A Local's Guide to Experiencing RI

A photo posted by Jon Costigan (@jcostigan) on

Ever heard of Rhode Island? You heard me right, I did not mispronounce Long Island. And no, its not Hawai'i. Nor is it an actual island. Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US and is situated under Massachusetts and next to Connecticut. Often overlooked by those travelling between Boston and NYC, Lil' Rhody is certainly a tiny little gem worthy of a week, weekend, or even just a day-long stopover. 

Need more convincing? Ok.

I've compiled a 2-in-one list of the Top 5 Reasons to Visit RI and Top 5 Places to visit in RI, with a little bonus list at the end about Rhody tasties you should be trying while you're here.


Top 5 Reasons to Visit Rhode Island

(1) The smallest state with the longest name

Rhode Island is a mere 1,212 square miles. To put that into perspective, you could fit 9 Rhode Islands into Hawai'i, 45 into New York State, and 5,547 into Russia. As the crow flies, at its longest point, RI is only 47 miles long, and averages about 27 miles wide. You can drive from/to anywhere in the state in 75 minutes max.

Most people think that "Rhode Island" is the official name of the state, which would be boring as that would put it in the 11-letter club with states like North Dakota and Mississippi. The official name is "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." Mouthful, eh? Aquidneck Island (home of the famous Newport Mansions) was named "Rhod-Island" and the mainland was "Providence Plantations." Even added together, they still make for a pretty dinky state. 

(2) Bragging rights

Lots of US citizens haven't been to RI, so if you're visiting from overseas, you're sure to be a trailblazer if you make RI a stop along your route! Forgetting all the other cool things about Rhody, its worth it for the novelty alone.

(3) Atlantic coastline

RI has roughly 400 miles of coastline. This is nearly unfathomable considering the overall area of the state is less than 1,300 square miles. I bet that's why RI's nickname is the "Ocean State!"

(4) Art and design

Art is everywhere in Rhode Island. The largest concentration of art in the state can be found in Providence. Literally... all. over. Providence. You'd be hard-pressed to find a corner of Providence without some artistic flair. The underpass by Waterplace Park is covered in bright tiles, Westminister Street's cafes and shops (and Big Nazo Lab just a few steps up Eddy St.), and RISD galleries.

(5) Rebels and freedom

Our precious Lil' Rhody was founded by people who got kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritan clique for their radical thinking. Roger Williams was the first to be exiled, so he moved a few miles south and founded the Providence Plantations; this area was somewhat of a religious refuge area. Anne Hutchinson was kicked out, too -- and one of her supporters, Mary Dyer and her husband William, join the fun to the south.

The Puritans of the MBC spent a good amount of time and energy on purging in the early-to-mid 1600s. They were kicking people out left and right because of their wacky religious ideas-- which is precisely why Rhode Island became an area known for its acceptance of religious choices and freedoms.  The oppression and general hostility to the north in the Mass Bay Colony helped inspire the friendly and welcoming atmosphere of Rhody, that eventually led to it becoming home to first Synagogue and Baptist Church in the country!


Top 5 Places to Visit in Rhode Island

(1) Providence

Eddy St., Downtown Providence

Eddy St., Downtown Providence

Providence is the state capitol, and only in the past 10 years or so, has it become the burgeoning hipster metropolis that it is. The Providence College basketball craze, RISD creativity, Brown University academics, and Johnson and Wales business and food mavens; you would be hard-pressed to find a more well-rounded small city. The Providence metro area is also home to Hasboro and the Hasboro Children's Hospital- that is well-known for their top-notch pediatric care.

Providence has a couple of great areas for meandering. The top two spots visitors love are the downtown area (between the State House and JWU/the Theaters) and the area between Thayer Street and Brown University. No matter where you are in Providence, you're not far from a great place to eat!

Don’t miss: The State House. The dome of the RI State house is the fourth largest unsupported marble dome in the world! Luckily, the state house is ideally located in downtown immediately next to the train station.

 

(2) Newport

Ochre Court, Newport (Credit: Dimitar)

Ochre Court, Newport (Credit: Dimitar)

Newport is just one of three towns located on Aquidneck Island (the other two being Middletown and Portsmouth); and really, the whole Island is worthy of a visit. Newport, specifically, has a reputation for opulent wealth and the mansions draw hordes of tourists daily. While I wouldn’t typically advocate for spending too much time in touristy areas, Thames Street is worth it. If you come in the warmer seasons, you’ll encounter great seasonal restaurants, art shops with their doors wide open, and loads of local goodies (and samples).

Though mansions may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "Newport," what would a fancy mansion be without some lovely, local wine? If you're over 21, adding a stop at Newport Vineyards would be a great addition to your itinerary.

Don’t miss: The Cliff Walk. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a gorgeous public walkway, spanning roughly 3 ½ miles along the Newport coastline. It’ll walk you past the most iconic mansion: The Breakers. The best part: it’s free!

(3) Jamestown

Jamestown is not on a lot of people’s radar, but it is home to some great coastline. This gem doesn’t need a lot of your time, but you’ll certainly want to make a quick stop on your way to or from Aquidneck Island.

Don't miss: Beavertail State Park. Fantastic coastal views and a charming little lighthouse. The geology of the area is very interesting and you can even climb out on some of the rock formations!

(4) Narragansett

During the school year, Narragansett is largely populated with college students, but during the summer is a beautiful beach destination. It flies somewhat under the radar, and has far fewer visitors than Newport or Cape Cod. There are several great beaches and loads of fresh seafood restaurants.

Don't miss: Driving along route 1A. This is, in my opinion, the best part of Narragansett. The good stuff starts by the intersection of 1A and Bridgetown Road with Brickley's Ice Cream. I went to the University of Rhode Island (beautiful campus if you're long on time) and would skip classes to go to Brickley's-- its that good! The road winds past some pretty houses for a bit until you come to Narragansett Town Beach

(5) Wickford

Wickford

Wickford

Wickford is an astoundingly quaint area with the draw of small-town streets, a tiny harbour and waterways, and classic houses. One of the best things about Wickford is that you won't find any major chains here (save a convenience store or two). If there is one hub in RI to support local businesses, this waterside gem is it!

Don't miss: Wickford Art. If you're able to time your visit with the Wickford Art Festival, absolutely do so. Not only will you get to take in a ton of local and carefully curated artists, there is also a great little food area with some Rhode Island favorites to sample at a reasonable price. If you can't make the festival, then be sure to check out the Wickford Art Association site to get some info on the local galleries.


BONUS: 5 Foods to try in RI

Del's

It's not normally frothy, i'm terrible at pouring

It's not normally frothy, i'm terrible at pouring

Del's Lemonade may be the "most Rhode Island" thing to ever happen. This brand has such a loyal following that there are lines when they open for the season and local college students ski class to grab a (plain, boring, nothing-to-see-here) Del's and head to the beach. (In case I was too subtle, I was insinuating that they put alcohol in their Del's)

Del's is so popular in RI, that the biggest brewing company in the state, Narragansett Beer, teamed up with the fine folks at Del's to create a Del's Shandy. Yeehaw!

Coffee milk

A lot of people have a hard time wrapping their heard around this one. Its just like chocolate syrup or strawberry syrup for milk... but coffee instead. Autocrat basically runs the market on coffee syrup. Who would have guessed based on their name?

Just like Del's, Autocrat paired with Narragansett Beer and created a Coffee Milk Stout. So, if you're in Rhody and craving an adult beverage, you can kill two birds with one tallboy and sample out local beer and local... other drink.

Clam cakes /Seafood in general

Photo c/o georgesofgalilee.com/

Photo c/o georgesofgalilee.com/

Rhode Island is generally known for their great seafood, and the clam cakes seem to be the crowd--pleaser. They're like a little fried cloud ball with little bits of clam cleverly hidden inside. They're a great snack choice even for the "I don't eat seafood type." They're crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.... an ideal tooth-loosing situation for a 6 year old Katie back in 1992.

If you're a seafood lover, you'll need to stop by George's of Galilee. You can get seafood just about anywhere, but this is the place. You're getting a great meal and a great view. 

Party pizza

I would say that everyone in the world has encountered pizza in some fashion b age 15. Pizza seems to be a unifying force in the world; and encountering it is a right of passage. Party pizza throws a wrench in that. It's an RI favorite, but its not exactly pizza. Imagine bread with a thick layer of sauce, and then stop imagining. It stops there. Bread with sauce.... and Rhode Islanders can't wait until out-of-staters visit so we can expose them to this phenomenon. 

I mean, taste-wise, its not mind-blowing... just another way of ingesting carbs. But does this mean you should skip the party pizza? Absolutely not. If you've made it this far, and you're already in the state, you have to partake of our most insane food item.

Allie’s Donuts

Allie's is also perfect for massive "welcome home" cakes!

Allie's is also perfect for massive "welcome home" cakes!

This place made it on the Thrillist: The 33 Best Donut Shops in America -- so therefore, you must eat here. If you're passing through RI on your anniversary, birthday, or just a Tuesday... call ahead and special order a donut cake! Yes, that's a thing. 

Other than being delightful and fresh and delicious, Allie's is a local tradition. Notice that I didn't say exactly which tradition-- because each family, friend circle, and book club has their own weekly ritual around Allie's munching.

And guess which popular RI brewing company has a Double Chocolate Porter inspired by Allie's....?


Tips and "must-dos" for any Rhode Island itinerary!
  • Have you spent any time in Rhode Island? What was the best part of your visit?
  • What are some cool "under the radar" places near where you live?

Thanks to Dimitar, Jon, and George's of Galilee for the photo contributions!

 

 

 

13 Comments

Katie Dickinson

I'm an avid traveler, who picked up this wonderful addiction while living and teaching in South Korea, and being able to travel everysix months.  Now back in the states, I've started feeling antsy and trapped, so I decided to spend 2016 visiting some popular US destination cities.... all on a non-profit worker's salary! It really is possible to travel on a budget, the key is knowing how!