Newport, RI Report
Rhode Island's summer hot spot (or quiet winter spot) for a weekend. Here's all my thoughts and review on the city.
Newport, RI is a seaside city on a little peninsula across the bay from Narragansett. Most people get there over the fantastic bridges of Rt 138, though there are some lucky people that get there by way of their boats. It’s a harbor town, and an old one at that. The town dates back to the 1600’s, and the city the 1700’s. You can see the older times all over this place. Newport is full of examples of old New England architecture, especially all the old wooden houses. There’s an even bigger housing surprise there too that a lot of people seem to not know about - but we’ll get to that later.
It’s a New England seaside town in every sense of the words. You’re on the water, there’s nautical influence everywhere, and you know what that brings: seafood. There’s a great restaurant scene here and I recently enjoyed quite a few of them. I’ve been coming here since I was younger, both with my parents and with my friends. Recently I went with my girlfriend for a weekend escape, and it was perfect (she didn’t grow up in the States so these types of places are all new for her. She loved it). And, I think that’s how we’re going to look at this report. Let’s view it from the point of view of how to spend a weekend in Newport. I was not sponsored for any of the businesses or locations in this report - it's all just good old fashion leg work!
This is my Newport, RI City Report.
What To Do
There’s all sorts of things to do here. The easiest, is of course walking around. Newport has one of the most walkable downtowns of the classic New England port cities, probably because it’s a fairly decent size (relatively speaking in vacation city terms) in its own right so it differs from say, Provincetown or Bar Harbor in that regard. You can spend a lot of time down here by the shops. You’ll find a lot of the usual bigger brands like Gap and Sephora, etc. But, you also have some local shops in an area called Bowen’s Wharf. Tucked off Thames St. (the city’s main pipeline) and right on the water, it’s a great little area full of restaurants, pub-ish bars, and little boutique stores.
Our favorite store there was a clothing brand called Kiel James Patrick. It’s absolutely your preppy, nautical themed style that is popular in the North East, but it’s local, well made, and well presented. Even the carrying bags they give you for purchases are cool. Now I grew up in MA, so I’m brought up on that kind of style, and I really like it for nicer vacation wear. Lots of navy and off-whites, classic store.
While you might not think about it initially, I would also recommend checking out the scrimshaw shop down there. I’m not an expert, but most of the items in there appeared to be authentic and hand carved - they even had the artist’s identity with the items. I’m sure the gentleman that runs it would be happy to chat about the items. For the uninitiated, scrimshaw was the artform developed in America by the old whalers, and involved carving scenes onto what was usually whale bone. Today, they obviously aren’t using much whale bone unless it’s gotten by approved means, and they even make man-made material to use now too. But the artwork is still something to behold. They even need to be apprentices still. Really unique, and definitely something from the old world that not many people might know about any longer.
Next up, no weekend trip to Newport, RI would be complete without doing some of the Cliff Walk. This is a great, mostly paved walkway all along (that’s right!) the cliffs. It’s a fantastic, easy walk on a sunny day and you get to enjoy the water, the salt air, and take in some of the mansions as you go - which by the way, Newport is also famous for. There are multiple sections, and you can park and enter in any number of these. Or, do the whole thing! In its entirety, it’s 3.5 miles or so. Now there are some areas where you have to walk on the rocks, so keep that in mind if you’re not too sure footed or need assistance with walking or mobility. Otherwise, most people should be fine here. We were lucky enough that our hotel is actually ON the first main section, so we walked right out our door and onto the walkway. Perfect!
A shot of The Breakers from the Cliff Walk.
I mentioned the mansions above - and let me tell you these are MUST do’s when you’re in the city. Most are from the 1800’s, and they were built by former titans of American industry. The city went through what they called the “Gilded Age” - and they weren’t kidding. These mansions are frankly unbelievable examples of sheer opulence and wealth. That’s not always a good thing, but it’s always a fascinating thing. We’re talking railroad barons, steel magnates, coal, etc. These were some of the richest people in the world and you can see it in the mansions themselves. It’s like they had so much money to spend that there’s this collision of interior styles and elements, some that don’t really go together, just because they could say, “Yes, I’ll have that my good man.” Just unfathomable displays of wealth. They even had 4 faucets on their tubs - two for freshwater and two for salt water. How cool is that? Even crazier, these mansions were these families’ summer homes. You read that right. They still called these COTTAGES. Really, it’s like another planet. But, you can buy passes online in advance, and we bought the 2 house package. I chose the Breakers (the most famous one) and Marble House. Was perfect and took just the right amount of time out of our day before we needed to hit the oyster bars again! For more info, head on over to www.newportmansions.org. It’s all run by a non-profit now. Just look at some of these rooms!
I’d say there’s lots more to do as well that we didn’t get around to, but I have to mention it. There are lots of bars on the water if you’re a day drinker, there’s a yacht club there if you fancy yourself a sailor, and let’s not forget, the Tennis Hall of Fame is here as well. If you’re musically inclined, head down here for the Newport Folk Festival. It’s a great, “still local” kind of show that draws tons of great folk and americana acts each year.
What To Eat
There’s no shortage of places to eat in Newport so you won’t have any trouble finding what you need. From casual, to a few fine dining options as well, to fast food, you’ll be good to go. We went really heavy into the seafood, because well that’s part of the reason we went. All the classics of the north east like scallops, clams, oysters, lobsters. Some fried, some not. All fresh. All along Thames St. you’re going to find a wealth of options for this kind of food. Some completely old school focused, some mixing in modern touches. I’ll give you my favorites here.
My number one place to grab a bite in Newport is the Black Pearl restaurant. It’s right in the thick of it in the Bowen’s Wharf area, and it’s been here since I can remember. My parents would take me here. Now that they are retired they will get up on a random Saturday, drive an hour and forty five minutes to Newport, just to get clam chowder and mussels for lunch and have a nice walk after. I'm not kidding (good for them, eh?) This is the first place I go to, and I went here before even going to my hotel this time. They have, without a doubt, my favorite cup of clam chowder in New England. Yep, I think it’s that good. I’m not the only one either, look it up. We dove right in here - had a cup of chowder, ordered the mussels, clams casino, and also ordered half a dozen oysters. That day, they were serving Wellfleets. Always a treat.
Another really great spot that we went to on some tips from my best friend - who happened to grow up in Rhode Island - is the Midtown Oyster Bar. We went here on day two, after the mansions and Cliff Walk. Our big dinner was planned later that night, so we just needed an afternoon fix. Here you’re going to find what I’d call a brew-pub style, but mostly seafood focused (as it should be). There’s probably something for everyone on the menu like fried chicken sando’s, salads, etc. But we went for the oysters. I mean, it’s in the name. So we chowed down on the fried buffalo oysters (only lightly sauced, which was good so as not to spoil the oysters), the thai mussels (a little sweet for us, could probably go with a Thai curry sauce here instead, but still solid), and of course, fresh oysters. I picked 3 kinds from a selection of the day, and stuck with only local Rhody oysters. Turned out the Watch Hill oysters are grown right next to my friend’s parents’ house. Rhode Island is funny like that. Easy connections everywhere.
For dinner the first night, we went to Scales and Shells. Great local spot, serving up really fresh selections based on basically, what they can get at market/delivered that day. Not much more you can ask for. They’ve got some classics here with Italian leanings. Like marsala or piccata, but with scallops instead of veal. They serve you linguini and clams in the skillet. It’s casual, but very high quality food. The menu is on a chalkboard and changes often. Aside from the raw bar sampling that included (GASP!) oysters, my girlfriend had scallops marsala and I had the grilled monkfish special. Both were excellent, and also excellent value with the portion size (they were big!). The staff is really friendly here too so definitely try this place out.
Our big dinner, was more of the fine dining kind. We stayed at the Chanler at Cliff Walk hotel, what many would call the nicest hotel in Newport. So the restaurant here on site is called Cara and can be considered elevated cuisine - we’re talking tasting menu kind of thing. We went with that, and let the chef take us through his dishes. It was fantastic - I won’t go into it much here because I took the time to write a full review of it. You can check out the review of Cara restaurant here. If you’re looking for fine dining while in Newport, definitely go. And be sure to make reservations. We loved it.
Other spots include the Mooring (on the water), Brick Alley Pub, and the usual sweet shops and fudge shops all along Thames St. The Red Parrot is a well known spot that’s typical vacationer fare. There’s a great fresh cookie shop on Bowen’s Wharf too. If you find them, be open to trying “stuffies” and clam cakes (both unique to Rhode Island as far as I know), as well as the Rhody summer favorite, Del’s Frozen Lemonade (it’s killer and a classic).
For coffee, we really liked Coffee Grinder. It’s out past The Black Pearl, is a small local spot that makes real espresso drinks (trust me, I’m a huge coffee nerd/snob), and it’s RIGHT on the water. It has Adirondack chairs set up and everything. They overlook the harbor. Wonderful spot for a morning cup and some great locally baked goods on-site too. Skip Starbucks and head here. Support a small and local shop with a friendly owner.
Where To Stay
There’s no shortage of hotels down in Newport, and prices can be all over the map - many of them not cheap. I’d recommend not worrying about the extra few bucks and try to stay in town if you can. That is, if you’re thinking about saving 10-30 dollars a night vs. staying in downtown. It’s just easier. Now if budget is a very strict consideration, definitely check out some of the options just outside of town - you’ll get much better rates there. Hotels like the Newport Harbor, the (little dated now) Marriott, the Wyndham, and the Gurney’s are some of the bigger names there. America’s Cup Inn is another I’ve heard good things about. One thing I’d recommend trying if you’re up for something a little different - is to try one of the many bed and breakfast places here. They’re usually in one of the old houses, and you’ll get some of that great, New England BnB experience. Of course, there’s always AirBnB as well for those that like self catered options.
As mentioned above, we stayed in the Chanler At Cliff Walk. This was a Christmas present, and not a normal weekend trip choice! But, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The service was next-level, the grounds were AMAZING and right on the water (AND on the Cliff Walk). We had breakfast here one day and it was great. The bar makes really nice cocktails with proper alcohols, and the rooms were ridiculous. Really old-time decorations, but very modern and high end features. These weren’t filled with your stuffy, outdated decor. This was old time decor with a purpose. The hotel also had its own car for picking you up and dropping you off in town, so you didn’t have to get your car from the valet every time. We thought this was a really nice touch. This all comes at a price, but if a pampered weekend is what you’re looking for - I think you have to consider the Chanler. As mentioned earlier, we ate at the restaurant too and it was very high quality. I’ve stayed in hotels all over the world (for context, not for bragging) and this is up there with the best I’ve experienced. Here’s their site for pictures:
Newport is fantastic. If you’re a Northeasterner - it should always be on your weekend getaway list. And if you’re traveling from afar to visit this lovely corner of the world and maybe do a trip around New England, make the trip down from Boston. It’s a drive, but you won’t regret it. And hey, maybe all of the above is not how your time there goes, but I’m positive you’ll enjoy whatever you get up to, and you’ll end up with full stomachs along the way. I 100% recommend you wander here very soon!
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