If the state motto were up to me, it’d be Rhode Island: You Do You. Officially, of course, it’s the Ocean State, a nod to 400 miles of coastline tucking in the land. It’s a laid back and quirky place, this smallest state in the union, whatever the sub-title!
Let’s begin the trip with golden hour at Moonstone Beach in the Trustom Pond Reserve in South Kingstown. Smooth glowing rocks are strewn in the sand as the scent of beach roses lining the trails wafts to the smashing waves. Big sigh! Bird watching is rewarding here, with a section of oceanfront restricted to protect nesting plovers from April-September.
By the pond I admire the egrets and herons, and watch crabbers (humans) throwing hand lines. A walk and then a meditative rest watching the waves slows me down to the right speed. Can a knitter sit still? Nope. I give in to the urge to stack stones—an act that focuses and joins me in spirit to artists who’ve left cairns and sculptures earlier.
Wickford will I wander.
The next morning a fresh day begins in the historic seaside village of Wickford, in North Kingstown. It’s charming. So charming! There’s really no other word for Wickford, with the largest collection of owner occupied Colonial and Federal period homes in the nation. Casual yet perfectly messy cottage gardens line curving lanes. The village center hugs a harbor, with locally owned shops, eateries and galleries. Wandering is delightful in any weather. Style-wise, this is ground zero for Coastal Grandmother (colorful handmade accessory variant). It’s not a new trend for Wickford—wrinkly linen, a sunhat, plus a colorful wrap are a way of life.
If your maker mojo has been laying low, this town will kick it out of the hammock! Stepping into The Sew-Op inspires a fabric purchase for a One Yard Minimalist Top. The spacious shop is the owner’s vision of a sewing maker space, with classes and knowledge gladly shared. Down the street at Flatfish Cottage I fall for a wall of capacious tote bags in natural materials—and at the Wickford Gourmet Kitchen Outlet, I seriously consider acquiring a block printed ocean coral tablecloth to sew into a tunic. Such is the spell I’m under.
Would it be a Knitter’s Weekend without a yarn shop? The Mermaid’s Purl calls, with yarns from far and near, including skeins under the shop label hand dyed by owner Lizzie Shriner. I love that she’s displayed Ravelry-popular samples all through the space. And I’m delighted to see Mermaids Purl Sea Dragon fingering weight especially dyed in skein pairs for assigned pooling projects. My Calico shawl will be locally dyed and locally cast on this weekend!
Next up: a bite to eat overlooking the harbor and a kayak or stand up paddle rental if the sun is shining. If not, I’ll head to two nearby museums. The Gilbert Stuart Museum in Saunderstown is the Colonial era birthplace/home of the artist famous for painting the first six presidents. You’ve no doubt seen his work on the one dollar bill.
For more art and a better understanding of the area and of Native American place names, visit the Tomaquag Museum, in Exeter. Exhibits share the history of Rhode Island’s first people from an indigenous point of view.
Any trip to South County is enhanced by a visit Fantastic Umbrella Factory in Charlestown. This multi acre farmstead has been around for a few centuries. It’s a mix of shopping bazaar, gardens and art studios, leaning toward handmade with a 1970’s hippy vibe. You’ll find blown glass art, a henna tattoo studio, jewelry, shell windchimes, block printed shirts, flower filled greenhouses, and a bamboo forest so dense it blocks the sun along its paths.
Native American art and jewelry fills the The Purple Shell at The Umbrella Factory. Narragansett artist and owner Allen Hazard’s pieces give the gallery its name. He features the polished inner shell of the local quahog (clam) which was made into the bead currency known as wampum. Once you’re through exploring with the emus and chickens, plunk down in a welcoming garden chair and knit.
Try Johnny Cakes, preferably made with locally ground corn meal from a grist mill. Coffee milk is the official state drink of Rhode Island, made with Autocrat Coffee Syrup. And that surprised me because I thought the official state drink was the ubiquitous Del’s Frozen Lemonade, which is the ideal beverage for washing down your quahog fritters, found at every clam shack in the county. (Unless of course you’d prefer to go full Rhody with a coffee cabinet—the local word for milkshake—on the side.)
Choose a beach!
The beaches of South County are many, with varied personalities. This helpful guide is worth consulting in any season.
The good news is all the beaches are glorious.
Scarborough offers the longest uninterrupted strip of beach with a boardwalk of amenities. There’s a a muscle beach vibe in the center section and a quieter (or as a friendly lifeguard said, sizing us up … older ) crowd on the north end, and good, reliable waves. A couple of miles south, at Roger Wheeler State Beach, breakwater waves are softer and smaller—perfect for those less steady in the ocean or with littles. Matunuck has a year round surfing scene.
Blue Shutters is a sweet small beach while Watch Hill offers a long sweep of ocean shoreline with mansions on the cliffs above. Fun fact: one belongs to Taylor Swift and this is her song about it. Watch Hill itself is stroll-worthy, anchored by the oldest carousel in America with real brass rings.
Whether you’re swimming or walking and kite flying or just knitting and letting the sound of waves wash over you, a few hours will rejuvenate. Local tip: the very best beach days are in September. The humidity magically disappears with the summer people, the water is sparkly turquoise and still warm. Parking restrictions are relaxed. Top out the weekend with a fried fish or clam dinner, it will never taste as good as it does served in a paper boat on a picnic bench while you’re still coated in sand and salt water.