In hot pursuit for our next adventure, last weekend’s excursion brought us to a globally renowned sailing town nestled in the country’s tiniest state, Newport, Rhode Island. Our old-time pal and London based writer, Rose Frog, tagged along for the ride as we explored the polished pearl of the Ocean State. If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at someone using the word summer as a verb, the chance that new verbal usage originated here is highly likely. Known famously for its outrageously lavish mansions that once housed America’s Gilded Age elite, this seaside city has more up its sleeve than a few marble dining rooms and a pretty face. As generations come and go, Newport continues to grow its expansive history. Join as we dust off some of Newport’s past while experiencing today’s lifestyle found on Aquidneck Island’s largest village.
With squinting eyes, we hit the road early, speeding east up Route 1 to Charlestown, RI’s java mecca, Dave’s Coffee. The family owned business is a certified organic craft coffee roaster, that keeps it wicked local. We left their espresso bar/bakery grinning ear-to-ear with iced coffees in-hand and a Megalodon-sized blueberry muffin. When in the area, stop by and scoop up a bottle of Dave’s Coffee Syrup to make your very own coffee milk, a quintessential Rhode Island morning classic!
Crossing both the Jamestown Verrazzano and Pell Bridges, caffeinated and well-fed, we descended into downtown Newport. First stop was to step back into a bygone era by visiting the area’s most historic mansions. The Preservation Society of Newport County offers award-winning audio and guided tours through an impressive collection of house museums. We visited two different “summer cottages,” both of which housed various clans of the illustrious American-family, the Vanderbilts. First was the Breakers, and second was Marble House. These seasonal palaces for North American “royalty” were full of surprising facts, and one can only image the parties – and scandals – that occurred within those rooms. Rose Frog pointed out an interesting fact when walking through Gertrude Vanderbilt’s childhood bedroom at the Breakers; Gertrude eventually married and became Mrs. Whitney, who actually founded the Whitney Museum of American Art here in New York (we’re headed there this week - so stay tuned for our piece on The Whitney).
Touring two houses with a tangled set of audio headphones was quite enough time indoors. Heading north into town, we snagged free parking off Memorial Boulevard and ducked into the Water Brothers surf and skate shop. Owned and operated by Sid Abruzzi since 1971, this iconic storefront embodies a huge pulse of the surfing culture in Newport. The Water Brothers team recently celebrated their fifth annual Surf Fest down at Fort Adams with honored guests such as Christian Flethcer, Jason “Ratboy” Collins, Peter Townend, Jason Jessee, Kalani Robb and Greg Loehr. Searching for the best hidden lobster roll in town, we asked Sid and his crew where they’d go for an off the beaten path catch, and their suggestion proved hugely successful.
Per their recommendation, we went straight to the pavilion at First Beach. On the upper deck of the rotunda, there’s a little restaurant filled with brightly colored inflatable animals and full of barefoot beachgoers. The lunch deal was no joke: two hot lobster rolls with fries for $14.95 - absolute heaven! Our meal wouldn’t have been complete without one of Rhode Island’s staple beverages, a refreshing Del’s Lemonade right out of the truck. Fully content with our midday snack, we dipped in the ocean over at Second Beach to quickly cool off, before a stroll around Sachuset Point National Wildlife Refuge. The beautifully protected 242 acre peninsula features panoramic views in every direction. In the distance, the chapel of St. George’s private boarding school stands tall over the beach keeping watch as if it’s a lighthouse.
With the afternoon fading on, we unfortunately had to start making our way back, but an impromptu craving for coffee and ice cream called for one final pit stop on Newport’s neighboring island of Jamestown. Seemingly a bit more residential, Jamestown presented a less opulent grandeur than Newport, with an almost more communal vibe. We shot down to Jamestown’s southeastern tip to see a historic architectural feat known at Clingstone. The enormous shingled-style 23 room home hangs tight on a rock out in the harbor, and is a local sight to be seen. Driving around the borough, we got our fix at a little café called Spinnakers, and we were back on the road for home. It’s tough to imagine what life here might have been like in the 1920s, but yet again this New England city gave us a warm welcome and proves to be wondrous summer playground. After a fully stocked day, it’s pretty clear why everyone-who’s-anyone wanted to “summer” here!