Rhode Island Itinerary
Three Laid-Back Days Around South County, Rhode Island
You need to know right off that there’s no such place as South County — at least not on any map. Generally regarded as the southwestern corner of Rhode Island, South County is the quieter side of the state. Away from the glitz of Newport and the urban press of Providence, you’re free to enjoy the open countryside or seascape, all illuminated with the unmistakable glow of the nearby ocean. We’ll stick with the undisputed core of this imaginary county — Narragansett, South Kingstown, and North Kingstown.
Getting to South County is easy enough: From the south, follow I-95 to the Route 138 exit for South Kingstown. Even better, leave the highway as you enter Rhode Island and pick up scenic Route 1 at Westerly. From the north, take 95 south to Route 2, which leads to Route 1.
Because traveling distances are fairly short, you can stay either in South Kingstown or Narragansett. The Admiral Dewey Inn (Inexpensive-Moderate, B&B; 668 Matunuck Beach Rd., off Rte. 1; 401-783-2090) in South Kingstown is a nicely restored 1898 beach boardinghouse. In Narragansett, just south of the Pier area, Stone Lea Bed & Breakfast (Inexpensive-Moderate, B&B; 40 Newton Ave.; 401-783-9546) is an 1884 McKim, Mead & White Victorian perched on an ocean-side cliff. Breakfast — as in stuffed French toast with strawberry sauce or apple puff pancakes — is full by any definition. Ask for the second-floor oceanfront room. Or, you can stop at the Narragansett Tourist Information Center (401-783-7121) for information on other area B&Bs. You’ll find it in the historic Towers spanning Ocean Road at the Pier — the remains of the 1890s Narragansett Pier Casino.
Arrive early enough and you’ll be able to visit one of the area’s beaches: Narragansett Town Beach at the Pier on Route 1A or beautiful but busy Scarborough Beach two miles south.
Spend the evening poking around the Narragansett Pier area, where there are plenty of shops and, always, the ocean out to the horizon. If you’re exceptionally hungry, plan on dining at Spain (dinner $$-$$$; 1144 Ocean Rd.; 401-783-9770), where the portions of Spanish food are huge and tasty. Proclaimed one of the best restaurants in Rhode Island, Angels of Narragansett (dinner $-$$$; Mariner Sq.; Rte. 140, Pt. Judith Rd.; 401-782-2300) serves such Northern Italian specialties as veal francese and of course, all kinds of pasta. This New York-style bistro (there’s an Angels in Manhattan) is casual but elegant. A pleasant way to work off dinner is a promenade along the seawall at Narragansett Pier, a reminder of the early 1900s when the town was a summer resort second only to Newport in these parts.
During the summer there’s a festival nearly every weekend at the South County Museum (open May-Oct.; admission $; 401-783-5400), directly across from Narragansett Town Beach at the Pier. It might be a Children’s Festival features face painting and story telling, an antique auto show and parade, a Jonnycake Brunch, or a Yankee Crafts Show. The museum is on the grounds of Canonchet Farm and contains almost 20,000 items relating to Rhode Island life from 1800 to 1930 — everything from a general store and cobbler shop to a country kitchen sink.
Alternatively, head for Wakefield. It’s one of several villages of South Kingstown, the town directly west of Narragansett. The village isn’t especially picturesque or historic, but Main Street does contain clothing and gift stores worthy of browsing. Hera Gallery (open year-round; 327 Main St.; 401-789-1488) began two decades ago as a women’s cooperative and presents the work of emerging and established artists with an emphasis on social issues. If you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Main Street Foods & Bakery (333 Main St.; 401-789-0914), which serves sizable salads, innovative sandwiches, and notable desserts.
If you’re in the area midweek, check out the Museum of Primitive Art and Culture (open year-round; admission by donation; 1058 Kingstown Rd. [Rte. 108], Peacedale; 401-783-5711). The museum’s eclectic holdings of Native American and other prehistoric artifacts from around the world were assembled by gentlemen collectors.
For dinner, the back porch at the South Shore Grille (dinner $$-$$$; 210 Salt Pond Rd., Wakefield; 401-782-4780) offers a pleasant vantage point to watch the afternoon fade over the adjacent marina. Starting in June the curtain goes up at Theatre-by-the-Sea (tickets $$; 364 Cards Pond Rd., off Rte. 1, Matunuck; 401-782-8587). The theater has entertained audiences for nearly 65 summers with professional-level summer stock.
You can either eat light and get an early start or — this is vacation — take in the brunch at the Coast Guard House (40 Ocean Rd., Narragansett; 401-789-0700), one of the heartiest in Rhode Island, or breakfast on the porch at Peppers (83 Narragansett Ave., Narragansett; 401-783-2550).
Wickford Village in North Kingstown, about six miles north of Narragansett, is a beautiful seaside Colonial settlement worth a visit. Stroll the length of Main Street to the fishing pier. Four miles south of town, off Route 1, on Gilbert Stuart Road, is the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace (open Apr.-Nov.; admission $; 401-294-3001). Stuart painted those famous portraits of George Washington. Dating from 1751, the house is filled with period furniture. Adjoining is an undershot waterwheel and a snuff mill — Gilbert’s father was the first snuff miller in the Colonies.
End your South County ramble just north of Wickford at Smith’s Castle (open May-Sept.; admission $; 55 Richard Smith Dr.; 401-294-3521). This rambling, three-story Colonial structure on 30 acres gives a flavor of the first two centuries of Rhode Island life. Begun as an Indian trading post in 1637 by Roger Williams, founder of the colony, by 1740 the farm had become one of the many slave-run “plantations” in South County. The original building was burned during King Philip’s War and was rebuilt in 1678. The house is furnished with period pieces, and a gift shop sells such items as reproduction lanterns and a copy of a child’s primer found in one of the walls.
— Tom Gannon
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.