Four Days in Rhode Island, America’s Smallest State

by | May 4, 2023 | Arts and Culture, Food and Drink, Museums and Buildings, Parks/Nature Reserves, USA | 11 comments

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.

Susanna and Hundley, her dog, sitting amidst a cloud of daffodils in Newport, Rhode Island.
My sister, Susanna, and her dog, Hundley, amidst a cloud of daffodils in Newport, Rhode Island.

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.

Map with RI
If you’re not sure where Rhode Island is, see the blue marker: It’s in southern New England, bordered by Connecticut and Massachusetts, and too tiny to be visible on most maps. Rhode Island is about 1,200 square miles (3,100 square kilometers) in size.
Rocky beach and mansion in Rhode Island
Rhode Island has lots of water and rocky coastline. It also has lots of mansions.

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.

Susanna and Hundley living dangerously on the Cliff Walk.
Susanna and Hundley living dangerously on the Cliff Walk.
It was really pretty despite the pervasive grayishness.
Daffodils on the Cliff Walk
The daffodils (which only bloom for a couple of weeks, so we were lucky to see them) provided a nice pop of color.
Heather outside a quaint tunnel
A quaint hobbit tunnel. (Photo: Susanna Mason)
Heather, Susanna, and Hundley complete the Cliff Walk
Finished! But not really because we had to walk back to the car. We took a shortcut through town but were still very tired by the end — I’d say the whole walk took about three hours.

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 in Newport
Marble House: What a quaint little cottage! It looks a lot like the White House from the front.
Marble House from the side
The back of the cottage.

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.

Dining room at Marble House
The dining room.
Gothic room at Marble house
The “Gothic room”, designed to house Mrs. Vanderbilt’s collection of Medieval and Renaissance art objects.
Ballroom at Marble House
The gold-plated ballroom. For balls.
Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom at Marble House
Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. I love it but cannot imagine actually falling asleep in such a room.
Chinese tea house at Marble House
Susanna models in front of the “Chinese Tea House”, which Alva built in 1913 to host women’s suffrage rallies. The tea house is now an actual coffee and tea shop.

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.

Newport Casino and Tennis Hall of Fame
The Tennis Hall of Fame is on the grounds of the historic Newport Casino, which was never an actual casino. The original U.S. Open Tennis Championship was played on this court.
Vintage tennis clothes
There were lots of cool things to see and do at the Tennis Hall of Fame, but the tennis clothing displays were my favorite. Check out these vintage get-ups, including the first-ever Lacoste blazer and an ostrich-feather tennis skirt.
Chris Evert tennis dress
Patriotic tennis dress worn by Chris Evert in 1975.
Love. I would totally wear this on a normal day. Worn by Rosie Casals in 1972.
Tennis Hall of Fame photobooth
The Tennis Hall of Fame photobooth is a must-visit.

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.

Beavertail lighthouse
The current lighthouse was built in 1859 but there has been a lighthouse here since 1749. There is a museum in the lighthouse but it doesn’t open until late May.
Beavertail State Park coastline
Beavertail State Park coastline.
Beavertail State Park coastline
Coastline with the lighthouse in the distance.

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.

Second Beach, Middletown
Second Beach.
Surfer's End
This section of the beach is Surfer’s End. There wasn’t much surf on this particular day but we did see more on other days.

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.

Susanna ordered gnocchi, smothered in tomato sauce and parmesan, with a glass of chianti. I’ve already forgotten what I ordered but it was definitely pasta and definitely delicious.

For our second dinner we went to the Red Parrot, a seafood restaurant in Newport.

Dinner at the Red Parrot in Newport
I ordered the lobster mac and cheese, which was totally decadent and full of big lobster chunks. Susanna had lobster pizza, which I was initially wary of. But we both loved it.

I don’t have good photos of these places but we also had a great meal at Newport Vineyards, and I had a fantastic bagel and coffee at White Electric Coffee Co-op in Providence. Highly recommend.

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.

RhodeIland daffodils
One more shot of those daffodils.


  1. dizzylexa

    Nothing beats sister time, looks like you both had a great time exploring.

  2. Nancy McDaniel

    You really will love Maine! Make that next, The coastal towns are lovely (if many are touristy). And LOBSTER. And Portland is a very hip and cool city. If you have time to go farther north to Acadia NP etc do. But it is a HUMUNGOUS state. Our fall (Sept/Oct) is a lovely time to go and won’t be as crowded as our summer

    • 2summers

      Yes! Thanks. I realized on this trip that I really miss exploring new parts of the U.S. and I just need to make time for it, even when it feels impossible. Maine is next!

    • Clifford Els

      Great to get a personal tour of a place that has always intrigued me.

      • 2summers

        Ah, thanks Clifford. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hope you’re well!

  3. Dave Freeman

    Great to see you two together again! Brings back fond memories. Looks like you had a wonderful time.

    • 2summers

      Thanks Dave! It was really fun.

  4. AutumnAshbough

    Great photos (as always). I especially love the daffodils. Marble House reminds me of all the bedrooms J. Paul Getty stole from Europe and put in his museums! And hooray for your girl’s weekend.

    • 2summers

      I clearly need to Google that!

      • AutumnAshbough

        Well, the museum also has Van Gogh’s and many other lovely things. But I remember the bedrooms!


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