Summer Escapes: Bristol, Rhode Island
The main thing you notice when you stroll through Bristol is that you can stroll, without dodging crowds or getting stuck behind ambling fanny-packed tourists. The throngs that congest so many summer spots (neighboring Newport, for one)
The main thing you notice when you stroll through Bristol is that you can stroll, without dodging crowds or getting stuck behind ambling fanny-packed tourists. The throngs that congest so many summer spots (neighboring Newport, for one) rarely materialize in this quiet Narragansett Bay town. But given the abundance of outdoor activities, acclaimed new restaurants, and an upcoming celebrity invasion—Jim Carrey and Bruce Willis have reportedly bought homes here—the calm may not last for long. Head south on Route 24 and enjoy it while it lasts.
Bristol is also easy to get to by boat, and Bristol Marine (401-253-2200, www.bristolmarine.com) offers moorings for visitors who sail themselves into town. Once docked, rent kayaks from Ocean State Adventures (401-254-4000, www.kayakri.com). Paddlers can go from Bristol Harbor out to nearby Hog Island, which takes about three and a half hours and showcases the island’s shell-strewn beaches. No worries if you’re still a novice—there’s plenty to see (a bustling marina, coastal wildlife) in the harbor itself.
Prefer both feet on solid ground? The fairly flat and easy 14.5-mile East Bay Bicycle Path starts at Independence Park on Bristol’s waterfront and cruises all the way into Providence along the state’s eastern shore (www.dot.state.ri.us/bikeri; rent bikes at Northwind Sports, 401-254-4295, www.northwindsports.com). Along the way, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Environmental Education Center has a walking trail that leads through a variety of habitats—cornfields, woods, meadows, salt marshes—in its 28-acre McIntosh Wildlife Refuge (401-245-7500, www.asri.eec.org). You can also bring your bike onboard the Prudence Island Ferry (401-253-9808), which departs regularly from downtown Bristol, for a short ride to the island’s 10.8 miles of wooded trails.
Take a break from the great outdoors and visit the light-filled Core Pilates & Yoga Studio (259 Thames St., 401-253-3811, www.corepilates yoga.com), or indulge in a “spassage”—a massage, facial, back exfoliation, and foot treatment in one—at Alayne White Spa (259 Thames St., 401-254-1772, www.alaynewhite.com). A picnic lunch from Narragansett Provision Company (259 Thames St., 401-253-4700) is just the thing for sports fans willing to drive one town over to Portsmouth for the world-class Saturday afternoon Polo Series (www.newportinternationalpolo.com). Intrepid travelers can join the Newport mobs to watch the best female golfers in the world tee off this month at the U.S. Women’s Open, or experience some high-energy court action at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships (6/26–7/2, 401-843-8742, www.2006uswomens open.com; 7/8–7/16, 401-849-3990, tennisfame.org).
Back in Bristol, locals love sipping cold beers on the roof of harborside pub J. G. Goff’s (251 Thames St., 401-253-4523), before settling into window tables at the DeWolf Tavern (259 Thames St., 401-254-2005) and tucking into tandoor roasted chicken. Many also rave about intimate boîte Persimmon (31 State St., 401-254-7474, www.persimmonbristol.com), with its native black sea bass in a Thai-inspired sauce. Finally, any time is a great time for a homemade scoop of grapenut, rum raisin, or cookie dough delight from the Bristol outpost of nearby Tiverton’s famous Gray’s Ice Cream (16 East Rd., 401-624-4500, www.graysicecream.com). Or better yet, have all three—after all, you are on vacation. —Christie Matheson
WHERE TO STAY: Bristol Harbor Inn, 401-254-1444, www.bristolharborinn.com, weekend doubles from $209; Point Pleasant Inn, 401-253-0627, www.pointpleasantinn.com, doubles from $350.