Newport — that wonderful summer and fall getaway in New England with great beaches, fantastic festivals, exquisite seafood and loads of outdoor activities. There is a reason families from Boston, Providence and New York City flock to this haven on the east coast of Rhode Island on the weekends … from kite-flying to sailing lessons and historic fort tours, there is a tremendous amount of family fun to be had. Jump in the car or hop a flight to Providence (45 minutes away) or Boston (1 hour 15 minutes away), and enjoy what this quaint town has to offer during its best time of year.
Since it’s already September, you’ll need to hop right on this one. The water is warm and beautiful this time of year, but that can change quickly. Our first choice on the island? Sachuest Beach, known as Second Beach to the locals. It’s located in Middletown, just a 10-minute drive north of Newport proper. Not only is it the longest stretch of sand in Rhode island (a mile and a half), it is home to the famed Surfer’s End — which, as you can guess, is the best spot on the island for surfing and other water sports. Second Beach backs up to Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, which offers more than two miles of nature trails, and is flanked by the Norman Bird Sanctuary, a 300-acre bird sanctuary, nature preserve and museum.
If you are looking for a calmer, protected swimming hole for little ones, head to the nearby Third Beach (also in Middletown) or Gooseberry Beach (in Newport). Both are set in a cove and provide a quiet oasis for sand and water play, as well as plenty of breeze.
TIP: Second, Third and Gooseberry Beaches have lifeguards on duty from 9a to 5p during the season. Second and Gooseberry also offer concession stands. All beaches have parking lots, but parking will cost you between $15 and $30 per day, depending on which day you visit.
Take a scenic drive past large, luxurious mansions and beautiful oceanfront scenery on Ocean Drive until you come to Brenton Point State Park, located at the southwestern tip of Aquidneck Island in Newport. This public recreation spot boasts spectacular views of Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic. You can picnic, fish or hike around the area, but what kids will love most is sending their kites soaring up in the air in this very popular kite-flying destination (after all, it is home to the annual Newport Kite Festival). The ocean breeze combined with the beautiful views will make it a spectacular day out, and even more spectacular when you stop by the Del’s lemonade truck, located in the parking lot during the season, for a frozen treat on a hot day.
TIP: The park is open year-round, sunrise to sunset, and offers restrooms (open May 1-October 31). Parking abounds. Don’t have a kite? Don’t worry: In season, there is a kite-selling mobile truck.
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Also located along scenic Ocean Drive is Fort Adams, a fortification built in 1776 (and reconstructed over the years) to protect Newport Harbor. The fort offers family-friendly guided tours daily between May and October, on the hour. During the tour, you will see the quarters where officers and their families lived, climb the scenic overlook for a fantastic view of Newport Harbor, explore the very dark underground listening tunnels (super fun for kids — and done with a flashlight, so no worries!), and pretend to load and fire a cannon into the bay. This is a great, interesting and interactive activity that will please busy young bodies and history buffs alike. Ticket prices are very reasonable with children under 6 entering for free.
In addition to touring the fort, the park offers a wide range of other activities, including swimming at a small protected beach, fishing, sailing, picnicking and moseying along the picturesque Fort Adams Bay Walk. Fort Adams hosts the annual Jazz and Folk Festivals, so be the on the lookout for these special events when planning your visit.
If you come to Newport and don’t sail, have you ever really been to Newport at all? Located within Fort Adams State Park is Sail Newport, a nonprofit community sailing facility that offers sailboat and windsurfing instructions and rentals for the public. There is instruction for adults and youth, and all levels of lessons, from beginner to advanced, are offered.
Hit up Easton’s Beach on the border of Newport Town and Middletown for a whole day of fun. The Save the Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium is an interactive marine science center with home to more than 40 species from Narragansett Bay, including lobsters, crabs, seahorses, skates, sea urchins, bioluminescent comb jellies, dogfish sharks and more. Although small, the center has three touch tanks that allow you to get up close and personal with many of these species (OK, not the jellies)! Entry is reasonably priced; ask for a re-entry stamp to enjoy the center multiple times throughout the day.
When you’re finished exploring sea creatures, head upstairs to the open-air Easton’s Beach Carousel. Brought to Newport in 1958 from New York, the carousel is still in original condition and rides are $2 per child. Adjacent to the carousel is Easton’s Beach Snack Bar, serving local delights such as lobster rolls, clam strips and crab cakes. If the kids turn up their nose at these, don’t worry — there’s also kid-friendly fare such as hamburgers, chicken fingers and other delights.
Bellies full, venture out to Easton’s Beach (known as First Beach to the locals). The three-quarter-mile stretch of sand and ocean offers rolling waves that are great for surfing or boogie boarding.
The end of Easton’s Beach closest to Newport Town marks the beginning of the world-famous Cliff Walk, a three-and-a-half-mile public access walk that combines the beauty of Newport’s shoreline with its dramatic architecture. What makes the Cliff Walk unique is that it is a National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District. It’s a combination of paved, easy-to-navigate paths at its starting point and unpaved rocky areas that are more difficult to traverse, near its end. When taking children, be cautious throughout the trail; in some spots, the cliffs have drops of more than 70 feet. Along the walk, you will see some of the most beautiful coastline in all of New England, plus stunning mansions, wildflowers, birds and more.
A visit to Newport would not be complete without spending time in the town and bay itself. Get yourself some fabulous seafood (at The Mooring, Midtown Oyster Bar, Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant, to name a few); sign your crew up for a 90-minute lobster tour (we recommend Fish’n Tales Adventure Lobster Tours); hop aboard a lighthouse tour; sail away on a harbor cruise (try Gansett Cruises); parasail if you dare; shop ’til you drop at fancy boutiques; and indulge in local sweet treats (Liberty Donuts and Newport Fudgery are favorites). There is more than enough to do in this small town to fill an entire day and more.
If you have a car, hop across the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge to Conanicut Island. At the southernmost end of the island you’ll find Beavertail State Park, home to the Beavertail Lighthouse, the Lighthouse Museum, beautiful rocky overlooks and trails that you can discover on foot, a small aquarium and some of the best saltwater fishing in the area. Kids will delight in exploring the tide pools along the rocks to discover plant and animal life. If they have a bucket in hand, they can take their findings up to the small aquarium (free entry) for a marine biology lesson. Next to the aquarium is the Beavertail Lighthouse, which houses the Lighthouse Museum. Free of charge, the museum offers engaging lighthouse history through interactive videos, artifacts that include lighthouse keepers’ uniforms, gadgets and other memorabilia, and fascinating pictures and stories of shipwrecks in and around the area.
TIP: Beavertail State Park is one of the best places in the area to catch a gorgeous sunset, and is also a great place to fly kites. The lighthouse can only be ascended on certain days and kids must be 4 feet tall to climb the tower.
Sports-lovers out there will want to check out the schedule for the Newport Gulls, a summer collegiate baseball team, and get front-row tickets to one of the locals’ favorite family-friendly outings in the area. Tickets cost a whopping $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 13 to 18 and $1 for children 12 and under.
Picking seasonal fruit and flowers at Sweet Berry Farm is a popular pastime on the island in the summer and fall. The farm, situated on 100 acres of conserved land, is only a short distance from downtown Newport. The pick-your-own season begins in June, when the first strawberries ripen, and extends through December, when you can choose and cut your own Christmas tree. The farm cafe/restaurant and market has a wonderful selection of fresh food and is a great choice for lunch post-picking. There’s also a summer concert series Tuesday evenings in July and August with free live music and family-friendly fun.
Finally, be on the lookout for all of the unique, wonderful festivals — jazz, oysters, seafood, kite-flying, boat shows — that Newport hosts throughout the year. If you’re lucky enough, you just might hit one during your trip. Check out discovernewport.org and visitrhodeisland.com for excellent information when planning a Newport-based vacation.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Loren Braunohler.
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