Updated: 6 days ago
When our romantic trip to Italy got canceled this year due to…unforeseen circumstances (thanks Corona), my boyfriend and I knew we still wanted to take a trip somewhere over the summer while he was off from work. Last year we ventured to the Berkshires for the first time and had such a blast - it was the first trip we ever planned together and it was perfect. Woodsy, relaxing, filled with art and music and tons of food. We debated going there again and repeating some of our favorite activities, but part of us also wanted to try something new.
I’d never heard much about Rhode Island or really thought about it much (sometimes I even forget it’s a state!), but when I saw a group of my girlfriends travel to the beautiful coastal city of Newport and have such a great time, I really had the urge to go check it out for myself. (My girlfriends in this case are the Real Housewives of New York City - a guilty pleasure of mine, of which I have many. Hey, I visited Dubrovnik, Croatia during my study abroad back in college because they went there on an episode of The Bachelorette, and it was as stunning as expected, so…sometimes these reality shows give you the best travel ideas!) Anyway, for our summer 2020 trip, Newport it was!
It’s always fun traveling to a new place and trying something new, but it’s also, usually, always stressful. It’s hard when you don’t have much pre-existing knowledge of a place or many people to ask about their experiences. (I couldn’t just phone up Ramona or Tinsley.) Also, Newport is expensive AF. Ha, I should’ve known. So here we are trying to get the first step nailed down - our lodging - and we’re having a very difficult time and being rather indecisive. We can’t figure out if we should go for a hotel or bed and breakfast vibe, if we should prioritize a pool (although some aren’t open) or a place with an ocean view, if we should be on the water or in the middle of downtown - we were going in blind. A king bed is always necessary and a bathtub is always nice, but the perfect combination can be really hard to find. We spent hours and days (truly) trying to figure it out. We were flexible with dates, which helped, but that didn’t make our indecisiveness any easier. We realized very quickly that it is much cheaper to travel to Newport during the week than on the weekends - like $300-400 a night cheaper. So…not a problem - let’s go during the week!
We eventually started settling on the last week of July and narrowing down our options a bit, but were still not in love with any of them. At this point, we were exhausted and we hadn’t even booked the trip yet! So many options, so many choices, so many things to think about (including price). We did one final sweep through the 30 tabs we had open on both of our computers about to pull the trigger on something, despite it not feeling quite right, and then...we found even more options - ones we had initially looked over. The Discover Newport website has a list of 79 (!) Inns and B&Bs to choose from - some of which we had already looked into and ruled out, others we had not.
In this final final sweep, while trying to hit all of our vacation checkboxes and find our true remaining options, we discovered the Hilltop Inn. It was right in the middle of everything, was updated and fresh but still had that unique home-y Victorian vibe, had A/C (surprisingly not all of them did), a gym, offered free parking, lots of common space both indoors and out to roam and relax, usually provided breakfast but due to Covid they were offering free snacks daily instead, the room had a jacuzzi bathtub, separate rain shower, king bed, gas fireplace, and a private deck - AND upon us calling to check availability they were running a buy two nights get the third night free special! It was truly perfection - our “perfect combination”. We hung up with them to “discuss”, freaked out over how perfect it was, compared it to everything else still on the chopping block, and decided we’d be silly to pass this up. So we called back and booked pretty immediately. After hours and hours of searching and getting frustrated and second-guessing, we finally did it. We found a place and we were going to Newport!
Now, the fun part - planning. I love planning with a passion. Scheduling my days and filling in/color-coordinating my calendar truly brings me so much joy. I like creating a structure for my time and then allowing for flexibility within that. I find it’s the best way to travel and leads to the most fulfilling experiences. Thank GOD my boyfriend operates the same way and is always willing to indulge me on the scheduling-front. He even starts us a Google doc for each trip we take - man, do I love him. (You should’ve seen our Italy itinerary - it was to die for! One day it’ll happen, God-willing, and then one day I will get to share it.)
So we start a Google doc and we start planning - searching for all of the unique experiences under the sun and all of the killer, most popular places to eat. I did have a friend of a friend (who had her wedding there) send me a list of recommendations, which was very helpful, and the Inn sent over some as well, which was great. We knew we wanted a beach day, so that would be dependent on weather, and I also was dying to get on a sailboat. Stopping by a winery, checking out the historic mansions, and doing some shopping were also on the checklist. So we started with that. Then from there we peppered in dinner reservations, based on their availability, and the itinerary began to take form.
We drove into Newport from Providence on Sunday morning. We decided to extend the trip a bit by making a pitstop in Providence on the way in. Since we wouldn’t have a pool in Newport, we found a wonderful hotel with a pool in Providence and got some good R&R there. The Marriott Downtown was beautiful and the perfect location to walk around and explore this quaint capital city along the river. We had the most delicious Italian meal Saturday evening at Massimo on Federal Hill - Providence’s own Little Italy. It was our first indoor dining experience in quite a while and they really knew how to make us feel safe, and special.
We were able to check into the Inn around noon on Sunday, unpack, refresh, and go explore. When I first arrive in a new area, I like to get my things settled, claim the space a bit, and then go for a walk and get my bearings. It’s probably a habit I developed from all of those years of touring, but it really helps to make you feel grounded as quickly as possible. Let me tell you, we lucked out with good weather all four days. Especially with the way these summer storms have been. It was bright and sunny and upper 80s from the second we got there until the second we left. We had a nice time walking around a bit, we went down Bellevue over Memorial and up Thames, taking in all the cute little shops, nooks and crannies we’d want to later investigate. We walked down all the piers, viewed the wharfs, and gazed at the marinas along the harbor. It was surprisingly crowded for the state of the world at the moment, but I guess everyone has just been itching to get away, and Newport is a safe, drivable distance for us North Easterners. We were a bit famished by this point and decided to stop by 22 Bowen’s for a light lunch. They had a nice table available inside along the water with comfortable chairs, refreshing beverages, and delicious chilled shrimp cocktail. The start of my seafood journey had begun.
After some nosh, we head up the hill back to our room to freshen up for our Newport Vineyards adventure. They are not currently doing tastings, however, they do offer $16 wine flights with a reservation. Alex and I sample through twelve different wines, ranking them as we go, enjoying the sunny vineyard view, and walk away with five bottles. The Dry Rose made with Pinot Noir grapes was delicious, as was the Moon Song Chardonnay, and the Rising Tide (half chard, half sauv blanc). We also really liked the Pinot Noir!
For dinner on Sunday we decide to dress up (although, when do we ever not dress up?) and go to a nice fancy French restaurant right on Thames Street called Bouchard. We have, what feels like, our own private dining room, with the separate hallway and dividers between the tables. Our waiter was very personable and we had a very memorable dinner. Highlights of the meal were definitely the Salade aux Poires et au Roquefort with mixed greens, warm pears, roasted walnut, blue cheese, and balsamic, the Re-Stuffed Lobster and Scallops with truffle, gruyere cheese and lobster sauce, which I got for my main, and the Creme Brûlée. I also tried a soufflé for the first time! (I figured it was almost necessary at a French restaurant.) We came back to the room, enjoyed a nice bath, and watched Clueless - it was bliss.
Monday morning we catch some rays on our private deck overlooking Kay Street as we talk through the day. It was already a hot one! We lather up with sunscreen and set off on foot to find the famous Newport Cliff Walk. It is everything you want it to be and more with absolutely stunning views of both land and sea, and it’s a great way to view the island. We walk south on the trail about a mile and a half, stopping and gawking along the way. Then, unable to locate an Uber or a Lyft (quite impossible in this beach town, so be prepared), we walk the two miles back to our Inn to cool off - we certainly got our steps in that day!
We clean up and take a drive to Castle Hill Inn - the one those housewives made (in)famous. We have a reservation at The Lawn at Castle Hill, which is the attached restaurant fit with sprawling panoramic views of the water - sailboats abound. It was absolutely breathtaking and the best lunch spot I have ever been to, hands down. We order delicious cocktails (I highly recommend the Blood Orange Bellini) and take in the view. It is hard to get over. Next we split a true classic, New England clam chowder, and it is absolutely to die for - the seasoning was on point and the clams delicate and sweet. Then, I get my necessary lobster roll - always a must-have on a true beach-by-the-sea vacation. It was delicious and very satisfying, but let me tell you about the fries that came with it! I was in heaven eating these fries - truly. I’m still dreaming about them. They were so crispy that they were almost like eating air. And they were perfectly salty and topped with Old Bay seasoning, which made them irresistible. I don’t say this lightly and I have had quite a few fries in my day, but these were the BEST fries I have ever had in my life. Worth going to Newport just for that! Seriously.
We wander down onto the lawn afterwards to view the grounds and take some time on this little private cliff down by the water where you could see Castle Hill Lighthouse in the distance. It was a beautiful moment and to this day one of my favorites. We watched the boats pass, held each other, breathed in the salty air, and felt the sunshine on our faces. We paused for a moment. This is true happiness, true satisfaction - experiencing new, fun things with a loved one, no matter how simple or how extravagant, and taking a moment to just breathe and be grateful.
It was now time to head back and get ready for what we (I) were looking forward to most - a sunset wine and cheese sail on the Schooner Aurora. Could this day get any more romantic?! Leaving from Goat Island, we cruised along the Narragansett Bay as we sipped our newly purchased Newport Chardonnay, snacked on brie and crackers, cuddled, took many a photo, and watched the sun set behind the Newport Bridge. It was also quite a show watching the crew work from start to finish. At $40 per person you really get your money’s worth and it’s an experience not to be missed! I would do it again in a heartbeat. It’s a very calming and invigorating experience all at once. You might think that ends our day, but we’re not even close!
We have dinner reservations Monday night at the Safari Room - part of Ocean Cliff Hotel - another gem. It also sits on top of a hill and overlooks the same bay we were just sailing, but now the sun has set and there’s a nice breeze blowing through the trees and a calming hue over the water. We split another clam chowder, to compare of course, a delicious garden salad, and I have one of the best pieces of swordfish I have ever had. Guys, I am serious, Newport is killing it with their food game! The fish was cooked perfectly and topped with juicy bell pepper, basil, and roasted corn, and was on a bed of jasmine rice cooked with shallot and lemon butter. Again, it was to die for, and I rarely rave about swordfish, but something about it was calling my name and I am so glad I ordered it.
But wait, there’s more! We ended our evening driving back to Goat Island and ordering some bourbon (one of our favs) and dessert by our own private fire pit at Gurney’s Resort & Marina Lounge. It was the perfect way to end a most perfect day and the Chocolate Cookie Dough Torte was truly the cherry on top. Again, I highly recommend. As you’re probably realizing, there’s really nothing on this trip that I don’t highly recommend. We really hit it all!
Now if this would have concluded our time in Newport, I would have been completely satisfied. Both days were truly exquisite and it felt like we had found the real spirit of Newport. But man oh man am I glad we still had another day and a half to explore all that Newport had to offer - and it offers quite a bit!
Tuesday morning we got up nice and early to start our beach day off right. We picked up some breakfast to go at the Corner Cafe on Broadway - a hoppin’ spot for breakfast any day of the week. My Luna Breakfast Burrito was absolutely delicious and so filling I split it up to eat for both breakfast and lunch. We got to Easton’s Beach by 9:30 and were able to park in the adjacent lot for $15. We were happy to discover that the lot was quite open at this time, because other nearby parking is few and far between. We found a great spot on the sand, socially distanced from others, with a perfect view of the pale blue waves and the Cliff Walk we had ventured on the day before. It was serene. Just what the doctor ordered. I took a nap in the pure sunshine for over an hour, enjoyed half of my burrito, listened to some chill house music that truly fit the vibe of the morning, and then sipped on the Loyal spiked lemonade we had brought - a product local to and only available in Rhode Island, and a few other neighboring states. (It actually went really well with my leftover iced tea I had purchased from Corner Cafe a few hours earlier.) We definitely got our tan (read: burn) on, enjoyed the weather, took a stroll, jumped the waves for quite a while, and got extremely salty and sandy - everything you could want in a beach day, and it was only 2:30!
Next up on the docket was The Breakers - the 1895 70-room summer home, turned historical landmark, of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. It’s the most popular of the nine Newport Mansions operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County and sits on 14 acres of land backed up against the Cliff Walk and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in all its majesty. It was incredibly opulent and truly makes you fantasize about what it would have been like to be alive at that time, having dinner under crystal chandeliers next to rose alabaster columns and playing pool in the marble encrusted billiards room with mahogany finishes. The solid marble bathtub in Mr. Vanderbilt’s bathroom was my favorite, of course. It was luscious and detailed and deep, and featured four brass spigots for both hot and cold water, fresh and salt. What a novelty! You are only able to view two of the mansion's five floors, but you certainly still get a proper feel for the Vanderbilt’s “summer cottage”. (I don’t know how they lived without A/C though!) Per Covid regulations, the tour was self-guided and set up in a one-way fashion. There were friendly, knowledgable staff members positioned throughout the entirety to enforce protocol and answer any questions you might have. You also get free rein of the grounds afterwards, which is beautiful to roam on a nice sunny day. The last admission to the Breakers is at 5pm, but you have until 6 to explore. The grand front gates upon entrance and exit are also most certainly a perfect photo op!
After our full day of beaching and browsing, we decide it’s time for a cocktail by the water. We find Skiff Bar, located at the Newport Marriott - a great setting and out of the way of tourist traffic. It was very pleasant and sported a fabulous Rum Runner cocktail. We then go home to freshen, and gussy, up for our last supper. Reservations Tuesday night were at the Midtown Oyster Bar right in the middle of Thames Street. They didn’t have seating on their upper deck available, as I had requested, but they were able to seat us right out front at a high top table which still had a sliver of a view and was very private. This menu though! It was hard not to want to try everything…but we did our best. Buffalo Fried Oysters with house remoulade. Need I say more? Get them. When will you ever try something like that in your life again? The Lobster & Corn Chowder - impeccable! One of the best soups I’ve ever had. I mean, it was combining two of my favorite things, so how can you go wrong?! And the Baby Kale Salad was such a winner as well! It was the perfect combination of organic greens, feta cheese, black olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled red onion, and Marcona almonds for a crunch, all tossed with a pleasantly tart, yet subtle, champagne vinaigrette. I had the Baked Sea Scallops with butter crumb topping, sherry, and garlic butter as my main, and Alex the Steak Frites, and we were very satisfied and satiated. However…we still managed to find some room for a few scoops of Kilwin’s ice cream afterwards down the block and MAN was it pure heaven - the sea salt caramel, the cappuccino chocolate chip, and the fresh homemade waffle cone were scrumdiddlyumptious and definitely worth the extra stop!
We ended our night with some Newport wine, sitting outside under the stars on the dimly lit public patio (although we had it all to ourselves), cuddling up on the enormous L-shaped outdoor sectional, and reminiscing about our time well-spent in Newport and how picturesque it all was. We truly lucked out with our B&B selection. Although, we did put quite a bit of time and research into finding the right one, so it was indeed more hard work than luck I suppose. But nevertheless, it truly was the perfect place to stay. The bed was insanely comfortable - one of the best beds I’ve ever slept in (I'm not hyperbolizing). The bathroom was a true oasis, very spa-like and refreshing. The deck was a surprising addition we didn’t even know we needed, but having that little bit of private outdoor space to relax and regroup was precious. The walk-in closet was huge and very necessary for all of the over-packing we did (and always do). There was a writing desk, a comfortable arm chair, an ambient gas fireplace with a proper mantle, and beautifully appointed artwork throughout. There was a fully stocked game room on the main floor, a sitting room with beautiful armchairs, a breakfast room overlooking the gardens, and a dining room with an epic dining table and china cabinet. And everywhere you looked there were fresh cut flowers meticulously arranged. We had such a pleasant time at the Hilltop Inn, we basically started counting down the days to our return upon our departure.
We woke up Wednesday with sleepies in our eyes and warm memories in our hearts. What a full few days it had been. But I still wanted to do some shopping! Alex so sweetly offered to run over to the Picnic Cafe around the corner and get us some breakfast sandwiches. We enjoyed them out on the deck as we gazed upon the passersby. Then we cleaned up and packed, sealing up all of our adventure-filled clothing once again. Oh, all the things it has seen. We expressed our gratitude to our host, filled the car, and then sauntered back down the hydrangea-saturated hill to Thames Street - the hubbub of it all. We took our time going in and out of every shop that peeked our interest. Some highlights include: the local artists’ shop at Sheldon Fine Art, decked out with intricate, astounding paintings from the provincial scene; Pink Pineapple, a premier clothing boutique filled with colors, textures, and nautical coverings; Fat Face, a favorite of ours in the Berkshires, and a fresh, fun chain you can find in all of your favorite beach-laden towns; and Inpopnito, a gourmet popcorn shop with limitless flavors (“disguises”) which we initially popped into just for a water and ended up leaving with two bags, as the salivation factor was inescapable. I highly suggest the Cheesy Garlic Bread (also a favorite of the friendly employee).
We concluded our shopping section of the trip with a hearty lunch and a thirst-quenching cocktail at Smoke House on Scotts Wharf. My nachos “appetizer” was one of the best nacho concoctions I’ve ever head - mostly, I think, due to their delectable house fried chips - and I’ve had quite a many nacho in my day. Alex raved about his grilled chicken breast sandwich, and our Summer Crush and Peach Bourbon Tea cocktails were delectable and certainly helped us beat the heat. While not necessarily a go-to when you think of a seaside town, this BBQ joint really hit the spot and we thoroughly enjoyed our covered outdoor pedestrian-viewing vantage point.
It was now officially time to conclude our stay in the delightfully inviting and invigorating city of Newport. Sun-kissed, restored, and brimming with joy, we drove over the bridge looking back at the water and coast that had given us so much. Newport was filled with a lot of things for us - vacation, romance, escape, suspension, relaxation, adventure, and fun. It seeped into all the pockets of our quarantine-locked hearts and gave us peace. Serenity. It gave us hope.
Rhode Island’s State Seal features an anchor with the word “hope” above it. We first discovered this seal during our meandering of Providence through Waterplace Park. It is believed this symbol and statement, one strewn out all over RI, is derived from the book of Hebrews in the Bible - “...we who have fled to Him can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” (6:18-19 NLT). It is not lost on me the overarching message to all this; the theme, the lesson that God is trying to instill in my slightly anxious, overwhelmed, Covid-19-influenced soul. Be present, be grateful, be seeking...and be hopeful. A little bit of clarity we could all use at the moment. Maybe a Rhode trip will initiate the same for you.
A Breakdown of Our Newport Itinerary:
12pm: Check into Hilltop Inn and get settled
1pm: Walk around and explore
2pm: Lunch at 22 Bowens
4:30pm: Newport Vineyards
8:30pm: Dinner at Bouchard Restaurant and Inn
11am: Quick Breakfast at Picnic Cafe
12pm: Newport Cliff Walk
2:30pm: Lunch at the Lawn at Castle Hill Inn
6-8pm: Sunset Wine & Cheese Sail on the Schooner Aurora
8:30pm: Dinner at the Safari Room
10pm: Dessert at the Lounge & Firepit at Gurney’s Resort and Marina
8:30am: Pick up breakfast at the Corner Cafe
9:30a-2:30p: Easton’s Beach
4-5:30pm: The Breakers Mansion Tour
6pm: Cocktail at Skiff Bar
8pm: Dinner at Midtown Oyster Bar
9:45pm: Ice Cream at Kilwin’s
9:30am: Bring breakfast from Picnic Cafe back to the room
10am: Pack up
11am: Shop on Thames
3pm: Lunch at Smoke House