America’s First Resort is Newport, Rhode Island
Colonial history and coastal culture make The City By the Sea a must on your cruising bucket list.
One of New England’s most popular coastal communities, Newport, Rhode Island, is a year-round destination that flaunts historic charm, spectacular scenery, extraordinary culinary delights, sweeping ocean views, and a crisp, refreshing sea breeze.
Nicknamed The City By the Sea for its location on the southernmost tip of Aquidneck Island—approximately 37 miles southeast of Providence—this resort town is also known for its Gilded Age-era opulent mansions and gorgeous beaches.
Once the summer playground of America’s socialites—think Vanderbilt, Astor, Kennedy—Newport today still offers a rich colonial landscape of cobblestone streets and brick buildings set alongside a breathtaking waterfront. If Newport isn’t already on your cruising bucket list, it should be.
Founded in 1639, Newport was one of the largest and most important seaports during the Colonial Era before the American Revolution. It is also the birthplace of religious freedom; Newport was the new nation’s first city where everyone was allowed to worship without government interference. The Rhode Island Royal Charter of 1663, drafted by Newport physician and minister John Clarke and approved by King Charles II, officially gave the colonists the freedom to elect their own governor, write their own laws and outlined rules for religious tolerance.
By the early 20th century in the era known as the Gilded Age—a time of economic upturn—many of America’s wealthiest families descended upon Newport and built extravagant mansions to host some of the most lavish parties in town. The social scene was always in full swing along Bellevue Avenue at palatial sites: the Vanderbilts’ The Breakers and Rough Point, William Henry Kings’ Kingscote, William Shepard Wetmore’s Chateau-sur-Mer, and Jackie Bouvier’s childhood home, Hammersmith Farm on Harrison Avenue, where she married John F. Kennedy in 1953. Today, visitors can stroll through these swanky estates for an intriguing look at what life was like for the rich and famous names of that period.
If days of cruising have made your legs long for exercise, the Cliff Walk is a 3.5- mile trek along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and an opportunity to explore some of the beauty and history of Newport. A combination of paved and rocky roads, this pathway offers some of the most picturesque views, so keep your sneakers tied tight and your camera handy. Sights include Forty Steps, a popular spot for swimming or fishing from the cliffs; lovely views of the impeccably manicured lawns of Bellevue Avenue mansions; and Bailey’s Beach (aka Reject’s Beach), a private stretch of shore that the Gilded Age elite designated for the common folk. cliffwalk.com
History buffs will enjoy a guided tour of the fortress at Fort Adams, the largest
coastal fortification in the U.S. Take in the panoramic view of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay—New England’s biggest estuary—from the top and explore the soldiers’ underground listening tunnels below. And for the truly adventurous, rent a barrack and stay overnight. fortadams.org
Make your way along the coastal trail and toast the good life with a glass (or
bottle) of red or white at one or all of Newport’s three coastal vineyards: Greenvale Vineyards (401-847-3777; greenvale.com), Newport Vineyards (401-848-5161; newportvineyards.com) and Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard (401-635-8486; sakonnetwine.com). Wine tastings and tours are offered daily at each.
Fine wine is always better when paired with delicious food. The Grill at Forty 1° North is an exclusive waterfront restaurant with a menu featuring grilled meats, seafood, a raw bar, and locally sourced selections. The Grand Tower— with oysters, clams, shrimp, whole lobster, Alaskan king crab legs, and tuna tartare—is the perfect start to your meal. If you still have room after that seafood bonanza, the Surf & Turf entrée includes filet mignon, poached lobster, wild mushrooms, and potato purée. Save room for dessert; the Apple Streusel Tart and Pineapple Cheesecake are worth all the calories. Whether dining inside or out, enjoy magnificent views of the harbor in this elegant setting. 41north.com
For a more casual meal, try the Skiff Bar at the Marriott Newport. Try a local craft brew (perhaps a Newport Storm Amber Ale), along with delicious appetizers such as lobster sliders and flatbread pizza. Don’t miss the spectacular view! mainsail-restaurant.com/skiff-bar/
Or indulge in a lobster roll and a cup of New England Clam Chowder from Bluewater Bar + Grill, a contemporary farm-totable restaurant with a variety of seafood items on the menu, as well as chicken or steak for landlubbers. Bring the kids; they get their own menu. bluewatergrillri.com
Cruisers have their pick of marinas on Narragansett Bay and in Newport Harbor that offer dock space for small boats to huge yachts. Take a break from navigation, leave your boat in the marina and go on a narrated sightseeing tour, sealwatching or a fishing excursion. The Jamestown Newport Ferry
provides easy access to a variety of attractions, shopping and dining, and a round-trip ticket lets you hop on and off as often as you’d like. jamestownnewportferry.com
As host of some of racing’s most esteemed regattas, including 50 years of the America’s Cup (1930 to 1983), Newport has been called the Sailing Capital of the World. The Museum of Yachting opened in 1979 and merged with the International Yacht Restoration School in 2007. Stop by to watch as students build or restore boats, and view the different exhibits that highlight Newport’s famous sailing history. iyrs.edu
Before you leave, be sure to buy some antiques, handmade gifts and souvenirs at Bowen’s Wharf, Bannister’s Wharf or Brick Market Place. More than 60 shops and boutiques tempt shoppers with many unique items from which to choose. Take home a couple of nautical-themed accessories and you’ll feel like you never left town.
Newport International Boat Show
Thursday, September 14th –Saturday, September 16th, 10AM to 6PM Sunday, September 17th 10AM to 5PM.
The 47th Annual Newport International Boat Show (NIBS), one of the largest in-water boat shows in the country, encompasses more than 13 acres of Newport, Rhode Island’s downtown waterfront and will host hundreds of exhibitors from around the world with new powerboats and sailboats ranging from 15 to 90 feet, plus a variety of accessories, equipment, electronics, gear, and services for boaters. NIBS is the official kickoff to the boat show season.
Attendees will have the opportunity to participate in educational seminars and hands-on training courses, including Boat Buying 101, and view special programs, such as the 12th Annual Newport For New Products (NFNP), which showcase new boats and products that are making their U.S. debut at the show. On Friday, September 15th, awards will be given for creativity, innovation and practicality in nautical solutions and design to the best new powerboat, sailboat, navigation product, and boating operation, maintenance or safety product. New for this year is the “Green” category honoring one boat and one product based on its eco benefits and features. newportboatshow.com
NEWPORT MARINAS/ DOCKAGE
Newport Yachting Center
20 Commercial Wharf
Bannister’s Wharf Marina
1 Bannisters Wharf
The Marina at Brown & Howard Wharf
21 Brown & Howard Wharf
10 Spring Wharf
Goat Island Marina
5 Marina Plaza
Newport Harbor Hotel & Marina
49 America’s Cup Ave.
1 Washington St.
351 Thames St.
West Wind Marina
1 Waites Wharf
2 Bowen’s Landing
Newport Dinner Cruise
Seal Watch and Nature Cruise
Bowen’s Ferry Landing
Story by Bonnie Schultz for Southern Boating, August 2017; Photos courtesy of: BLUEWATER GRILL; DISCOVER NEWPORT; HYATT REGENCY NEWPORT, BILLY BLACK; FORT ADAMS TRUST; DISCOVER NEWPORT