Cover Story

The Most South County Summer Ever

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

Webster’s defines a “South County Bang-Bang” as follows: going to Aunt Carrie’s for a late lunch, followed by ice cream across the street. While having ice cream, text your friend/parent/lover and say, “Hey! U kno what I havent had in ages? Aunt Carries.” Tell them you’ll meet them there after they get out of work. Your secret's safe with us. 

When it comes to selfies that show your deep appreciation for New England’s rustic charms and trendy photo composition, you can’t go wrong with a lighthouse. But if you really want to drop the #FOMO hammer on your followers, stay overnight at the Rose Island Lighthouse. Luckily you won’t have to take a shift with the light. Who needs that kind of pressure?

Everyone has a “secret” beach they love to not share with other people. This summer, be sure to bait your friends with heavily redacted Vaguebook posts about where you’re soaking up some rays (or are you…?). If you do cave in to pressure and decide to bring a friend along, make sure to blindfold them on the ride in and out like you’re taking them to the bad guy’s lair in a Bond movie.

One of our biggest summer essentials is eating a lobster that you bought straight off the dock in Galilee. We’re wicked lucky to have the freshest seafood at our fingertips in RI. Champlin’s, Narragansett Bay Lobsters and The Lobster Guy all sell caught-that-day lobsters, but you can buy them straight from the boats, too, and then you’ve got a good story to tell at dinner.

Bar crawls are for college kids and bachelor parties. This summer, round up your hungriest friends (preferably with iron stomachs) and tackle a South County clam shack crawl. The rules are simple: Treat yourself to a cup of chowder and some clam cakes at as many clam shacks as you can. The last person standing wins, and the first person to throw up has to either move to Connecticut or drink a Del’s with a straw in public.

When you want a beer and a bite but don’t want to give up the sand, you go to the Ocean Mist. This summer, go full Rhody by getting an order of fish tacos in your bathing suit and washing it down with a (finally!) locally brewed ‘Gansett. The lager might still be brewed in New York, but the Summertime Citra Ale and Town Beach IPA are brewed right here in the 401. They’ve even got “South County” right on the can!

Don’t just go to Block Island for the beaches and day drinking - go for the festivals. Block Island Music Festival on June 13-18, Country Fest at Ballards on July 7 and Conserfest on August 5-6 will have you rockin’ and rollin’ while Block Island Maritime Institute’s delicious and phonetically accurate Oysta’ Festival on August 26 will put the beach right in your belly.

The South County Balloon Festival is a stunning display of aerial awesomeness, but every year you chicken out of actually getting in a balloon basket. Not this year. Psych yourself up – or schedule a few preemptive therapy sessions to work out your fear of heights – and take to the sky (July 21-23). 

Taking in all of the grand, summertime glory of South County in a single day can be an overwhelming task. However, if you want to see all of it in under 10 minutes, all you have to do is jump out of a plane. Skydive Westerly literally allows you to see all of South County at once, with the added bonus of screaming for your life while free-falling at 120mph.

The Newport Mansions are offering up a new look at the decadent summer homes by offering tours of the Breakers’ basement. Quietly interject yourself into local history by whispering to your fellow tourists that your great great grandfather installed the mansion’s HVAC system or, better yet, that your ancestors lost the deed to the house in a high-stakes Texas Hold ‘Em game in this very boiler room.

The Newport Folk Festival sells out faster than Dylan did when he went electric (too soon?). Life-hack your way into this year’s festival (July 28-30) by spying on Fort Adams from Fort Wetherill in Jamestown with a good pair of binoculars and NPR’s live stream of select performances on your phone. Avoid showering for a week beforehand to get that authentic je ne sais funk of a sweaty, sold-out festival crowd.

If last year’s maddening obsession with Pokémon Go taught us anything, it’s that summer is the perfect season to catch ‘em all. Redirect those efforts from adorable, supernatural monsters to the Mews Tavern’s 69 brews on tap. See if you can catch ‘em all by (responsibly) having a pint of each before summer ends.

The Washington County Fair has been going strong since 1967. Pay your respects this year (August 16-20) by showing up with 51 candles on a stack of johnnycakes and singing “Happy Birthday” to whoever will listen. Just be careful with such an irresponsible number of lit candles, especially if you’re anywhere near the scarecrow contest!

Rhode Island + Sand = The Beach. Wrong. Feel some sand between your toes without the beach crowds by wandering Rhode Island’s very own “desert” in West Greenwich. If the heat starts to get to you, don’t worry – that swimming hole you see isn’t a mirage… or is it? Go ahead and start calling yourself Lawrence of Arcadia.

Misquamicut’s classic car and drive-in movie nights happen on Thursday and Fridays, but there’s no reason you have to pick one over the other. Roll into a screening of Jaws in a car that would have fit right into the film’s late-‘70s setting or, better yet, would have been considered a classic even then. 

Sure, the hipsters all pounced on Newport Folk Fest, but it’s not the only legendary music festival to call the city home. Without Chuck Berry’s performance at the ‘58 Newport Jazz Festival we wouldn’t have Keith Richards, so let the young, bearded masses have their Avett Brothers and their Fleet Foxes, you’re going to the Jazz Fest (August 4-6).

Nothing says “class act” like showing up at a fancy dinner party with your own food. While it might be tempting to arrive at Weekapaug Inn’s Thursday night clambakes with your own pot and dubiously acquired clams, we strongly suggest you reconsider. After all, it’s a long-standing South County tradition, so they probably know what they’re doing. It would be hilarious though...

For the more classically inclined, Wilcox Park is hosting The Colonial Theatre Tuesday through Sunday nights starting July 26 for Shakespeare in the Park – they’ll be putting on Twelfth Night – and the Chorus of Westerly’s Summer Pops (June 24). If you want to really South County it up a notch, we suggest reciting along with the actors and calling out requests in a thick Rhode Island accent: “My stahs shine dahkly ovah me!” “1812 Ovahchah!” Little-known fact: That’s actually what they did at the Globe Theatre.

Charlestown’s Fantastic Umbrella Factory has a little bit of everything – food, beautiful gardens and art, and quirky shops that reflect our state’s free spirit. While you’re there, be sure to check out the irrefutable proof that birds used to be dinosaurs by looking straight into the living face of fear and feeding one of their emus.

Aunt Carrie’s, rose island lighthouse, champlin's, champlin's ri narragansett bay lobsters, the lobster guy, south county, clam shacks, narragansett beer, the ocean mist, block island, block island music festival, country fest at ballards, conserfest, block island maritime oysta festival, south county balloon festival, skydive westerly, newport mansions, newport folk festival, newport jazz festival, mews tavern, washington county fair, rhode island desert, misquamicut beach, misquamicut drive-in movies, misquamicut classic car night, weekapaug inn, the colonial theatre, wilcox park, chorus of westerly, chorus of westerly's supper pops, fantastic umbrella factory, so rhode island, tony pacitti, hilary block, mike cevoli, stacey doyle


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