When you think of Newport, Rhode Island you probably think of America’s Gilded Age and old moneyed families like the Vanderbilts, Astors and Wideners who built palatial summer “cottages” with names like The Breakers, Beechwood, and Miramar. Or maybe the old 12-meter sloops gliding gracefully through the waters attempting to claim the prestigious America’s Cup trophy come to mind. Then there are the world-famous music festivals that celebrate both folk and jazz. There’s much more to Newport, however, than just its history of opulence. It’s also a place of stunning and surprisingly accessible natural beauty. And it’s not just for summer anymore. In fact, one of the best times to visit this enclave of elitism is the fall when the crowds are smaller, the temperatures are cooler and the rates are lower. So pack up your trunk, fill up your tank and take a drive with us to Rhode Island for a weekend of fall fun and color.
Newport is just an hour and a half from Boston and three and a half hours from New York City, but it feels like a a world away. Located on the eastern end of Long Island Sound, in the pre-revolutionary war era it was a whaling center, commercial port, and home to several pirates of the North Atlantic, many of whom were hanged and buried on Goat Island in Narragansett Bay. After the war, it became an important post for the U.S. Navy. And in the late 1800s, wealthy industrialists, landowners and financiers discovered the delightful cool breezes that blew all summer long, made it the perfect respite from the heat of the city and southern plantations.
Now you’ll find Newport is a terrific blend of history, culture, cuisine, and recreation. There’s no shortage of things to see and do, so a weekend – even a long one – won’t be enough time to see it all. But for you first timers here are some of the sights and delights you should put on your list when you visit this fall.
Ten Mile Drive
While just 10 miles in distance this route covers centuries of American history and if you want to see it all, it will take you the better part of a day. You can start anywhere along the route that’s convenient for you, but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s say you hop in your roadster right after having a hearty breakfast at Gary’s Handy Lunch on Thames Street downtown. Heading south, you’ll turn right onto Wellington Avenue which becomes Halidon Avenue. Just a few hundred feet later you’ll turn right onto Harrison Avenue and continue to your first stop, the entrance to Fort Adams State Park. A beautiful spit of land the holds what was in its time, the largest and most sophisticated fortress in North America. The area provides you with stunning views of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay.
Once back in the car, continue on Harrison Avenue for about half a mile and turn right onto Ridge Road. Follow that for a mile to Castle Hill Avenue and turn right. In just a few hundred feet you’ll reach your next stop, the historic Castle Hill Lighthouse. Completed in 1890 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and though it’s not open to the public, there are many paths that lead to the land surrounding it.
Get back in the car and head south on Ocean Avenue, and you’ll almost immediately be on the grounds of Brenton Point State Park which is not only a beautiful place to stop and take in the majesty of the Atlantic, but it’s also home every summer to the Newport Kite Festival.
Continue on Ocean Avenue as it turns east along the Atlantic coast and you’ll be tempted to stop several times along the way to take in the scenery. As you get closer to town, you’ll turn right on Coggeshall Avenue and then make an immediate left on Bellevue Avenue where you’ll begin to encounter some of the classic turn of the century mansions. The must stop along this section is The Breakers, the summer home for the Vanderbilt family, a 70 room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Another great way to see the mansions is to park the car and take a stroll along the Cliff Walk.
After your walk, it’s just a quick drive on Narragansett Avenue to Spring Street back into town, where you’ll want to stop at one of the historic pubs for a pint to cool off and share all the pictures you’ve taken during the day.
There’s no shortage of elegant and luxurious places to stay in Newport and if you’re looking for a classic five star experience you can stay at any number of places including The Chanler, Castle Hill Inn, and Hotel Viking. If you’re looking for a little something more intimate and interesting you’re in luck, there are small inns and bed and breakfasts located throughout the area.
Bed & Breakfasts/Inns
According to Discover Newport, there are 91 small Inns and Bed & Breakfasts in Newport and it surrounding communities, each offering there own unique charm and personality. Peruse the list to find one that suits your taste, but a few that stood out on our recent visit were the Birdsong Cottage, Black Duck Inn, and the Tiverton Four Corners Schoolhouse #1.
The Vanderbilt Grace Hotel is one of our favorite small hotels in town. Originally built in 1909 by Alfred Vanderbilt, the property is now a beautifully renovated 33 room boutique hotel with its gourmet restaurant Muse serving expertly prepared, New England dishes from locally sourced ingredients. Two unique amenities unique to the Vanderbilt are the billiard room and roof deck that is one of the few places in Newport you can enjoy a cocktail while watching the sun set over Narragansett Bay.
When you come to Newport seafood is always on the menu and there are no shortage of fine dining options. It’s hard to go wrong at this level here and a few of the area’s classics include, The Black Pearl a Newport institution, Mama Luisa Ristorante Italiano serves up authentic gourmet Italian cuisine, and Bouchard Inn for some classic French fare. Among the options that are a little more relaxed and affordable, these are our favorites.
La Forge Casino Restaurant one of the things you’ll like about this restaurant is the view. No it doesn’t overlook the harbor but you do have a front row seat for the grass court that is the centerpiece of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
A Little Cafe is our kind of place. A little roadside diner that offers expertly prepared breakfast and lunch made from fresh, high quality, local ingredients. Located just a little north of downtown Newport, it’s perfectly positioned for the morning commuter crowd who cross the bridge and head up to Providence.
Coddington Brewing Company We’re a sucker for a great brewpub and this is one. Excellent beers and a menu that won’t surprise you with its options, but will with its quality. A great place to cap off the day.
Audrain Auto Museum: When there’s a car museum of this quality in a town we visit, of course we’re going to recommend it. The collection includes some fantastic vehicles pre-war classics, vintage European sports cars, American muscle cars and modern supercars. From a gorgeous 1936 Auburn 852 SC Boattail Speedster to a ‘69 Boss 429 Mustang, a ’53 Ferrari 250 Europa and modern Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys and Aston Martins, there’s something for every car lover here.
Newport Mansion Tours: Eleven vintage mansions have been preserved to showcase the opulence and elegance of the gilded era. We’ve seen The Breakers and can’t wait to get back to tour some of the other famous properties throughout Newport.
International Tennis Hall of Fame: With the U.S. Open tennis tournament finishing up in New York this weekend, it’s only fitting we highlight this museum located on the site where the Open was originally played. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can still play the game on a grass court. The museum is a treasure trove of tennis memorabilia from all eras and a must visit if you’re a fan of the game.