Travel

10 Reasons to Drive to Newport, Rhode Island

From Gatsby-esque mansions to sandy beaches and stellar clam shacks.

Discover Newport
Discover Newport
Discover Newport

Founded in the 1600s as a ramshackle seaside colony, Newport has gone on to become the crown jewel of Rhode Island’s tourism industry-yet, it’s still surprisingly underrated when it comes to vacation destinations across the northeastern USA. It’s understandable though, considering how it’s sandwiched between two of the greatest cities to ever exist (NYC and Boston-don’t @ me.)

With ample opportunity for outdoor recreation, a booming nightlife scene, and enough calamari to humble a grown man, it’s easy to see how this charming refuge became a playground for the ultra-rich during the Gilded Age. And even if your bank account doesn’t exactly rival the Vanderbilts of yore, you can still have a blast exploring Rhode Island’s historic gem-here’s how.

Discover Newport
Discover Newport
Discover Newport

Gawk at spectacular architecture

Long before the days of launching cosmetics lines or launching themselves into space, America’s most exorbitantly wealthy families spent their time in a somewhat different manner-namely, building earth-shatteringly beautiful (and expensive) mansions along Newport’s dramatic seaside cliffs.

From the Versailles-inspired Rosecliff to the opulent structures scattered across Salve Regina University’s campus, Newport is positively bursting with stunning displays. The real crown jewel, however, is undoubtedly the Breakers. Built in the 1890s at the behest of Cornelius Vanderbilt, this 70-room palace is home to massive crystal chandeliers, painstakingly crafted life-sized portraits, and a staggering collection of sculptures and other art installations. Book a self-guided tour and see for yourself-real estate envy is all but guaranteed.

Flo's Clam Shack
Flo’s Clam Shack
Flo’s Clam Shack

Gorge yourself on on succulent seafood

As Jay-Z and Beyoncé once said in their smash hit single ‘03 Bonnie & Clyde, “All I need in this life of sin is clam chowder and calamari in downtown Newport.” Okay, maybe that’s not the exact quote, but we like to imagine they’d back us up on this one.

It’s a well-known fact that clam chowder runs through the veins of New Englanders the region over, and Newport is chock-full of this savory ambrosia. For creamy New England-style chowder, The Black Pearl, Jo’s American Bistro, The Mooring, and The Red Parrot are top destinations, while those in search of the lesser-known Rhode Island-style clam chowder (clear broth rather than cream-based) should make the short trip east to Flo’s Clam Shack, a beloved pub that’s been serving high-quality seafood since the 1930s.

Of course, no trip to Rhode Island is complete without experiencing the Ocean State’s take on calamari. Delightfully crispy and loaded with tart, spicy banana peppers, this dish was officially designated the State Appetizer in 2014, and can be found in abundance across Newport. To get your squid on, head to the eclectic Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant, or check out Benjamin’s, primed and ready to make all your cephalopod-filled dreams come true.

Cliff Walk - Newport RI, 02840
Cliff Walk – Newport RI, 02840
Cliff Walk – Newport RI, 02840

Get your steps in on the Newport Cliff Walk

In the mood to exercise but don’t feel like confining yourself to the hotel gym? Let the crisp sea air and stunning natural beauty of the Cliff Walk sweeten the deal. With 3.5 miles of sweeping ocean views, this seaside trail is Newport’s top spot for breaking a sweat in style.

If you’re in the mood for a challenge, the craggy and unpaved stretch of trail from Reject’s Beach to Belmont Beach is your best bet, while the paved northern portion provides a gentler experience for the less adventurous set. Even if you’re not in the mood to get physical, be sure to make a quick stop at the Ruggles Avenue entrance, where you’ll immediately be met with a dazzling panorama of the Breakers mansion.

White Horse Tavern
White Horse Tavern
White Horse Tavern

Immerse yourself in local history

Renowned for its high concentration of Colonial-era landmarks, you can’t throw a stone in the Newport Historic District without hitting a storied antique (side note: we highly discourage throwing stones anywhere downtown).

Among the treasures, several structures across the city stand as a testament to the city’s lengthy history of religious freedom. The Great Friends Meeting House was built in 1699 as a hub for the local Quaker community, while the 1760s-era Touro Synagogue is recognized as the oldest synagogue in the nation. Of course, no visit to Newport is complete without a drink at White Horse Tavern. Said to be the oldest bar in the United States, this polished watering hole has been serving up ales, wines, and whiskeys to thirsty customers since the mid-1600s.

Cliffside Inn
Cliffside Inn
Cliffside Inn

Live it up in a luxury accomodation

From dazzling seaside manors to trendy boutique inns, Newport has you covered when it comes to Gatsby-quality stays. If you’re yearning for the Gilded Age treatment, consider The Cliffside Inn-a 16-room boutique hotel operating out of a Victorian-era mansion-or splurge on a few nights at the supremely opulent Castle Hill Inn, a Relais & Chateaux palace perched on 40 verdant acres along Newport’s westernmost coast.

For a decidedly modern feel, Forty 1° North encompasses cozy cottages and polished penthouses just a few steps from Bowen’s Wharf, and also serves as the first LEED-certified hotel in the Ocean State. Just north of downtown Newport, the picturesque Wayfinder Hotel seamlessly blends vintage New England charm with a contemporary aesthetic, offering a wealth of prime relaxation opportunities after a long day of exploring the city. Be sure to take full advantage of the poolside cocktail service, and once dinner time rolls around, onsite restaurant Nomi Park is your one-stop-shop for coastal cuisine paired with complex boozy creations.

Norman Bird Sanctuary
Norman Bird Sanctuary
Norman Bird Sanctuary

Search for native creatures along the shore

While downtown Newport is a prime location for people watching, some of the city’s top ecotourism attractions can be found just a few minutes drive from Bowen’s Wharf. For marine life enthusiasts, local company Save the Bay offers a one-hour seal tour down the sandy Aquidneck coast during the winter months, but the surrounding area has far more to offer than just playful pinnipeds… 

With over 300 acres to explore, Norman Bird Sanctuary is a veritable treasure trove of avian species. Mallards, egrets, and a wealth of other waterfowl and wading birds are a common sight along Red Maple Pond, while those who opt for a stroll down Woodland Trail can feast their eyes on downy woodpeckers, catbirds, and even the elusive sharp-shinned hawk.

Newport Vineyards
Newport Vineyards
Newport Vineyards

Refine your palate at the state’s top winery

While Rhode Island’s wine industry isn’t quite as booming as California’s or Washington State’s, one of the Ocean State’s most lauded forays into the world of wine can be found just a few minutes northeast of the Historic District. Launched back in 1977, Newport Vineyards is tailor made for sampling crisp riesling, pinot noir rosé, and rochambeau while overlooking fifty idyllic acres of fertile farmland. Not a huge fan of vino? No worries-Newport Vineyards’ onsite Taproot Brewing Company is stocked with a wide array of IPAs perfectly suited for visiting hopheads.

Shore Soap Co.
Shore Soap Co.
Shore Soap Co.

Take a leisurely cruise down Ocean Drive

A far cry from its Miami Beach counterpart, Newport’s answer to Ocean Drive is home to ten straight miles of classic New England seascape without a single palm tree in sight.

Start your journey off at the southern terminus of Bellevue Avenue, where the picturesque avenue awaits. As you head west, you’ll be met with a wealth of stunning beaches and craggy cliffs alongside some of the most impressive residences found in Newport. Once you’ve reached the westernmost fringes of Aquidneck Island, be sure to stretch your legs at verdant Brenton Point State Park, then head up north to snap a photo of the iconic 1890s-era Castle Hill Lighthouse. For any visiting history buffs, a trip up to Fort Adams State Park is an absolute necessity. Established in 1965, this coastal preserve is dedicated to-you guessed it-Fort Adams, a military outpost that’s been a fixture of coastal Newport since 1799.

Get your vitamin D fix at the beach

The summer sun is at full shine, and there’s no better way to celebrate Hot Vax Summer than a day spent lazing along Newport’s sandy shore.

While Easton’s Beach is particularly popular thanks to its surfworthy waves and close proximity to downtown Newport, Gooseberry Beach is the perfect escape for peace and quiet perched right on Ocean Drive. It can be a little pricey to hang out around here-parking passes generally run $30 a pop-but anyone arriving via bike, scooter, or foot can bypass the automobile charge for a free day of relaxing by the shore.

International Tennis Hall of Fame
International Tennis Hall of Fame
International Tennis Hall of Fame

Channel your inner Serena at the International Tennis Hall of Fame

If you’re a big fan of activities where balls fly at your nose (any Clueless fans in here?), Newport is perfectly equipped to help you channel your inner Williams, Osaka, or Federer with a trip to the historic Newport Casino.

Don’t let the name fool you-there are no slot machines or craps tables to be found around here, only a sizable collection of vintage rackets and informative exhibits housed within the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. Officially established in 1954, this world-class exhibition celebrates the rich legacy of the US Open, which was first played on the Newport Casino’s courts back in 1881. Though this esteemed championship has since moved to the eastern reaches of NYC, any avid tennis players are welcome to sign up and play a match on the grass-laden courts where it all began.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Jared Ranahan is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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