Thursday, August 27, 2015

Newport, Rhode Island

Newport is more upscale than the casual beach towns of Cape Cod or Maine, but we still found it to be very kid-friendly. There's a wide range of activities in the area, from touring millionaires' mansions to boogie boarding at the beach.

What to Do

People come from all over the world to see the mansions of Newport, but they can be a hard sell for kids. If you visit just one mansion, make it The Breakers, the largest of them all. It even has a kid-friendly audio tour, with a narration that explains what life was like for the obscenely wealthy Vanderbilt children staying in the mansion during their summers at the turn of the century.

Running behind the Breakers is Cliff Walk, Newport's scenic pathway along the shoreline. The walkway is about 3.5 miles in length and the path can get quite rocky; for a safe, abbreviated hike, start at the 40 Steps entry point on Narragansett Avenue and walk for less than a mile to the Marine Avenue exit. You can head over to Bellvue Avenue to catch a trolley going back to Narragansett.

The Topiary Gardens in Portsmouth are a part of the Newport Mansion Tours, even though they're actually located about 20 minutes north. What makes this attraction cool are all the animal-shaped hedges and bushes in the vast, manicured garden. My kids spent a lot of time drawing them in their sketchpads. There's also a large Victorian dollhouse display in the house on the grounds.

There are about half a dozen beaches in Newport, and the biggest and best of them is Easton's, aka First Beach. Here you'll find a playground, carousel, souvenir shop, boogie board rentals, and snack bar (get the twin lobster rolls!). Sachuest, or Second Beach, is a quieter, more laid-back experience.

Where to Eat

For waterfront dining, head over to Lobster Bar on Bowen's Wharf. The food and ambiance may be casual, but the sunset over the water is seriously beautiful.

A better food experience can be found at Midtown Oyster Bar, situated in a gorgeous, high-ceilinged building in downtown Newport. The oyster menu is impressive, and I kept stealing bites of my kids' mac 'n' cheese – it was so good.

There's usually a line going out the door at Kilwin's Ice Cream, but it's totally worth waiting on it. The ice cream there was so yummy we went back twice  and that's saying a lot, considering how difficult it is to park in the area!

What's Nearby

Rose Island is a quick jaunt from Newport, just 15 minutes by ferry from the Jamestown Newport Ferry dock. The boat ride is a fun experience in and of itself, and once on Rose Island, you can visit a cute little lighthouse and climb to the top of it. My kids loved going up the ancient, narrow staircase and using the binoculars provided at the summit to look out over Narragansett Bay.

If you're into biking as a family, Rhode Island has some truly gorgeous dedicated bike paths. We did the flat, 8-mile South County Bike Path starting from Kingston Station (about 25 minutes from Newport), and it was scenic and easy for our kids (now ages 8 and 11) to manage. You'll pass a nice playground along the way, and we found a pizzeria called Pier Pizza serving delicious calzones while passing through the town of Wakefield on the trail.