Newport, Rhode Island. It's our favorite place in the world.
For us, it has everything: a bustling sailing community, a busy downtown, unbeatable water access (I mean, it is on an island), beautiful old architecture, quiet countryside just minutes away, and a New England charm that one only finds in tiny, old seaside communities.
I grew up driving back and forth between my Connecticut hometown and Newport during weekends and summertime. It's where Garrett and I spent our college summers and got married in 2012. Someday, we hope to call it home again. But for now, our annual summer trips back will just have to do.
The one thing that I love about Newport is that it hasn't really changed in the 20 years that I've been going there. Sure, new businesses pop up and old ones close down every once in a while, but overall, Newport has remained the same. When Garrett and I make our way back, we always make sure to drop into our favorite spots, and find time to discover something new, too, which is surprisingly easy for such a small island.
I'm not quite a local (yet), but I'm pretty darn close. I've spent the last two decades of my life loving and exploring this town, and have come up with a list of Newport recommendations that I'm always passing off to friends and family. It's high time that I added them to the blog.
So without further ado, I present my Guide to Newport, RI. Sections below outline my recommendations on where to eat, drink, and what to do in Newport.
Clarke Cooke House - no trip to Newport is complete without a meal at the Clarke Cooke House. Situated right downtown in Bannister's Wharf, this restaurant is resplendent in all of its Newport charm. You can now make reservations online — do, in the summer you can wait hours for a table otherwise — and should always ask for a seat by the window (for parties of 2-4 people, only).
The Black Pearl - right next to the Clarke Cooke House sits the Black Pearl, a low-ceilinged, dark bar and restaurant. Garrett and I like to have our anniversary dinners in the Commodore Room, which is a little more upscale (dress code: men have to wear sport coats and no flip flops allowed) and always has some of the island’s best fresh catch of the day.
Mamma Luisa - located down Thames Street past all of the hustle and bustle, Mamma Luisa has the best Italian food. It's also a restaurant built into an old home, giving you all the more homemade Italian feel.
Belle's Cafe - right inside of the Newport Shipyard is one of our favorite breakfast restaurants in the world, Belle's Cafe. You order at the counter and pick out your own table along the docks, then sit back and watch the working buzz around some of the most impressive yachts and sailboats you'll ever see.
Perro Salado - in a quaint colonial house slightly off of the beaten path, Perro Solado has the island's best Mexican food in one of the best settings.
Newport Lobster Shack - right by the Newport Shipyard is the Lobster Shack, a place where you can order lobster rolls from a food truck or buy lobsters to go. At $9.95 a pound, these fresh-caught lobsters are the best steal you'll find on Newport (or anywhere, really!).
The Fastnet - a good, classic Irish pub on the corner of Broadway and Washington Park, the Fastnet has been our favorite haunt for the better part of a decade. They've got a great beer selection, darts and pool, and, more recently, a massive back patio with a ton of seating and even more games.
The White Horse Tavern - the oldest bar in America, the White Horse Tavern opened its doors in 1673 and has a rich history, including playing host to George Washington. The tavern offers a fine dining experience but also has a couple of great bars throughout. Just walking through the doors transports you to a different time.
41° North - if you're looking for something swanky, go to the bar at 41 North. We love stopping in here for a pre-dinner cocktail (or two). With its chichi music and backdrop of glistening mega yachts, you'll feel like you're playing a role in a James Bond movie.
Top of Newport Bar - I *might* be wrong here, but I think that this is Newport's only rooftop bar. Whether or not that's true, it's certainly worth going to. It's on the roof of the Hotel Viking and offers a pleasant little atmosphere with a killer view.
The Coffee Grinder - not a bar, but the best place for a morning cup of coffee. Located at the end of Bannister's Wharf, this hole-in-the-wall coffee shop offers a great cup of a joe and a better even atmosphere looking over the bustle of the wharf.
Del's - if you're in Rhode Island, you have to be drinking a Del's Lemonade. Frozen with chunks of rind, this is a state-favorite drink served out of cute lemonade trucks parked at beaches or along the side of the road. We love biking along Ocean Drive and stopping at the Del’s truck right outside of Brenton Point for a mid-ride refresher.
Castle Hill Lawn - this is one of the most picturesque places to sit and enjoy an afternoon cocktail in Newport. White Adirondack chairs pepper the green lawn of the Castle Hill Inn, facing out over the water. You can also dine outside on the patio (or inside, too), but I don't know if anything beats sipping champagne and watching sailboats cruise by while sitting in Adirondacks on a big green lawn.
Cliff Walk - this is one of the prettiest coastal walks in the country. Stretching 3.5 miles, it's a mostly paved walk along the cliffs dropping down to the bay, flanked by the stretching green lawns of mansions built in the 1920s. There are various access points that allow you to do the walk in shorter increments (I recommend starting at 40 Steps and walking toward the Breakers if you want to see mansions, or toward Memorial Boulevard if you want to head to First Beach).
Beach! - Newport has beautiful beaches. My favorite is Gooseberry, a tiny stretch of white sand lined with gooseberry bushes nestled in a cove between stunning homes. It's also home to one of my favorite lunch spots on the island, a little beach hut that serves the best cheeseburgers. A little down the road is Reject's beach, an even smaller place to lay down your towel, but all the more exclusive, as it's only accessible by foot. Easton's or First Beach is the biggest in Newport, but is constantly plagued by red seaweed. Second Beach in Middletown is also lovely and usually has the biggest waves on the island, so is a favorite to surfers.
IYRS - a must-stop for anybody in the boating world. The International Yacht Restoration School is a two-year program where students learn how to restore wooden boats. You can walk through the open-air school and look at their progress on beetlecats and, my favorite, walk out back to see the restorative efforts on Coronet, one of the oldest and largest schooner yachts in the world.
Newport Mansions - this is a must for all first-time visitors to Newport, and a fun rainy day activity for anyone. Newport was the playing ground of the rich and famous in the 1920s - the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Rockerfellers - just some of the families that kept summer "cottages" on the island during the Gilded Age. Many of the mansions have been demolished, but the Preservation Society stepped in a few decades ago to restore and maintain a few of the homes and open them to the public. My favorites are Marble House, the Breakers, and Rosecliff (where the original Great Gatsby was filmed!).
Seamen's Church Institute - another place for sailors to put on their list, Seamen's is home to an impressive nautical library and beautiful old chapel by the sea. It's a great place to take a break from the summer heat and cozy up in an old leather chair with a book right in front of a nice cold A.C. unit.
Ocean Drive - this is my favorite drive in the whole country. Roll down your windows, stop to watch the kites fly from Brenton Point, and admire the sailboats chasing the horizon along this ten-mile drive.
Walk - all of Bellevue Avenue to peek at mansions, down Thames Street for shopping, bars, and restaurants, along Spring Street for a less foot-trafficked but charming route through town, down any side streets connecting Spring and Thames, down Broadway for where the locals spend their time, or through the Point to get a look at the city's oldest homes in the oldest neighborhood.
International Polo Series - running from May through September, the International Polo Series in Portsmouth (two towns over at the top of Acquidneck Island) hosts polo clubs from from Ireland to Argentina to Jamaica and beyond every Saturday at 5pm. Pack a picnic and show up early to tailgate on the lawn, or book a table in the Alex & Ani Pavilion to get the best seats in the house. This is a great activity for people of all ages and is dog friendly, making it one of my favorite summer in Newport pastimes, ever.
Shop - there are a lot of shops in Newport, and it can be overwhelming to figure out which ones are worth your time and which ones are a tourist trap. Our favorites are Island Outfitters (home to the Holebrook sweaters we love so much), Kiel James Patrick (perfect for classic New England garb), the Royal Male for long-lasting British wear (hello, Barbor), and the Armory for antiques.