For Kids: Wheeler State Beach, Narragansett
The waves are gentle, the parking is plentiful (and close by) and the snacks from the snack bar are never more than one looming meltdown away. Rhode Island’s only state beach with a playground on site, Wheeler is popular with families with younger kids. Once they’re old enough to hit the surf without help, it’s probably time to relocate to nearby Scarborough and leave the baby surf for the babies.
Amenities: Pavilion, lifeguards, restrooms, snack bar
For Cocktails: Misquamicut State Beach, Westerly
Popular with tourists and for good reason, Misquamicut is a vacationer’s paradise… even if you’re only taking a one-day vacation. Around the strip of state beach, there are several restaurants - like The Andrea, Paddy’s and The Windjammer - with service in the sand, meaning the waitstaff will bring you some clam cakes and a tropical cocktail while you lounge on a beach chair and soak in the sun.
Amenities: Pavilion, lifeguards, restrooms, snack bar, proximity to beach bars and restaurants
For Nature Lovers: Napatree Point, Watch Hill
Watch Hill might be a tiny area, but it has a lot of prime beach areas. To experience some nature with your waves, make your way to Napatree Point. Protected by the Watch Hill Conservancy, the fenced-off dunes are home to deer, fox, ospreys and the federally endangered piping plover. Two main paths will get you over the dunes (they’re very tall – prepare yourself) and to the long stretch of beach, which is the southernmost point in mainland Rhode Island.
Amenities: On-street parking, a sense of seclusion
For Surfing: Narragansett Town Beach, Narragansett
If you don’t associate Rhode Island with surfing, you haven’t spent enough time on Narragansett Town Beach. Three places in Narragansett offer lessons on Town Beach, which has the state’s best waves and surf conditions: Narragansett Surf and Skate, Warm Winds and Peter Pan Surf Academy. You can book in advance, or walk up to the groups of tanned beach bums convening around surfboard-filled vans from the stores and get a lesson on the spot.
Amenities: Pavilion, cabana rentals for residents, lifeguards, restrooms, snack bar, water sports, morning and evening activities
For Celebrity Sightings: East Beach, Watch Hill
Let’s just be clear here: there are a lot of good reasons to visit Watch Hill that don’t involve a Taylor Swift sighting. The chances of seeing her – or really, seeing anyone on her compound – are very, very slim. (This writer once saw a hoodie-clad man catching a football on her lawn, and he may or may not have been Ryan Reynolds. Let’s just call that a win.) You can, however, go down the rocky path to East Beach, where Taylor’s house is clearly visible, and take a selfie with it in the background. The beach is marked only by one tiny sign and a gap in the bushes where the aforementioned path starts, but once you get down to the pristine beach, it’s worth the trek. There are no lifeguards or amenities, but there is a stretch of clear white sand and sparkling ocean, with views of Fisher’s Island, Long Island and the lives of the other half next door at Ocean House.
Amenities: Smaller crowds, proximity to swank
For Pets: Fred Benson Town Beach, Block Island
There are so many things to love about a beach day on Block Island: the sun, the surf, the ferry ride that makes you feel like you’re a world away in just 30 minutes. The best part for animal lovers, though, is that Fred Benson Pavilion in the heart of Crescent Beach is pet-friendly at any time of day, not just super early in the morning before the lifeguards chase you away. Just make sure Fido stays on a leash and you clean up after him. You can also rent chairs, cabanas, umbrellas and boogie boards, rather than carrying them over from the mainland.
Amenities: Pavilion, lifeguards, restrooms, snack bar, rentals, pet-friendly
For No Tourists: Charlestown Town Beach, Charlestown
Trying to avoid the crowds in South County in the summer… well, it’s no easy feat. If you’re looking for a patch of sand that will leave you plenty of space to stretch out and not have to hear your neighbor’s radio from the next blanket, town beaches are generally better than state beaches. Charlestown is a great choice for avoiding beach traffic to and from points north, as well as being a pretty well kept secret. Charlestown Town Beach has an ample parking lot for paying visitors and town residents, so there’s less of a chance you’ll be turned away. Get there with enough time to secure your spot and you won’t regret it: Big waves and clear sand will greet you, plus views for days.
Amenities: Lifeguards, changing areas, restrooms, cold-water rinse
For Foodies: Salty Brine Beach, Galilee
With two line-out-the-door restaurants nearby, this tiny hamlet of Narragansett is a must-visit if you like your beach day to include a delicious waterfront meal. George’s of Galilee and Champlin’s Seafood Restaurant both share the Salty Brine parking lot, meaning you can park, beach, have lunch, then head back for relaxation round two. Both classic seafood restaurants have walk-up, take-out service if putting a T-shirt on over your bathing suit is too much work – after all, it’s a beach day. George’s, though, offers service to your beach blanket and live music upstairs, if you can drag yourself away from your beach chair. Champlin’s has a more low-key feel – as in, a cover-up is a perfectly acceptable clothing choice – and has the Channel Bar where you can sip a mudslide and wave to the people on the Block Island Ferry.
Amenities: Pavilion, lifeguards, restrooms, snack bar, picnic area, sea wall, proximity to restaurants
For Music: Ballard’s Beach, Block Island
Once you step off the ferry, you’re officially on island time. Once you take just a few more steps over to Ballard’s Beach, you’re on vacation, even if it’s just for a few hours. While the beach is attached to Ballard’s Inn, it’s technically public, which means you can bring all your own beach gear – including coolers – with you. If you want the full experience, however, rent a lounge chair from the restaurant deck and let the servers come to you… and bring you a cocktail in a fresh pineapple. Pro tip: The fruit shell keeps the frozen Del’s and vodka icy cold. Every afternoon and evening in season, Ballard’s has DJs or live musicians at their outdoor stage on the patio, which you can still hear from the water or from any of the pop-up tiki bars on the beach.
Amenities: Full restaurant with beach service, lifeguards, restrooms, changing area, entertainment, VIP cabana rentals
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