Photo by John Woodmansee
Photo by John Woodmansee
There’s only one way in and out of Rhode Island’s East State Beach—a great option for those looking for a quieter place to get some sun.
The Ocean State’s beaches are still a well-kept secret. The state might be small, but there’s a sandy getaway spot for almost everyone here.
Rhode Island’s beaches, like the Ocean State itself, tend to be a bit overlooked. Cape Cod gets more attention as the New England beach destination, and although the city of Newport is world-famous for summer fun, Gilded Age mansions and yacht culture tend to overshadow the state’s shimmering sands.
While Connecticut’s beaches are placid affairs on the sheltered Long Island Sound, and Massachusetts’s South Shore beaches tend to be more rocky and rugged, Rhode Island claims long swaths of shoreline facing the waves of the Atlantic, as well as calmer bay beaches. It may be a small state, but Little Rhody has a beach to suit the taste of almost anyone—even if most locals would thank you for not letting everyone in on it.
Spots like the grand Relais & Chateaux Ocean House hotel and beachfront mansion of singer Taylor Swift have brought national attention to the village of Watch Hill. But this far southwestern coastal community in the town of Westerly has been luring summer visitors since the 19th century, thanks to its broad, sandy beach; quaint shops; and renowned Flying Horse Carousel, a unique, kids-only merry-go-round where riders “fly” outward as the carousel turns. The Ocean House’s veranda and Seaside Terrace are open to visitors and guests alike for upscale seafood and casual beach dining, respectively. Take a walk into town for sunset drinks and a dinner of seafood or pasta at the century-old Olympia Tea Room or for ice cream at St. Clair Annex, which has been making and dishing it out since 1887. Work it off on a 1.5-mile walk from Fort Road to Napatree Point, a narrow peninsula where you’ll find seabirds, deer, and other wildlife living amid the ruins of a former artillery battery.
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The three-mile-long Misquamicut Beach is everything you could want for a day of sunning and surfing—and more if your patience for laying on the sand is limited. The first big ocean beach north of Connecticut attracts locals, day-trippers, and summer renters. Beach bars like Paddy’s Beach Club (check its schedule for live music) and the Windjammer Surf Bar attract lively crowds—the latter is adjacent to the family-friendly Atlantic Beach Park, with its 1915 carousel, kiddie rides, snack bar, and ice cream stand. For more all-ages entertainment, across the street is the Water Wizz water park, and Movies on the Beach is part of a steady stream of evening entertainment at Misquamicut. It’s more than you can do in a day, but small hotels like the Pleasant View Inn and the Breezeway make it easy to extend your stay.
This three-mile barrier beach is about as far in character from the sometimes-raucous atmosphere of Misquamicut as you can get. East State Beach is a bit off the beaten path and there’s only one way in and out, making it the quietest of Rhode Island’s state beaches. Stretching along Quonochontaug Neck on the south side of Ninigret Pond, the beach dead-ends at the inlet of the Charlestown Breachway. Plop down your beach blanket here and you’ll have the endless Atlantic in front of you and the undeveloped Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge at your back. For even more solitude, drive your 4x4 vehicle onto the East Beach Sand Trail and pitch a tent at one of 20 campsites for a toes-in-the-sand night under the stars in one of the darkest spots between New York and Boston.
The laid-back town of Narragansett has a broad, golden arc of beach with waves lively enough to attract surfers from across the East Coast. You’ll find most of the surfers at the south end of the beach by the seawall, families and sunbathers clustered in the middle, and adventurous beachgoers walking north toward the mouth of the tidal Pettaquamscutt (Narrow) River, which forms a broad sandbar where it meets Narragansett Bay. Warm Winds and the Narragansett Surf and Skate Shop offer surfing lessons, and dining options within walking distance range from Monahan’s Clam Shack to the elegant Coast Guard House with its popular roof deck for after-beach libations. We recommend biking to Narragansett via the eight-mile South County Bike Path rather than dealing with the beach traffic.
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South-facing Second Beach has views of the eminently Instagrammable Gothic chapel of St. George’s School, as well as waves steady enough to attract surfers to the aptly named Surfer’s End on the northern part of the beach. Local families and summer visitors love it here as an alternative to Newport’s busier Easton’s Beach, less than 10 minutes away. Along this one-mile crescent of sand you’ll find a campground, surf school, and a concession stand selling typical beach fare like burgers and hot dogs (though you might do better at the food trucks that occasionally set up in the parking lot). Continue south and you’ll walk onto the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, a favorite of bird-watchers. On the opposite side of the point is the even less populated Third Beach if you’re looking for calmer waters for the kids; the Norman Bird Sanctuary with seven miles of hiking trails is less than five minutes away by car.
Goosewing Beach in the East Bay town of Little Compton sits between Quicksand Pond and the Atlantic, providing a home for seabirds like the least tern and piping plover. A mix of sandy and rocky sections, the beach backs onto high dunes and cliffs and is part of the Nature Conservancy’s 75-acre Goosewing Beach Preserve. Visit the Benjamin Family Environmental Center to learn about this unspoiled coastal habitat and join a guided nature walk, or relax for a laid-back beach day on the New England shore.
Block Island’s town beach is about a mile from the ferry terminal that brings day-trippers from Point Judith, Rhode Island, and New London, Connecticut, on summer days. Moderate surf and a full array of amenities, including rentals of beach chairs and umbrellas, make the beach very family-friendly and also alleviates the need to haul all your beach gear over from the mainland. As the day winds down, you can migrate to nearby bars and restaurants like the Beachead and Yellow Kittens for casual dining and live entertainment before catching the last ferry back (around 8 p.m.) or spending the night at one of the island’s restored grand hotels or bed-and breakfasts.
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