Weekenders: Newport Now

This Rhode Island town offers much more than mansions and yacht clubs.

By Christine Ajudua

Its jagged, rocky coastline jutting into the Rhode Island Sound 30 miles south of Providence, this little city is one of the United States’ oldest society resorts. Today, for almost every Colonial landmark (or saltwater taffy store) in the historic district you’ll also find a stylish boutique, an inventive cocktail bar or a restaurant where a young chef is putting a fresh spin on local fare. In the spring Newport’s famed Cliff Walk comes into bloom with sun-hued daffodils and purple crocuses, and the summer crowds have yet to arrive.

Embarrassment of Riches

Some of the best-preserved Colonial architecture can be found downtown. Newport History Tours will walk you back in time, though you should also swing by the district’s newer, sportier institutions—like the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Its museum just reopened after a $3 million renovation and now houses everything from the Williams sisters’ most controversial costumes to a holographic Roger Federer. Next door the Audrain Automobile Museum recently launched with more than 150 rare vehicles, from prewar hot rods to the latest supercars.

Meanwhile, you can’t go near Newport and not see the mansions, or “summer cottages,” built for wealthy industrialists and tycoons during the Gilded Age. Comprising 70 Italian Renaissance–style rooms, The Breakers is the largest and most iconic (it originally belonged to the Vanderbilts), but leave time for lesser-known gems, such as the former Brayton family estate, in Portsmouth, whose whimsical Green Animals Topiary Garden is well worth the 30-minute drive. Farther north, in Bristol, the 70-acre Blithewold manor comes alive during its spring Daffodil Days with outdoor afternoon teas and sunset garden parties. And back in town, don’t miss Rough Point. Tobacco heiress Doris Duke filled the house with artifacts from her travels and was known to dive into the ocean from its Frederick Law Olmsted–designed promontory, where she kept two pet camels (hence the topiaries in their likenesses).

From here venture out to the three-and-a-half-mile Cliff Walk, which follows Newport’s craggy southeast shore between the mansions and the frothy surf. Or head west on Ocean Drive, the 10-mile scenic route hugging the southern tip of the city, to Fort Adams State Park. It’s home to the country’s biggest coastal fortification as well as the Bay Walk, a two-and-a-half-mile loop with stunning views of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. Afterward relax in an Adirondack chair on the lawn of the nearby Castle Hill Inn, and catch the sunset with a cocktail in hand.

Seaside Bites

They’re cooking up more than New England clam chowder in Newport these days. At Tallulah on Thames, an early-20th-century residence turned upscale bistro, Texas-born chef Jake Rojas sources ingredients from Rhode Island farmers and fishermen to prepare imaginative dishes, like grilled endive with sunflower chimichurri and coriander-crusted swordfish.

A few blocks down, the aptly named Revolving Door hosts ever-rotating chef residences, while barman Jason Kindness mixes consistently creative cocktails (say, the barrel-aged Nelson’s Folly, made of vermouth, black Cavendish tobacco and Newport’s own Thomas Tew rum). And up the street Midtown Oyster Bar serves everything from an octopus Bolognese with black tagliatelle to a signature sherry-cream oyster stew in a three-level space with dark-wood-paneled booths, two outdoor decks and one of the city’s largest raw bars.

In a former Prohibition-era speakeasy on Marlborough Street, you’ll find Mission, a rustic-hip burger joint that sources beef and craft beers from New England; hand-cut fries, house-made hot dogs and from-scratch falafel are also on the menu. It’s one of several stops on the recently launched Newport Food Tours, whose founders—Mehdi Mechtaly and Marie Larsen, husband and wife—lead two-hour culinary crawls around the “hidden” Broadway area. You’ll eat with local chefs along the way and sip wine from Newport Vineyards.

For a taste of old Newport (note: There is a dress code), go for a drink around the corner at the White Horse Tavern. It has low wood-beamed ceilings and deep fireplaces, and it’s the nation’s oldest tavern, dating from 1673. Another spot to hit is The Chanler at Cliff Walk—the first mansion along the footpath and its northernmost point, now an antiques-filled hotel—for a Spiced Pear martini at the bar, which hosts live jazz on Friday nights. You can also have your cocktail beside the outdoor fire pit while peering out over the Atlantic.

Shop Till You Drop

More than 70 dealers sell everything from antiques and collectibles to estate jewelry and fine art at the Armory Antique Marketplace. This 6,000-square-foot former military armory, on Thames Street, is a good place to start a day of shopping. If you’re after antique birdbaths, vintage planters, garden tools and outdoor objets d’art, Cottage & Garden is a must, and for home furnishings ranging from the 18th century to the present day, try Trésor Fine Consignment, which gets its treasures straight from local estates. Occupying a 1776 building on Spring Street, Royal Male offers country-chic men’s and women’s clothing from the UK (Barbour, Belstaff). There’s also Maison DNA, where you’ll find vintage dresses and the store’s own label, made from “up-cycled” secondhand clothing; the shop doubles as a gallery for young local artists and hosts an open-mike night on Tuesday. Meanwhile, on Thames Street, Antiques Roadshow appraiser Shana Gaines sells mid-century and contemporary dresses and accessories at Vintage to Vogue.

Be sure to browse your way around the northern end of Bellevue, where the Providence menswear designer Marc Allen just opened a stylish outpost stocking Italian labels, like Loro Piana, alongside his own silk-and-linen sport coats and bespoke suits. Sitting kitty-corner is the Isoude atelier, in which local Kate Brierley crafts fashion-forward blouses and dresses and gorgeous floor-length gowns from textured U.S.-made fabrics. Also drop in at Newport Aromatherapy, whose owner, Cynthia Marie LaBonte, a third-generation healer, makes the myriad herbal teas, supplements, lotions and potions lining the shelves as well as all-natural, alcohol-free versions of French designer fragrances. And for organic skin-care products with ingredients from rural Rhode Island, there’s Farmaesthetics. Finally, featuring elaborate custom dollhouses and antique dolls arranged everywhere (even swinging from the ceiling), Miniature Occasions and Dolls is one of a kind, like Newport itself.

South County Day Trip

In neighboring South County, Narragansett once rivaled Newport with grand hotels and mansions; then came the Great Fire of 1900. Today sleepy Gansett (as it’s called locally) is frequented mostly by surfers and those catching the ferry to Block Island, but it’s worth a stop—and not only for its untouched beaches. Hit up the old-school clam shacks in the fishing village of Galilee, or head across town to the Coast Guard House (thecoastguardhouse.com), which serves more-refined seafood dishes in a 19th-century building with oversize windows overlooking the waterfront. Browse stylish sustainably crafted accessories at Simply Natural (simplynaturalandmore.com) or contemporary artworks at the newly expanded OneWay Gallery (onewaygallery.com), which has Rhode Island artists working on-site. And if you don’t feel like heading back, check in at The Break (thebreakhotel.com), which recently opened with 16 retro surfer-chic rooms and a rooftop bar with views of the bay.

EXPLORE
Audrain Automobile Museum
222 Bellevue Ave.; 401-856-4420; audrainautomuseum.org; admission, $12
Blithewold
101 Ferry Rd., Bristol; 401-253-2707; blithewold.org; tickets, $12
The Breakers
44 Ochre Point Ave.; 401-847-1000; newportmansions.org; tickets, $21
Fort Adams State Park
84 Fort Adams Dr.; 401-841-0707; fortadams.org
Green Animals Topiary Garden
380 Corey’s Lane, Portsmouth; 401-847-1000; newportmansions.org; tickets, $16
International Tennis Hall of Fame
194 Bellevue Ave.; 401-849-3990; tennisfame.com; admission, $15
Newport History Tours
127 Thames St.; 401-841-8770; newporthistorytours.org; walking tours, $15
Rough Point
680 Bellevue Ave.; 401-847-8344; newportrestoration.org; tickets, $25
EAT
Midtown Oyster Bar
345 Thames St.; 401-619-4100; midtownoyster.com; dinner for two, $150*
Mission
29 Marlborough St.; 401-619-5560; missionnpt.com; lunch for two, $30
Newport Food Tours
401-662-1795; nptfoodtours.com; tours, $62
Revolving Door
509 Thames St.; 401-846-0400; revolvingdoorri.com; dinner for two, $100
Tallulah on Thames
464 Thames St.; 401-849-2433; tallulahonthames.com; dinner for two, $136
Thames Street Kitchen
677 Thames St.; 401-846-9100; thamesstreetkitchen.com; dinner for two, $90
RELAX
Castle Hill Inn
590 Ocean Ave.; 888-466-1355; castlehillinn.com
The Chanler at Cliff Walk
117 Memorial Blvd.; 401-847-1300; thechanler.com
Newport Vineyards
Eastgate, 909 E. Main Rd., Middletown; 401-848-5161; newportvineyards.com; tasting tours, from $12
White Horse Tavern
26 Marlborough St.; 401-849-3600; whitehorsenewport.com
SHOP
Armory Antique Marketplace
365 Thames St.; 401-848-2398; armoryantiquesnewport.com
Cottage & Garden
9 Bridge St.; 401-848-8477; cottageandgardennewport.com
Farmaesthetics
144 Bellevue Ave.; 401-619-4199; farmaesthetics.com
Isoude
118 John St.; 401-619-5775; isoude.com
Maison DNA
64 Spring St.; maisondna.com
Marc Allen Fine Clothiers
142 Bellevue Ave.; 401-619-5750; marcalleninc.com
Miniature Occasions and Dolls
57 Bellevue Ave.; 401-849-5440; miniatureoccasions.com
Newport Aromatherapy
109 Bellevue Ave.; 401-846-1101; newportaromatherapy.com
Royal Male
104 Spring St.; 401-846-8465; royalmale.com
Trésor Fine Consignment
134 Spring St.; 401-835-5622; tresorestatesales.com
Vintage to Vogue
489 Thames St.; 401-855-2443; vintagenewportri.com
STAY
RCI® affiliated resorts in Newport include:
Wyndham Inn on the Harbor 0770
At the end of the day, head up to the rooftop sundeck to watch the sunset. 359 Thames St., Newport
Member Review: “Resort staff is very friendly and responsive.”
Wyndham Inn on Long Wharf 1025
Amenities to make you feel at home. 142 Long Wharf, Newport
Member Review: “People-watching from the balcony was fun.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
RCI® Tip
Search early for destinations, like Newport, that have limited availability during peak travel seasons. Planning early may help open up the most options available in the location you are looking for.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts:
La Farge Perry House
A downtown B&B once home to 19th-century artist John La Farge. 24 Kay St.; 877-736-1100; lafargeperry.com; doubles from $149 a night
Vanderbilt Grace
A 1909 residence of the Vanderbilts, now a 33-room hotel. 41 Mary St.; 401-846-6200; gracehotels.com; doubles from $250 a night
  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Spring 2016