This is where Rhode Island’s  nickname, the Ocean State, really earns its keep. Clam shacks and chowder houses dot a 30-mile-long coastline, much of it covered with sandy barrier beaches. Even in summer, when Newport  and Cape Cod  are packed to the gills with tourists, much of South County  retains a rural feel.
The quaint hamlet of Wickford  could sit in the dictionary next to the entry for “small-town New England.” The appeal of backcountry Charlestown , meanwhile, is to nature-lovers, who thrill at its miles and miles of untrammeled costal nature preserves. Not all of the area is so quiet, of course. Several beachfront communities draw teenagers from Providence  and college students from the nearby University of Rhode Island, who do their best to imitate spring break on summer weekends.
Other spots appeal to families, who stroll the resort areas of Watch Hill  and Narragansett  with kids and baby strollers in tow—or drop the kids off at the seemingly ubiquitous water parks and mini-golf courses, while they peruse upscale galleries dotted along the coast.
To an out-of-towner, it may seem like South County delights in confusing travelers, as each of the major towns is divided into several villages with obscure Native American names or maddeningly similar sobriquets.
As a quick guide, then: North Kingstown  contains the villages of Quonset Point, Saunderstown, and Wickford; Narragansett  includes Galilee and Point Judith; South Kingstown  encompasses Jerusalem, Kenyon, Kingston, Matunuck, Peace Dale, Wakefield, and West Kingston; Charlestown  includes Cross Mills and Quonochontaug; and Westerly  contains Avondale, Misquamicut, Watch Hill, and Weekapaug.
All straight now?
Amtrak (800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com ) runs trains to stations located in Westerly (14 Railroad Ave.) and West Kingston (1 Railroad Ave.). Buses run by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA, 401/781-9400, www.ripta.com ) stop in Narragansett, North and South Kingstown, and Westerly.