Last weekend I visited the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (yes, that is its official name) for the first time in my life. Not quite sure why I was never there before considering I have relatives who live very close by in Swansea, Massachusetts. I only wish I had visited sooner, because Rhode Island is simply gorgeous.
While certainly small in geographic area (1,214 square miles), Rhode Island contains a surprising wealth of topography. Arriving from the north along State Route 146, one is introduced to the rolling terrain of that portion of the Ocean State. Our route to Newport led through a variety of ecosystems including the outstanding Narragansett Bay and its numerous sub-watersheds.
My son commented that he “never knew Rhode Island contained so many islands.” I would have to agree. Throw in the coves, inlets, ponds, wetlands, and many other water features and you a delightfully lovely and intriguing state.
Newport itself, rests upon a magnificent setting and is an amazing city to behold. From its historic buildings, to its seafaring and sailing heritage, to the cobblestone streets, to the quaint shops and restaurants, to its lovely ocean and bay side location, and to its finely maintained and opulent mansions, Newport is easily rates as the most unique smaller waterfront city on the East Coast to this urban planner. Only Portsmouth, New Hampshire comes close in my book.
By the way, I would rate either Astoria, Oregon or Ketchikan, Alaska as the most unique smaller coastal city on the Pacific Coast; Galveston, Texas most unique on the Gulf Coast; and either Saugatuck or Marquette, Michigan as the most unique smaller city on the Great Lakes. Newport very much reminded me of Annapolis, but without the corresponding heavy traffic and gridlock. I am sure there are times Newport is packed too, but Annapolis is losing much of its identity to DC area sprawl. It is sad to see this happen, as Annapolis is definitely unique. Cadets from the U.S. Naval War College roam the city streets in Newport along with the gawking tourists, and local residents much in the same way you see cadets from the Naval Academy in and about Annapolis. While the city’s naval presence is much smaller than it was in the first decades following World War II, the nautical and naval feel of the community are palpable.
The best and “coolest” way to be introduced to Newport, Rhode Island is to approach it from the west and cross the two huge bridge spans over the lower west (Jamestown Bridge) and east passages (Newport Bridge) of Narragansett Bay. I believe the best way to take in Newport would be to bicycle the city and the surrounding scenery – though be careful along the winding and narrow streets. during peak tourist season, they could be treacherous. Otherwise, there are tours galore via a variety of means of transport. While we did not have a chance to take in Providence, we returned to Boston along and near the eastern shores of Narragansett and Mt. Hope bays. This routing only served to re-enforce the image of a lovely small state with a very long official name, that has a tremendous wealth of opportunities for both visitors and residents alike. If you are traveling in New England and don’t visit Rhode Island, you are making a big mistake, for this small state will provide many lasting memories.