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Rhode Island: Off the Beaten Path
Although Rhode Island may be the smallest state in size (48 miles by 37 miles), it has a larger-than-life personality. Rhode Island was the last of the original thirteen colonies to become a state, but it is also a state of firsts: the first jail sentence was imposed here in 1904, polo was played for the first time in the U.S. here in 1876, the first circus in the U.S. was held here in 1774, and the first open golf tournament was played here in 1895.
Hollywood has even taken notice of Rhode Island. "Me, Myself and Irene", "Rain Man", "There's Something About Mary", "True Lies", "Amistad" and others were all filmed there.
The two most popular areas in Rhode Island are its capital, Providence, and the seaside cities of Newport and Jamestown. Newport is home to two annual events that everyone needs to attend at least once: the Newport Jazz Festival and the America's Cup regatta.
Once you've visited Rhode Island you will certainly go back again and again, so you should have plenty of opportunity to visit some places that are just a bit off the beaten path.
Great Beaches in Rhode Island
- Block Island is a mere 13 miles off of the Rhode Island coast and is mainly accessed by ferry service: Block Island Express from New London, Connecticut, and the Block Island Ferry out of Newport and Point Judith. It has a year-round population of approximately 1,000, but that soars to over 12,000 in the summer season. New Shoreham is the only town on the island, but it does have over 350 freshwater ponds and over 17 miles of beaches to be enjoyed. The lifestyle is laid-back and casual. If you plan on taking your care over on the ferry, think again. Reservations must be made almost six months in advance, and even if you did get your car over there, parking is very limited. There are plenty of taxis on the island, though, and mopeds and bicycles for rent. And if you want to sound like a local, you don't say 'mainland'. You simply say you are 'going off island'.
- Misquamicut is located on the southern shore of Rhode Island in Westerly. This seven-mile stretch of beach starts in Watch Hill and ends in Weekapaug, and people come from all over to swim in its towering waves. There are lots of eating and drinking places all along the strip, and the beach does have showers and changing rooms available. If you're bringing little ones, be very careful if they're near the water. Did I mention the towering, gigantic waves? You can keep them busy, though, with events like the weekly big-screen movies on the beach every Tuesday (free) or the Hermit Crab Races over at the Purple Ape. And if you can make your visit on a weekday, so much the better. The beach gets very crowded on the weekend.
Rhode Island: Fun Things to See and Do
- Goat Island is a part of Newport and is located just off its shore on the Narragansett Bay. It has hosted the Tall Ships Festival as well as the QE II. My favorite thing to do on the island is attend the Marina Grille's Lobster Boil and Sunset Sail. You first enjoy a traditional lobster dinner at the Marina Grille, and then set sail on the Aurora right from the Goat Island Marina. It takes place throughout the summer and reservations are required. Call (401) 849-6683 for more information.
- You simply cannot visit Rhode Island and leave without seeing the Big Blue Bug named Nibbles Woodaway. Nibbles is a 4,000 pound, 9 foot tall, 58 foot long fiberglass termite painted a distinctive blue color. He sits atop the New England Pest Control building on O'Connell Street in Providence and is hailed as the world's larget bug. Since 1995, New England Pest Control has been dressing Nibbles for every occasion - an Uncle Sam hat for the 4th of July, a witch's hat for halloween, even a Patriot's cap for baseball season. You may scoff, but Nibbles has appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and in the movie "Dumb and Dumber".
- If you visit Newport, you will undoubtedly visit the mansions. When you do, be sure to find the entrance to the Cliff Walk on Memorial Boulevard. This meandering 3.5 mile paved path is literally set into the very top of the cliffs looking down into the ocean on one side, and Newport's beautiful mansions on the other. Be sure not to miss the 40 Steps around the Narragansett Avenue area. These 40 steps are carved right into the cliffs and descend about 2/3 of the way down the cliffside. The view is breathtaking, and this is something you will not want to miss.
Rhode Island's Unique Foods
I always find it amazing that despite being so small in size, Rhode Island has so many foods that are really unique to them. Here's my shortlist of things you must try while you're visiting.
- Like most other states, coffee is a staple drink in Rhode Island. Not satisfied with a few Starbucks here and there, Rhode Island is the home to coffee milk. Coffee milk is like chocolate milk, only coffee syrup is used instead of chocolate syrup. The drink is so popular that it is even served on-tap in the dining halls at Brown University. Autocrat, the most popular brand of coffee syrup, can be found all over the state.
- Until 1993 when it was finally beat out by coffee milk, Del's Lemonade was the official drink of Rhode Island. Del's Lemonade is actually frozen lemonade with a consistency somewhere between a snowcone and a slushie. The staying power of this brand is incredible as it was created and first sold in 1840.
- Most people are used to their clam chowder (pronounced "chowda" in Rhode Island) being the thick, white, rich New England-style chowder. New York has it's own style called "Manhattan Clam Chowder" with a thin tomato-based broth. But in Rhode Island, the default is "Rhode Island Clam Chowder" which has a clear broth. My favorite is New England-style, and I make sure I get a big bowl of it at The Black Pearl every time I'm in Newport.
- Rhode Islanders do love their deep fat fryers, and fish and chips is a favorite meal. They scoff at ketchup for their fries, however, and instead sprinkle on a good helping of vinegar.
- Speaking of deep fried, doughboys are also a local favorite. This is your basic fried dough, only instead of topping it with pizza sauce and grated parmesan, Rhode Islanders like theirs topped with cinnamon or powdered sugar.
- If you hear someone order a "three all the way" in a Rhode Island restaurant, then they've just ordered three hot dogs, Rhode Island-style. These unusual dogs are called "New York System weiners", and no one has ever been able to tell me how they got that name. Locals also call them "hot weiners", "bellybusters", "destroyers" or "gaggas". The hotdogs themselves are cut from a continuous link, placed in a bun and topped with mustard, onions, a meat sauce flavored with nutmeg and garlic, and a liberal sprinkling of celery salt. There are quite a few New York System restaurants across the state, but one of the favorites is the Wein-O-Rama in Cranston.
And that was just a shortlist! Be sure to also get a taste of Rhode Island's hushpuppies, johnnycakes, pizza strips, dynamites, spinach pie, cabinets, stuffies and top it all off with an Awful Awful!
Rhode Island's Old Stuff
- Head to Warwick and take a stroll through Pawtuxet Village, New England's oldest village, which was settled in 1642.
- While in Newport, be sure to visit the Redwood Library and Athenaeum. Not only is it the oldest lending library in the United States, but it is also the oldest library building in continuous use in the country.
- On Bay Street in Watch Hill you'll find the Flying Horse Carousel, the country's oldest carousel. Instead of the horses being attached to the floor, they hang from chains suspend from "sweeps" in the carousel's ceiling. The faster the carousel turns, the further out the horses fly, hence the name "Flying Horse".
- Tucked away in the southeast corner of Rhode Island is a small town called Little Compton. If you visit the Old Commons Cemetery, you will be able to visit the grave of Elizabeth Alden-Pabodie, the first white girl born in New England. Her parents, John Alden and Priscilla Mullin, came to America on the Mayflower in 1620. Later, head on over to Tiverton's Fogland Beach and try to find one of the historic "Speaking Rocks", and then relax over a nice glass of wine at Sakonnet Vineyards.
- The White Horse Tavern on Marlborough Street in Newport first opened its doors in 1673, and now has the distinction of being the oldest still-operating tavern in the United States.The original building was actually constructed in 1652, and 300 years later in 1952, the building went through a complete restoration.
- The Westminster Arcade (known to the locals simply as 'The Arcade') is the nation's oldest indoor shopping mall and is located on Weybosset and Westminster in Providence. It was constructed of granite in 1828, and its massive 21-foot granite columns weigh 13 tons each. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has recognized the building as being one of the greatest examples of commercial architecture in our history.