Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
The Gilded Age left its mark on Newport like nowhere else in America. There are mansions, yachts, and a polo club, not to mention St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where Jacqueline Bouvier married then Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953.
Yet, this coastal Rhode Island city has the everyday charm of a quintessential New England hamlet. Natural scenery is picture-perfect even in winter, though summer sun makes the shoreline sparkle as it summons weekend visitors for seafood and local brews.
Across the Sakonnet River (really a tidal strait), Newport gives way to more nature in historic Little Compton. The town remains untouched by the past centuries’ urban development thanks to its isolated perch on Rhode Island’s South Coast, where early colonists began settling in 1692, leaving relics for 21st-century explorers to visit.
Here’s a closer look at the best of Newport and Little Compton for a breezy Atlantic getaway.
From New York City, Newport is a little more than a three-hour drive, mostly along I-95. It’s faster from Boston, just over an hour into downtown Newport, the longest stretch on highway MA-24. Either drive will eventually lead to a pinch point as traffic narrows to the bridges onto Aquidneck Island, so avoid peak travel times to save time and make your arrival more enjoyable.
Newport fills out compact Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay, so visitors here can enjoy plenty of waterfront leisure time. The city’s also been called the “Sailing Capital of the World,” and hosted the America’s Cup sailing regatta for 50 years, so sights of schooners, cruisers, and yachts here seem as common as cars.
For your first day in town, then, it seems fitting to find a lovely spot for a bite or a drink with a harbor view. Along the main drag that is America’s Cup Avenue, settle into the Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar for a fine meal of chowder, stuffed clams, signature sandwiches, Italian dishes, and more, either indoors or on the covered terrace. If you’re feeling casual, the Lobster Shack on the Long Wharf is the place to grab a lobster roll, fish and chips, and other straight-from-the-bay seafood to enjoy on dockside picnic tables.
As far back 1906, when the first Rolls Royce was introduced, wealthy Americans summering in Newport wanted to cruise its shores—and show off their fancy motor cars. Ocean Drive became the perfect 10-mile loop to do so while cooling off by the water. Today, you can rent your own vintage car or hire a car and driver from Newport Classic Cars to tour you along the loop. Or make the journey on two wheels with a bike rental from Newport Bicycle, and enjoy the bike lanes along the loop.
If you’re feeling indoors-y, the Newport Art Museum is a treasure trove of American paintings, prints, drawings, and temporary exhibits (though just FYI, it closes at 5 pm daily, and all day Mondays). For a unique local history, visit Touro Synagogue, America’s oldest synagogue dating to the early 18th century.
By dinnertime, follow Gladys Carr Bollhouse Road across the bay to Goat Island, where you can dine on divine Italian and seafood dishes at indoor/outdoor Scarpetta, inside Gurney’s Newport Resort. If you’re curious about Newport’s local craft brews paired with one of the best local raw bars, don’t miss friendly Midtown Oyster Bar, with a big bar, roomy dining room, and harborside tables. Cap off your evening with a cocktail or glass of champagne at the posh Roof Deck Bar at The Vanderbilt, and take in one of the top vistas in town. (Side note: The Vanderbilt also hosts fun mixology classes for hotel guests.)
Rise early if you want to catch Newport’s brilliant Atlantic sunrise, and head to the Bellevue Historic District for breakfast at no-frills, local’s-favorite diner Annie’s on Bellevue. Fill up on breakfast any time of day, or go right to lunch with lobster mac-n-cheese, homemade bisque, and other tasty, affordable dishes.
Then set off down Bellevue Avenue on an ever-so-grand tour of Newport Mansions, a collection of 11 “summer cottages” built by Gilded Age magnates with names like Vanderbilt, Astor, and Belmont. The Breakers is the top draw, and its grounds alone are worth a peek, not to mention its 70-room, Italian Renaissance-style palatial interior. But each mansion has its own personality, and together they are part of the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, a designated National Historic Landmark.
At One Bellevue inside the Hotel Viking, chitchat over a proper Victorian tea service on weekends complete with sandwiches, scones, and truffles.
Newport’s unique oceanside perch makes it a beachy destination, with access to Atlantic Beach and longer Easton Beach, both sandy havens facing Easton Bay. Bring a towel for sunbathing and swimming, or grab snacks and a pitcher of cold beer at Flo’s Clam Shack on Wave Avenue (open seasonally).
Then head west for Newport’s famous Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile walking trail that begins beside the Chanler Hotel. The walk starts as a paved path flanked by the ocean on one side and mansions on the other. After a mile or so, the 40 Steps staircase invites a climb down to the shore, or just keep walking along the rocky trail for lovely, secluded sea views.
Emerge from the cliffs and return to the comfort of Newport’s bay side, where you can head to The Landing on Bowens Wharf for open-air bar seating and a long drink menu with local beers and spirits. You can dine there, or zest up your dinner with barbeque at the Smokehouse, serving ribs and pulled pork, plus hearty salads and gluten-free dishes. For something different and delicious, duck into Umi Asian Cuisine for Newport’s top sushi, hibachi, and Asian fusion.
Afterward, head to the speakeasy-style Boom Boom Room, a flirty dance club downstairs at the fancy Clarke Cooke House. Or get your groove going at the Newport Blues Café, the city’s top live-music venue that hosts new and familiar musicians across all genres.
Start your Sunday with brunch at Stoneacre Brasserie, where you’ll find breakfast standards and more adventurous dishes, like braised pork chili verde, seasonal vegetable hash, and a lovely assortment of toasts (ricotta and orange with honey is delightful).
Hop into your car for a half-hour drive up and over the Sakonnet River to check out Little Compton. It doesn’t have to be summer to enjoy a walk on South Shore Beach or Briggs Beach, where waves crashing on the rocky shore may send you into full zen mode. This village is all about history, though, so spend time exploring the Little Compton Town Common, a preserved site home to the United Congregational Church (circa 1835) and Union Cemetery, where the oldest grave dates to 1692.
This isolated spot, believe it or not, has its very own winery. Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard opened in 1975 on 150 acres of land, and today has its own tasting room to sample award-winning whites, reds, and roses; plus a mercantile to pick up locally-made souvenirs.
WHERE TO STAY
There is no shortage of hotels in Newport as seasonal traffic peaks in summer, but still draws lots of travelers in fall, winter, and spring. On Goat Island, Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina is a good choice for Narragansett Bay views, a spa, and good indoor/outdoor dining and drinking options. Regal lodging awaits at Hotel Viking and The Vanderbilt, both centrally-located and just as sophisticated as when they opened around a century ago. The Wayfinder is a cool, newer boutique hotel just north of downtown by Miantonomi Memorial Park.
WHEN TO GO
Warm months are gorgeous in this pocket of coastal Rhode Island, where the ocean air cools even the hottest temperatures. Clambakes, beach time, and open-air dining and drinking are irresistible. Peak-season visitors should reserve hotel rooms and restaurant tables in advance. You may consider joining a newportFILM Outdoors screening, a Newport Polo tailgate party, or August’s famous Newport Jazz Festival. During winter, Newport Mansions doll up with holiday cheer, as does the rest of the sparkly city.