It’s been exactly two weeks since I got home from vacation and I am already feeling the post-vacation, mid-summer, Southern heat blues. I am missing those cool New England evenings, the sort that necessitate a light sweater and even sleeping under a heavy comforter. So I thought I’d put together a few of my favorite Rhode Island haunts – a mash-up of sorts of both high-end and off-the-highway places that you don’t want to miss if you are ever in the area, with a few vacation more photos to boot.
Random Roadsides: Doughnuts & Dives
Pretty much see this post about Allie’s Doughnuts (home of the Doughnut Cake) and if I could pinpoint it, main culprit of my “vacation 5” (pounds that is). A true old-school road-side doughnut shack that shills old-school no fuss doughnuts at their best. While I captured the giant doughnut in my previous post, this down-to-business photo shows the essence of what goes on inside. And note the loud and clear “CASH ONLY SIGN” which is not a problem since you can basically get a dozen doughnuts for like $5:
And for an after dinner drink that’s nearby, definitely check out this view with a glass of wine in hand at The Coast Guard House in Naragansset before or after a walk along the waterfront.
On a previous trip I mentioned the incredible view that’s also to be had at Evelyn’s Drive In in Tiverton, RI. Sitting on their patio and watching the sunset over the cove while you eat fried fish is pretty much perfection. Stay true to the classics though… my husband ordered “The Lobster Chop Suey” last summer (his own fault) and left feeling a little disappointed.
Allie’s Doughnuts North Kingstown, RI
Coast Guard House Narragansett, RI
Champlin’s Seafood Deck & The Sweet Spot Narragansett, RI
Evelyn’s Drive In Tiverton, RI
The City Fix: Providence
I always need an urban fix on vacation, just that little bit of city. Because no matter how picturesque or relaxing a vacation spot may be, there is something invigorating about exploring a new city. We stayed at The Dean Hotel in Providence. I cannot say enough good things about it. That is me, above, entering The Dean… almost double-entendre, since a mere three years ago it was a fully functioning brothel. But the level of fun sophistication that the hotel has achieved since it’s two-year renovation was complete is first rate. I would have stay here above many hotels in many other cities. Plus, its affordability, tongue-in-cheek marketing, and in-house coffee bar were the icing on a great hospitality experience:
Attached to the lobby of The Dean is FAUST, an excellent Germanic restaurant with a killer pretzel. Add to this The Magdalenae Room, a moody, Moroccan-influenced craft cocktail bar behind the main lobby and the more hipster Karaoke Bar in back called The Boombox and you basically don’t need to leave the premises. And, neon art. The two photos below I snagged from my good friend Kelly’s instagram. She works for Kyla Cobern, the woman who designed The Dean and many of Providence’s most innovative spots and is responsible for all the finishing touches, down to the incredible framed fashion illustrations in the bathrooms.
If you do leave, a place to venture for brunch is The Grange. Think healthy, locally sourced with vegan undertones. Conveniently across the street is a treasure of a vintage shop called Hall’s On Broadway. Sooooo many good things, and great prices. For a post-brunch coffee and baked good, you can go right up the street to Seven Stars, an insanely yummy artisanal bakery with two locations. And for an evening cocktail at another Kyla Cobern spot in the same neighborhood, check out The Avery. It is an incredible Deco-inspired bar that sits unexpectedly in the middle of a residential square in Federal Hill.
Side note: we were traveling avec toddler so the children’s museum piper had to be paid. But the Providence Children’s Museum, if you have to spend mind-numbing hours somewhere like that, is a good spot to do it. A manageable size, but enough variety to keep your child engaged and keep you from the inevitable children’s museum malaise.
Also, not visited on this trip, but two places I’d reccommend from past visits:
The Old School Classic: Newport
Newport, like Charleston, seems to hold a good bit of intrigue and port-city-allure for those outside the area. The name conjures up images of nautical New England, sailing races, strolls along piers and cable knit sweaters. In our three brief visits, I’ve enjoyed walking up and down Thames Street which is one of the main shopping districts, although still a charmingly historic and intimate road. As for culinary and cocktail gems, the first is “The Lawn” at Castle Hill. Castle Hill is an old house that has been converted into a hotel and perches on a peninsula just past the city’s center. “The Lawn” is simply its outdoor lawn where you can sit and boat-watch with a drink in hand. As of this year, they started serving food there as well. Sadly/ironically there was this CRAZY fog the night we went so we ended up at the bar, surrounded by grey mist but no visible ocean. A good reason to try again next year! Funny side note, when we told the bartender we were visiting from Charleston he seemed confused why we would ever leave our great city to go on vacation elsewhere! Three words: Southern summer heat.
We also went to The Clark Cook House which has what is probably one of the best logos I’ve ever seen. This old school seafood gem is in the center of the city with yachting themed decor, on bannister’s wharf and has several tiers of dining, including The Candy Store at street level that serves freshly made sushi. There is a semi-private rooftop Skybar and an amazing looking, old school lounge in the basement called The Boom Boom Room that has wicker and striped cushions and is lined with vintage photos of racing boats (only open Saturday nights).
A classic Newport Activity (other than eating seafood) is meandering along The Cliff Walk, something we’ve done on previous visits. On one side, the path drops off to the ocean on the other are rows of breathtaking historic Newport homes. My feeling about Newport is that it’s sort of the Charleston of New England. In fact there were many Newport natives that moved down to Charleston at the turn of the century, and vice versa, including the Nathaniel Russell, whose former Charleston home I toured recently.
The Hidden Gem: Watch Hill
We ended our visit in Watch Hill. Located in Westerly, Rhode Island is it kind of like Newport’s demure, waspy cousin. I have a life-long friend whom I’ve known from grade school and I visited her and her family in Watch Hill a number of times during high school and college. It was always a special place – a perfect specimen of a New England Beach town. Now, going back with my husband and my own daughter is even more meaningful. The classic and most charming feature of Watch Hill is perhaps the vintage The Flying Horse Carousel at the edge of town.
You ride around and grab rings as the horses (literally) fly by the rides attendees. We tried to convince Daphne to go on it (she’s two and a half) but the horses move pretty fast and she hightailed it out of the ring just as she was about to get on.
Just around the corner from the carousel is a The Candy Box (above), a perfectly classic candy store and fudge shop. You could not dream up a better vacation spot for sweet treats and bin candy. If I ever open a brick-and-mortar jewelry shop it will look just like this!
The main, and grandest spot in Watch Hill (aside from Taylor Swift’s humble abode ) is the incredible Ocean House. The Ocean House was built in the early 1900’s and in 2002 was torn down and completely rebuilt from the ground up. During the restoration, it was thoughtfully modernized yet still retains its old-world grandeur, with many of the original fixtures, furnishings and signs. And with a croquet lawn over looking the sea and dining deck you almost expect women with parasols to be strolling around the gardens. You can read a lot more about the hotel and the restoration process spearheaded by Chuck and Deborah Royce in this month’s issue of Conde Nast Traveller, it even graces the cover.
Two things you must do there: visit the gift shop (that carries a few pieces of my jewelry) and have a lobster roll on the main deck at The Verandah. I think it is the BEST lobster roll in the state, maybe it has to do with the spectacular view. Side note: pre-restoration while it was still operational in 2000 or so, I visited Watch Hill with friends and we danced the night away in its rambling, former basement bar. Magic! Also, my husband is an Episcopal Minister and while we were there he led a service at the charming, nondenominational chapel just across the street that is worth a visit, even if you just step inside to oggle the beautiful woodwork.
Finally, the best evening stroll in Watch Hill is to the lighthouse. The entrance to the semi-private (but open to the walking public) drive that leads there is discreetly marked by two brick pillars. Just a few yards south of Taylor Swift’s bodyguards outpost and up the hill from the carousel, I promise the walk is worth the hunt for the entrance.
These three local places are also have wonderful food, sea and otherwise. The Olympia Tea Room is in downtown Watch Hill and the other two are in the outskirts of Westerly:
Rhode Island is a special place to me, not only because it’s part of the New England region I grew up in, but because it is still such a huge part of my life. I manufacture and produce all of my Candy Shop Vintage Collection jewelry out of factories there and I’ve enjoyed the talented people I get to collaborate with along the way. This, and my (obvious, over-sharing) love of the state keeps us coming back summer after summer, the perfect antidote to the muggy, Southern climate.