Driving east on I-195 out of Providence, travelers might first find themselves crossing over the Massachusetts border before driving back through Rhode Island and into the Sakonnet and East Bay regions of the state.

View of the Sakonnet Lighthouse across the water.

Sakonnet Lighthouse. Photo © Liz Lee.

The region is ideal for travelers wishing to experience Rhode Island’s gorgeous coastline without the long lines, exorbitant prices, and crowded attractions.The area’s small townships distinguish themselves from the more well-known Newport and South County by remaining small, close-knit communities, where town beaches are a bit off the beaten path and unsupervised roadside farm stands still operate under the honor system. Barrington, Warren, and Bristol comprise the East Bay section, characterized by unique downtown shopping districts, quaint B&Bs, and a folksy fishing village vibe. Further south lay the towns of Tiverton and Little Compton, made distinct by their proximity to the Sakonnet River, which separates them from Newport and Middletown to the west.

The region is ideal for travelers wishing to experience Rhode Island’s gorgeous coastline without the long lines, exorbitant prices, and crowded attractions. Geographically speaking, the region is quite distinct as well. The peninsular towns of Barrington, Warren, and Bristol dangle jaggedly off the mainland like stalactites, fringed on various sides by Narragansett and Mount Hope Bays and the Seekonk, Warren, and Barrington Rivers. All told, the three towns share about 20 miles of shoreline throughout Bristol County, as well as a handful of cultural and historical attractions to rival any other region in the state. Best of all, the entire area lies sheltered from—but completely accessible to—the Atlantic Ocean.

A short drive southeast, Sakonnet hugs the Massachusetts mainland on one side and the Sakonnet River on the other before coming to a point where the river meets the Atlantic. A summer drive headed south on Route 77 through Little Compton will reward adventurers with stretches of lush green farmland and rows of dazzling purple-blue hydrangeas (a popular fixture in many front yards).

View across the green at the stately Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, RI.

Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, Rhode Island. Photo © Liz West, licensed CC-BY.

Highlights

  • Blithewold Mansion and Arboretum: Right up there with the lavish summer cottages found in Newport, Blithewold ranks among the most impressive house-museums in the state, with expansive and expertly maintained bayside gardens.
  • Warren’s Historic District: This colonial shipbuilding center contains dozens of restored 18th- and 19th-century buildings, along with dozens of interesting shops, restaurants, and cafés.
  • East Bay Bike Path: This 14.5-mile asphalt path is the most scenic of the state’s biking routes, stretching from Providence down through the East Bay and with wonderful bay views along the way.
  • Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard: In peaceful and rural Little Compton, this vineyard produces some of the top wines in the state.
  • Goosewing Beach and Nature Preserve: A long stretch of sandy beach and a 75-acre nature preserve make this one of the most peaceful and scenic beaches in the state.

Planning Your Time

The East Bay and Sakonnet region is a quick day trip from Providence or Newport—although at least two days is recommended, especially during the warmer months when one of those days could easily be spent lounging on the beach. The appeal of this area is less in ticking off sights than it is in rambling along streets filled with colonial homes and antique stores or driving down sunny country roads lined with stonewalls. If you truly want to fall into the slow pace of life here, an overnight or two is a nice respite on a harried vacation.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Rhode Island.