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Did You Know…?
- Rhode Island declared its independence from England on May 4, 1776.
- The state’s official name is State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
- The White Horse Tavern in Newport is the oldest operating tavern in America (1673).
- Rhode Island hosted America’s first open golf tournament (1895) and first circus (1774).
- America’s oldest Fourth of July parade has been held in Bristol since 1785.
The smallest state
Rhode Island may be the smallest of the 50 U.S. states (48 by 37 miles), but it is in a great location on the ocean and has a large bay that provides lots of shoreline for seasonal fun on the water. In addition, it is not so far from big cities on the East Coast, most importantly New York.
Those factors help explain why, in the 19th century, millionaires and high-society families from New York built fabulous mansions (their “cottages”) in Newport. Geography also explains why most of Rhode Island’s leisure activity centers around water.
However, despite the fact Mother Nature was so kind to this tiny state, it is a relative unknown to most potential visitors. Those who pull off the highway, or fly in, and stay awhile are boaters and fisherman; Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound are fine places to pursue these pastimes. Providence and Newport, Rhode Island’s main cities, provide urban pleasures. And Block Island, 12 miles off the coast, has maintained its privacy, beauty and ecosystems despite its popularity.
Rhode Island divides its real estate into seven regions for promotional purposes. Two “regions” are cities: Providence, the capital and notable for sites dating from colonial times, and Warwick, known for its 39 miles of scenic coastline. Warwick also boasts more marinas, boat slips and moorings than any other city in the state.
Newport and Block Island are the best-known destinations from a strictly touristic standpoint. Those rich men’s Newport “cottages” are very appealing tourist attractions today, but all of Newport County has long been a tourist hub and includes other picturesque towns. As for Block Island, it packs all its allure — rolling hills, the Mohegan Bluffs plus its quaint inns, B&Bs and restored Victorian hotels — into 10 square miles.
The other regions are the Blackstone Valley, called the birthplace of American industry and noted for its cotton mills; East Bay, which is steeped in colonial heritage, and South County, which combines its own historic charms with beaches, golf courses, top fishing and boating areas.
Summer is preferred by water-centered vacationers, but many communities plan festivities to lure travelers at other seasons.
Things to do for Venturers
- Canoe or kayak under a full moon on the Narrow River. Or, kayak along Narragansett Bay’s coastline.
- Go to Yawgoo Valley in Exeter, which offers 12 trails for skiers and snowboarders. Yawgoo Valley makes snow if necessary.
- Charter a boat for sportfishing. Fly-fishing is an alternative, too.
- Attend the Charlestown Seafood Festival and sample quahogs (shellfish), along with chowder, lobsters, fish of various types and steamers. Also, sample the fresh seafood served in Rhode Island restaurants.
- Overnight aboard an at-sea B&B. One choice is the Samuel Slater Canal Boat in Central Falls.
- Attend cutting-edge theater at the NewGate, an intimate loft theater in Providence.
Things to do for Centrics
- Take a gondola ride at Waterplace Park in Providence for spectacular views of the city’s architecture along the waterfront.
- Come to Newport for the country’s best-known jazz festival. The city puts on a pretty good show with lots of festivities at Christmas, too.
- When not eating fresh seafood, try other Rhode Island specialties: coffee milk, Del’s Lemonade and johnnycakes.
- Ice skate on the outdoor rink at the Bank of America City Center in Providence.
- Out of Narragansett Bay, go whale and seal watching. Also, take a schooner cruise or join a narrated boat tour to see something of Rhode Island’s attractions from a new perspective.
- Go hiking in the 235-acre woodland that is the Richard Knight Fort Nature Refuge. A refuge of the Audubon Society, it offers structured wildlife walks and other activities.
Things to do for Authentics
- Visit Fort Adams, the largest coastal fortification in the U.S., but today available for tourism and special events such as military reenactments and festivals. You can rent the fort for your own special event, too.
- Relax on a beach while the kids build sandcastles, or build one yourself.
- Plan a wine-tasting expedition. This is a scenic trip, too, and Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- See a show at an Astor home, the Beechwood Mansion in Newport, where an in-house theater company performs throughout your 45-minute guided tour. It is 1891 and you are visiting with the Astors and their contemporaries.
- Take a fall foliage cruise in Rhode Island waters. Or take a harbor tour. There are lots of boats around.
- Attend a wreath-making seminar at Pippin Orchard Nurseries in Carnston. Pick blueberries in season.
For more information, consult the Rhode Island Tourism Division at www.visitrhodeisland.com