I’m back in Joburg after a month-long trip to the U.S. — my second American journey in 2023. I spent most of this trip dealing with administrative and family issues, spending time in the same places I normally go: Maryland (and a little time in Washington, D.C.), South Carolina, and New York. But I also squeezed in a short trip to Rhode Island with my sister.
It’s my dream to visit all 50 U.S. states — I’ve been to 40 so far — but I don’t make it to “new” states very often these days. It’s hard to make time for American exploration when I live on another continent; when I do travel back home, I usually maximize the time visiting friends and family in the same handful of places. Also most of my outstanding states are the hard-to-reach ones (at least for me), like Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, the Dakotas, and Oklahoma. (How will I ever make it to Oklahoma? Sigh.)
But Rhode Island, America’s smallest state, was a low-hanging fruit. Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is barely more than an hour from Baltimore by plane. Rhode Island is a decent midway point between Maryland and Vermont, where Susanna lives. And despite its diminutive size, Rhode Island has a ton of stuff to do.
So I booked a flight to Providence and rented an Airbnb near Newport, Rhode Island’s most famous seaside town (about 40 minutes from Providence). Susanna drove from Vermont with her dog but without her six-year-old son — exciting for a busy mom who doesn’t get many child-free vacations. And despite the mostly chilly, cloudy/rainy weather (spring sure comes late to New England), we had a fabulous time. Here are the fun things we did.
Fun Things We Did in Rhode Island
Thanks to this solid Travel + Leisure listicle for inspiring most of the activities below:
1) The Cliff Walk
The Cliff Walk is a 3.5-mile trail in Newport that winds between rocky seaside cliffs and the famous Newport mansions. I don’t think most people walk the entire 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers), especially on gray, chilly days when both the ocean and sky look like stone. But we did, because that’s how the Masons roll. It was great. We had to scamper over a few mildly rocky sections but the trail is mostly paved.
2) Marble House, a Newport Mansion
As mentioned above, Newport is famous for its Gilded Age mansions — which their owners, without a hint of irony, called “cottages” — built by filthy rich industrialists in the 19th century. Many of these mansions are now museums, run by the Preservation Society of Newport County, and open to the public. Three Newport mansions were open during the weekend we visited (some of them are only open in summer) but we decided to visit just one: Marble House.
Marble House was built in 1892 by William K. Vanderbilt — whose grandfather got rich in the steamship and railroad business — and his wife Alva Vanderbilt. The house contains 500,000 cubic feet of marble (hence the name). William and Alva divorced three years after the house was completed and Alva became the sole owner of Marble House. In the early 1900s, Alva Belmont (she remarried) became active in the women’s suffrage movement and Marble House became a prominent meeting place for suffragists.
There are no words to describe the glittering insanity of Marble House.
Admission to Marble House is $25 per adult but there are discounts if you visit multiple mansions. Learn more on the Newport Mansions website.
3) The Tennis Hall of Fame
The International Tennis Hall of Fame is in Newport, Rhode Island: Who knew? (Not me.) But it makes sense. Tennis was, and still is, a sport of the rich, and Newport was, and still is, a playground for the rich. Anyway, Susanna and I are both tennis fans and we really enjoyed this museum.
Admission to the Tennis Hall of Fame is $20 per adult.
4) Beavertail State Park
Beavertail State Park is in the quaint town of Jamestown, about 30 minutes from Newport, and is home to one of the oldest lighthouses in North America. We spent a pleasant morning walking the coastline at Beavertail.
5) Second Beach/Surfer’s End
We stayed in Middletown, Rhode Island, a beach village a mile or two from Newport. (I somehow neglected to take photos of the house but here is the Airbnb listing — it was nice but rather expensive, as everything in America seems to be right now.) Anyway, our house was a 20-minute walk to Second Beach (also called Sachuest Beach or Surfer’s End). It’s a lovely, wide, half-moon-shaped beach with a wildlife refuge at the end of it. I walked there alone when I first arrived and took another walk later with Susanna and Hundley.
6) Food in Rhode Island
Rhode Island is famous for Italian food and lobster, and Susanna and I sampled both. Our first dinner was in Providence’s famous Federal Hill neighborhood, known for its Italian restaurants (and mafiosos). We chose to eat at Angelo’s, which is nearly 100 years old.
For our second dinner we went to the Red Parrot, a seafood restaurant in Newport.
I hope to head further north to Maine for my 41st U.S. state, but that will have to wait until my next journey to America (whenever that happens). In the meantime, I’ll be back to South African blog content next week.