Family Vacation: 24 Hours in Newport, Rhode Island
By Eileen Gunn
On previous, childfree trips to Newport, RI, we grooved in the hot sun at the famous Folk Festival, kayaked Narragansett Bay, slurped raw clams and drank a lot of beer. These activities weren’t likely to go over well with Tiny Traveler, age 4.5, so I wondered what we would do during a 24-hour stopover on the way from Mystic, CT to Cape Cod.
As it turned out, there was more to do than we had time for.
We arrived at noon and immediately headed to Bowen’s wharf for a boat tour of the harbor. The wind and sun on an outdoor deck can be a lot for a little kid, so we chose the Majestic, which has some inside seating. TT looked at the boats, the fancy houses and the action in the harbor while I listened to a tour that included local history, sailing trivia and gossip about who owned which yacht and who had partied in which mansion. TT was content for the hour it lasted, but started to get squirmy toward the end.
After lunch and a swim in the pool at the perfectly located Newport Harbor Hotel & Marina*, we took a walk down Thames Street, window-shopping and admiring the harbor views. We stopped at Kilwin’s candy store, across from Bowen’s Wharf to watch workers dip caramel apples and bought Oreas and pretzels dipped in chocolate for after dinner.
Our walk came to an abrupt halt at O’Brien’s, a pub on lower Thames with a large outdoor pati. Little kids ran around a large stone fountain in the center, harvesting plastic ducks and fish with toy crab nets while their parents relaxed with their happy hour pints. TT was sold and so was I.
Most of the food is standard bar fare but the waitress told me the cod was local so I decided to stay for dinner and ordered the fish & chips. The crust was thin and crunchy and well seasoned (not your usual puffy beer batter), and pleasantly surprised me. I even managed to lure TT away from the fountain long enough to eat half of it with me.
The next day we headed out toward “First” beach (Easton’s) on Memorial Drive. We got there early and snagged a coveted metered parking spot ($2/hour for three hours max) so we didn’t have to pay $10 to park in the beach parking lot.
The Sea Cliff walk starts just before the beach and we walked the first leg of it, stopping for photos at the 40 steps. If you’re not going to the beach, parking on Narragansett Avenue will put you closer to the Breakers and other impressive “cottages.”
Hit the Beach
Though I hear it can get busy, Easton’s Beach wasn’t crowded on a weekday morning and it has a lot for kids to do. TT played in the sand and the shallow low-tide water, ran around an old but serviceable playground and rode an antique carousel ($1/ride). There was also a bouncy slide ($6/day) and a small aquarium ($6; free for kids under 3), plus showers, changing rooms and a clam shack.
The restaurants on the wharf are pricey and busy but kid friendly and generally good. After our boat ride we stopped at 22 Bowen’s, where TT had a burger and I had a salad. But all the in-the-know local diners around us were ordering the lobster grilled cheese, piled high with plump, pink lobster meat. I almost went back at dinner to try it.
After the beach we hopped over to nearby Flo’s, a well-known seafood shack. TT got a kick out of the patio’s desert island theme, especially eating her hot dog under a shaggy pink umbrella. But the food is hit-or-miss. Fried clam bellies were piled high and good, but the “stuffy” (a large stuffed quahog) was short on clam, long on breading and oddly sticky.
We passed through Newport on another leg of our journey and ate at Scales and Shells, a place on lower Thames that’s quiet around 6:00 but jumping by 7:30. There’s no kids menu but you can make a kid’s dinner from sides or half-portions. TT had spaghetti and grilled asparagus. My clams Neopolitan, bursting with clam juice and garlic, was easily the best thing I ate, on our entire East Coast trip.
I thought TT was too young for the mansion tours (they’re expensive and can take up to 90 minutes per house). But if you want a peak at Gilded Age splendor, the Breakers http://www.newportmansions.org/ has a family-oriented audio tour that features stories about the Vanderbilt children and tales from staff members who spent their childhoods there.
If you’d like a morning that’s fun and free, a few Newporters suggested heading out to Brenton Point State Park. On windy mornings, especially on the weekend, you can picnic and watch a lot of kite flying (you can pick up a kite for yourself on Thames St).
One thing we really wanted to do and didn’t was to visit Thames Glass. In the afternoon, kids 7 and older can help a parent create an ornament, paperweight or vase ($30 and up). Families with younger kids can stop by to watch the glass blowing anytime.
So, we already have a list of things to do on a return trip— plus I’d get another crack at that lobster sandwich …
*We were guests of the Discover Newport http://www.gonewport.com/ at this hotel.