Looking for top-notch dining, lodging, and attractions in the Ocean State? Here are nearly 30 picks from our editors for the best of Rhode Island.
By Yankee Magazine
Apr 22 2019
Best of Rhode Island 2019 | Great Northern BBQ Co.Photo Credit : Lara Pietropaolo/Courtesy of Great Northern BBQ Co.
Planning a Rhode Island vacation, day trip, or getaway? From dining and lodging to attractions that are well worth the drive, here are nearly 30 of our editors’ picks for the best of Rhode Island.
Sin is a lively space—all white-washed brick, ductwork, and wood with a full bar and look-through window to the bakery—but it’s quite all right if you only have eyes for the guilty pleasures it displays. By day, you’ll want an oversize pastry, savory biscuit, or whoopie pie with your tea or coffee, which can be flavored with house-made syrups such as smoked honey. At night, seven seasonal dessert-and-cocktail pairings are as sinful as their names (Greed, Lust, Envy, etc.) suggest. 401-369-8427
Park your preconceptions at the curb: This isn’t Southern, Texas-style, or Midwestern barbecue. Jimmy James Caruso—chef, master of the flames, and unapologetic carnivore—is brazenly creating New England’s own slow-smoked cuisine with a spice profile unlike anything on the map. (That’s sumac, for example, giving the rib rub its mysterious zing.) Wow-sized specials, like the 46-ounce tomahawk steak, butter-aged for 45 days, and 10-hour confit local pig head with house-made molé are worth a road trip if you have a few adventurous friends with big appetites. 401-421-1513
Want to coax a smile from a chef who’s been juggling frying pans for hours? Say “Cook me your best pasta,” and watch the penne, shrimp, chicken, and veggies dance in a vodka sauce bath. This all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch—served beneath the chandeliered ceiling of an architecturally magnificent 1891 stone church—has understandably devout fans. It’s part cooking theater, with chef-staffed omelet and carving stations, and part “Wow, I want to try all of this” buffet. And for $9.99 more, it’s practically sacrilegious not to tack on unlimited made-by-the-glass sangria, mimosas, and bloody Marys. 401-944-4900
You’re gonna need a bigger mouth… For 35 years, this strip-mall deli has been overfilling tummies with “Mousie’s Mighty Mouthfulls” sandwiches. Wrapping your brain around the under-$9 price is as tricky as attacking colossal creations like the Brando, loaded with hot roast beef, cream cheese, lettuce, onion, and Mousie’s own horseradish sauce. Even a “half”—which is actually a whole sandwich with more modest contents—is a handful. You’ll need a fork if you go big, especially for hot sandwiches: Meat and cheese come out of the antique hand-pumped steamer tender and oozy-licious. 401-737-3696
Simultaneously a trailblazer and one of the last of its kind, this zippy-looking Sterling Streamliner diner has been a community hub and source of pride since 1941. The “Modern” name may seem oxymoronic for a cash-only, all-day-breakfast spot with a perfectly retro interior, a nostalgic soup-to-meatloaf menu, and National Register of Historic Places status. But wait till you see the playful specials concocted in chef Nick Demou’s scratch kitchen—linguica hash omelets, lobster grits, butterscotch coconut almond pancakes, bacon-garnished breakfast cocktails—each one a visual and gustatory treat that explains the out-the-door lines. 401-726-8390
On a sun-drenched day, you can’t beat sitting on the deck of this seasonal shack with a plate of crunchy-fried, sweet whole bellies or strips and hand-cut onion rings, especially if you have nothing more to do than watch Wuskenau Beach dune grasses ripple. Beloved for its reasonable prices and community-mindedness, this family business’s commitment to serving wild-caught, sustainable, close-to-home seafood is so strong, on rare occasions when wild weather keeps clam boats ashore, you may find this menu item MIA. 401-348-9941
Your eyes will pop when you see how much homemade ice cream is plopped on kiddie cones at this roadside stand, and it all gets gloriously bigger from there. Waffle cones are epic; sundaes (try the hot apple crisp) look like an explosion of cherry-topped whipped cream. Act fast to capture snaps of colorful ice cream flavors like Dinosaur Crunch and Purple Cow. Inside, there’s a wall of penny candy bins and case of fresh-made fudge in 16 flavors—and these take-home treats, thankfully, won’t melt. 401-333-5053
In the tunnel-like 21-seat space where James Mark incubated his acclaimed restaurant, North (now in roomier Dean Hotel digs), the irreverently brilliant chef-preneur is back with a Japanese-inspired dining experience that is all about trust. You won’t find menus online. Make reservations anyway. Then, spend languid hours allowing well-choreographed chefs to deliver four or six courses or à la carte choices, with or without sake pairings. Dishes du jour are hand-scribbled in a notebook, whose back pages taunt foodies with missed opportunities: Salt Pond oysters, grilled pork and daikon, rock crab rice, almost-raw lobster.
On-the-water dining isn’t a three-month phenomenon at this fine-casual restaurant moored in a brick Victorian bridge gatehouse. Heaters and awnings extend the al fresco season on the wraparound deck, and there are Seekonk River views from practically every indoor table, too. Brown University owns rights to this stretch below the Henderson Bridge, and that keeps the river quiet save for crew boats. It’s the perfect calming ambience for savoring brunch or surf-and-wood-grilled-turf dinner specialties and selections from extensive beer and wine lists. 401-521-9229
Long-time artist and newly minted innkeeper Sarah Cooper’s eye for aesthetics and gift for making guests feel at home has quickly turned this year-old 10-room riverside B&B into yet another diamond in Chuck Royce’s Westerly hospitality portfolio. Like his larger projects—including Ocean House and Watch Hill Inn—the two mid-19th-century mansions that make up Margin Street Inn were just a preservation effort away from renewed elegance. Guests enjoy homemade breakfast spreads, lounging in the shade of the six-acre estate’s enormous beech trees, and nibbling cheeses and locally cured Soupy in the sunroom. 401-348-8710
Just 10 miles inland from ocean beaches, yet with so much on-site fun you might not leave once you park, Ashaway is the newest member of Zeman Homes’ RV resort collection. That doesn’t mean changes are afoot, though. Oh sure, there’ll be some new campfire entertainers on Saturday nights. But this eye-pleasing five-year-old property’s distinctive amenities—including a mini golf course, radio-control car track, kiddie train, and pool—are exactly what appealed to its new owner. Rent a cottage if you’re RV-less and want in on the fun. 401-377-8100
Built and operated with respect for its sensitive harborfront location, Rhode Island’s first hotel to achieve LEED certification has environmental best practices in its very bones. Most eco-conscious touches are subtle, so guests notice only the coolness of thoughtful features like newspapers delivered via iPad, luxuriously thick towels engineered to dry quickly, and a mesmerizing entryway mural made of a sustainable material: seashells. 401-846-8018
There’s a breakfast lounge now behind the wide arched doors that firefighters once charged through to battle Newport blazes. This preservation-minded city has yet another landmark—the red-brick, slate-roofed Newport Fire Department Hose Co. #6—turned one-of-a-kind inn. Five rooms and a studio are outfitted in contemporary neutrals with just a pop of fiery orange. While architectural details will remind you of the c. 1888 building’s working past, gourmet breakfasts prepared before your eyes, in-room spa services, and chartered outings aboard the motorboat Razzmatazz sound the siren: You’re on vacation. 401-845-9400
Imagine how tail-waggingly happy traveling canines are to find a pair of plush pet beds in this swanky boutique hotel’s lobby. But the Doggie Lounge, with its perpetually full jar of biscuits, is a mere hint of things to come. Rooms in this arts-and-literature-themed reinvented landmark are outfitted with snuggly beds and treats at check-in. And Yappy Hours in the restaurant’s courtyard on summertime Mondays feature specialty cocktails for you, a bottomless water bowl for your pooch. 401-861-8000
Superstorm Sandy’s wrecking of Maria’s Seaside Café and its handful of overnight rooms was a catalyst for the Bellone family to sink their Miscquamicut Beach hospitality roots even deeper. Late matriarch Maria would have adored the rebuilt restaurant and this cheery 31-unit boutique hotel, which opened last July across the street from prime sand. You’ll adore it too: Rooms are cottage-chic and spacious, breakfast is free, cute custom bikes are yours for the borrowing, and your beach bag and towels are waiting. Plus, you’re steps from your pillow if you overindulge on homemade ravioli … or margaritas. 401-622-4000
Tucked away on an elegant side street, this 1890 millwork factory creatively repurposed as an all-suite hotel couldn’t be more ideally situated. From the rooftop deck, you can survey your good fortune: Newport’s bustling harborfront is a block away, while attraction-lined Bellevue Avenue is a half-mile walk. You can even be at Easton’s Beach and the Cliff Walk in 20 minutes on foot. Breakfast is free, and so is a spread of teatime snacks that’s worth the hike back. 401-849-9500
With freshwater serenity all around and a nearly two-mile private beach a stroll away, even a brief escape here will whisk you light years from everyday life. Plus, a fleet of watercraft, from a humble pedal boat to the captained Quonnie Queen, make leaving terra firma behind a breeze. Naturalist Mark Bullinger’s rich programming includes crabbing outings for kids, bird-spotting beach walks, and even a weekly chance to turn found seashells and stones into jewelry: a souvenir that will remind you to inhale deeply. 855-679-2995
Imagine the healing power of a walk on the beach multiplied until you achieve pure, mindless relaxation. That’s the aim of the OH! Spa therapists, who will work to ensure you feel practically hypnotized from the moment you’re ensconced in this ivory-and-ocean-hued sanctuary. The saltwater lap pool and 24-hour fitness center are reserved for resort guests, but immersive spa experiences—including Wellness Wednesdays, featuring a yoga class, fitness workshop, hour-long massage, facial, and array of personalized well-being tips—are available to day visitors. 401-584-7000
Even if your budget is more ferry boat than cruise ship, you can savor a Caribbean-style escape this summer. Yup, we’re talking pristine sand, turquoise water, tiki bars, and seafood that spent last night in the Atlantic. Ballard’s is so close to Block Island’s ferry dock, it’ll be no time before you’re grasping a booze-filled pineapple and grooving to live music, playing volleyball with new friends, or ordering local oysters and lobster rolls for delivery to your blanket. Be sure to bring a few extra bucks to rent cushy lounge chairs and an umbrella. 844-405-3275
It’s been not quite five years since Kara and Matt Richardson, Rhode Island’s first 21st-century commercial hops growers, added a brewing operation at her family’s farm. They’ve made such waves with IPAs and other hopyard-to-glass ales—poured from 10 taps sold in limited can allotments—it’s taken an epic effort to meet the demands of fans undeterred by the dirt entry road. More expansion is on the horizon, so get there while the experience is still so rustic that a barn cat might drop down from the rafters to see what you’re sipping. 401-500-6765
Anyone who’s seen Hamilton knows what the founding fathers were up to in the nation-building years following the American Revolution. But what about everyday folks? At this living history museum anchored in 1799, you’ll step into the world of tenant farmers who eked out a living on the marshy shores of Narragansett Bay. Come prepared to lend a hand with planting heirloom seeds, tending endangered livestock breeds, and cooking over the hearth. 401-253-9062
This 220-acre Audubon Society of Rhode Island property is not a hiking destination for newbies. Your exertion will be rewarded, though, with bird sightings and views that have graced the big screen. From the Canonchet Road trailhead, follow the yellow-blazed trail about four miles out and back. A jungle of wild rhododendrons, steep natural and man-made steps, and glacial boulder scrambles stand between you and a Long Pond overlook that appeared in Wes Anderson’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom. 401-949-5454
America’s third-oldest zoo has been on an evolutionary fast track since a 20-year master plan was finalized in 2015. The latest addition: a glass-enclosed rain forest where exotic birds fly free, sloths dangle, howler monkeys wail, and giant river otters Fernando and Romo steal the show. No matter how you’ve traveled to this remarkably interactive zoo, you’ll leave with a critical understanding of the role you play in protecting our planet’s diversity. 401-785-3510
Take it from Todd Campbell, this multifaceted facility’s PGA pro: “The mini golf course is evil.” The degree of difficulty has an upside: Even if you play only one of two meticulously maintained 18-hole courses, you’ll probably get to see the volcano erupt in a wild display of fire, heat, and watery spray more than once. Play after dark under the lights for the best spectacle. With Par 3 and pitch-and-putt courses, a driving range with 60 all-weather and outdoor stalls, and batting cages too, you won’t mind being stranded on this island. 401-464-8855
Why pay catalog prices for rugs manufactured afar when you can hand-select Rhode Island–made braided rounds and oblongs at prices that are practically a steal during monthly sales? For 42 years, Colonial Mills has preserved traditional rug-making in the city where the American textile industry was born; last year, it represented Rhody at the White House’s “Made in America” product showcase. It’s bliss just to admire the colors and designs displayed in the wide-open showroom, where you’ll be tempted by braided baskets and accessories even if you’re the wall-to-wall-carpet type. 401-724-6840
Flame-colored kayaks are back on the city’s rivers for the third season, evidence that the Providence and the Woonasquatucket are the cleanest they’ve been since the industrial revolution. Paddling on your own or with a guided group isn’t just the most active and unusual way to admire Providence’s architecture and graceful bridges: If you scoop up five pieces of trash along the way, you’ll save $5 on your next rental … and keep the momentum to revitalize these celebrated waterways flowing. 401-829-1769
Doors on or off? It’s your call when you book a sightseeing or point-to-point flight out of Westerly or Block Island state airports aboard a Robinson R44 helicopter. The 15-minute Block Island Experience and 10-minute Watch Hill tour are popular with first-timers, but this is the rare thrill you can customize. The ultimate option? A romantic dinner trip to Winfield’s with a sunset swoop around Block Island. 401-859-1001