapaug Inn is fabulous and is the sister hotel to the Ocean House and With Hill Inn. It has its own beach, pool and marina, and is a more low-key version of the Ocean House.
Weekapaug is part of the town of Westerly as well, and the name means “at the end of the pond”, as the area has two large salt ponds that open up to the Atlantic. Weekapaug is off many peoples’ radars, as Watch Hill is more of a travel destination, but that’s what makes it so great. The overall vibe is utter relaxation set against beautiful coastline and nature. People can be seen going out for coastal runs and walks, with the water on one side, and beautiful shingle homes on the other.
No article on Rhode Island is complete without mentioning its crown jewel, Newport. Located on Aquidneck island and facing the Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Newport has long been America’s East Coast summer retreat, dating back to the Gilded age. With Gilded age mansions overlooking the sea, a historical cobbled-street downtown and gorgeous marina, Newport breathes history in a Gatsby-esque way, and takes you back to a by-gone era.
Yet Newport is fresh and modern at the same time, with its many fabulous restaurants (make sure to try favorites Clarke Cook House, the Black Pearl and the Moorings), shopping, bars, and in general its happening downtown and marina scene. Make sure to walk the Cliff Walk, the 3.5 miles pathway that takes you along Newport’s bluffs on one side, and the “cottages” (aka mansions) on the other. Take a sunset sail, or hit one of its 3 beaches. My personal favorite is “Second Beach”, otherwise known as Sachuest beach. And if you’re a tennis aficionado like myself, enjoy a visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, where the first U.S. Open was played.
There are plenty of nice hotels in Newport, including Gurney’s Newport Resort and Marina, The Chanler at Cliff Walk, the Vanderbilt, 41 North, Castle Hill Inn and more. If you’d like any help with finding the perfect stay for you, please let me know.
Many people say a visit to Little Compton, just east of Newport, is like stepping back in time. Indeed this rural, unspoiled small town – the complete opposite of neighboring Newport – has no traffic lights, no four way intersections, no crowds, and certainly no chain stores.
Little Compton is known for its natural beauty, a place where farmland, flowers and stunning landscape meets the sea. People who live or spend time here enjoy the peace and tranquility of the area, and prefer to keep it that way. Which made me hesitate to include it in this post, except that it is one of Rhode Island’s best and most treasured beach get-aways, and deserves the praise.
Local staples include Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, C.R. Wilbur general store, and The Commons Lunch café. No Starbucks or anything of the like will you find. So, if you enjoy beautiful land and seascapes and an old-fashioned feel, this is the spot for you.
**There is a newcomer hotel to Little Compton called the Stone House. It is part of the Newport Experience collection of hotels. Please ask me for more information.
Block Island is located off the coast of Rhode Island in the Block Island Sound. Not as famous as its island neighbors, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the people it draws are those that prefer a quieter island scene. Known for its abundance of natural beauty, pretty beaches, great seafood, and historic inns, Block Island is the perfect escape for those that want to unwind and unplug.
As much as its beaches, Block Island is a place to go for excellent hiking and biking. The Mohegan Bluffs, perched about 200 feet above sea level, are a popular spot to go and take in the views, then head down to the beach to relax afterwards.
The most popular way to get to Block island is by ferry from Point Judith, RI. Like Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, there is a fast and a slow ferry. Make sure to book plenty in advance, especially if you want to take your car. But even for a day trip, Block Island is worth the trip. Hotels include the Inn at Spring House, Hotel Manisses, the National Hotel, the Block Island Beach House, among many more.
These are our top picks for Rhode Island beach get-aways. If you would like help in booking a hotel in any of these places please let me know. In many of them I can get you extra amenities and free upgrades, if available.