Waterfront, Newport Rhode Island
I fell in love with Newport on the drive down to the waterfront. Our plan, if you can call the itinerary we hastily constructed over brunch a mere five hours before a plan, included spending the afternoon touring local wineries and then stopping in Newport for dinner on the waterfront. At the time all I knew of Newport was that it was seafront town with legendary mansions, the “summer cottages” built by the New York elite at the turn of the 20th century.
Newport was founded in 1639 by a group of eight men after a political falling out with Anne Hutchinson and her followers. The town was settled on the south side of Aquidneck Island, near the mouth of Narragansett Bay, and throughout the 17th and 18th century the town and its citizens grew prosperous from both the whaling industry and the slave trade. During the Revolutionary War, French troops under the command of General Rochambeau first landed in America at Newport, and the town served as the French base of operations for the duration of the war. Today you’ll still see references to Rochambeau throughout the area, and at least one vineyard, Newport Vineyards, has named a wine in his honor. By the mid-19th century the town was becoming a summer destination for wealthy Americans, including families like the Vanderbilts and the Astors who built the homes that today comprise the Newport Mansions Historic District.
A variety of pubs and restaurants can be found in the side streets off of the main shopping district along Thames Street.
As we drove in though, we weren’t thinking about the mansions, and the Newport we discovered is a charming seaside town with a shoreline shopping and restaurant district that manages to retain the flavor of its New England seaport past without being kitschy. The downtown waterfront area comprises one of three historic districts within Newport’s boundaries and includes one of the largest concentrations of colonial-era homes left in the country, a charming shopping district which runs along Thames street, and a wide variety of restaurants lining the waterfront.
We parked in one of the lots off of Thames Street and strolled down the brick-paved street, window shopping our way over to Bowen’s Wharf and The Landing restaurant. Dinner was excellent; we were able to snag seats on the upstairs porch with great views of the water and the “what felt like thousands of” sailboats moored in the harbor. For the life of me, I can’t remember what Christy had for dinner, but I haven’t forgotten the Lobster Mornay I ordered – delicious! – pasta baked in a rich cheese and cream sauce with nice big chunks of fresh lobster. Yum! We lingered over dinner, and as we walked back up Thames street to the car, we discovered that Newport also has a very vibrant nightlife with both bars and restaurants filled to capacity throughout downtown.
The Landing Restaurant, Bowen's Wharf. Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard
Facing a 2-2.5 hour drive home we decided to skip the bars, grab the car and drive past the mansions on our way out of town. What didn’t occur to us, but probably should have, is that they are all surrounded by tall (very tall) fences and hedges. Thinking about it now, I realize of course they have hedges – I’m sure the last thing the Vanderbilts came to Newport for was to mingle with the locals… What I later learned was that we would have done better if we had walked back to the car along the waterfront as that would have taken us past a large group of historic colonial-era homes. Not as opulent as the mansions, but equally interesting. Ah well, just another reason to go back…
What makes Newport noteworthy from a locapour-point-of-view is its location in the heart of the Southeastern New England AVA and the Coastal Wine Trail, making it the perfect base of operations for a long weekend exploring southern New England wine country by day while enjoying the town by night. The Coastal Wine Trail includes eight wineries stretching along the Rhode Island/Southern Massachusetts coastline from the Langworthy Farms Winery at the Connecticut/Rhode Island border to the Truro Winery on Cape Cod. But the remaining six wineries are all clustered in the general vicinity of Newport. And if that were not enough, each Fall the Preservation Society of Newport County hosts the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival, allowing you to experience everything Newport has to offer all in one place.
Newport is approximately 3.5 hours from New York, 90 minutes from Boston, and 2.5 hours from Hartford.