Watch Hill and Westerly are the definitive anti-Hamptons, or at least what Montauk was long way before the Surf Lodge. That is to say, Watch Hill and its environs are fully rustic, authentically local, relatively un-gentrified (if the baseline is East Hampton), and unpretentious, with just the right dash of elegance. Full of pristine beaches and a food scene full of unique local flavors and options that will more than satisfy discerning foodies, the southwestern Rhode Island area makes you want to bring back summer, the verb.
Where to Stay
The grande dame of Watch Hill is the Ocean House, perched dramatically on a hill leading down to a white sand beach next to Taylor Swift's sprawling home. The luxurious Relais and Châteaux property, which dates to the 1860s before a 2010 gut renovation, has the feel of an intimate resort, with six restaurants, an indoor and outdoor pool, sauna, and a Forbes Five-Star award-winning spa. But it's the little extra perks—like a handful of loaner Mercedes and the personal attention of the staff—that make you feel like you are staying at your friend's totally fabulous estate. Also, returning this year: the hotel has a secret champagne garden—aptly called Secret Garden—in partnership with Veuve Cliquot.
One Bluff Avenue, 401-584-7000
If the Ocean House is the crown jewel, the Weekapaug Inn (above) is the hidden gem of the area. The 31-room hotel has a perfectly manicured croquet lawn that's something out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Located on glassy Quonochontaug Pond, actually a saltwater lagoon as well as a short walk from stunning ocean beaches, one never lacks swimming options (there's also a heated lap pool and sun deck with Jacuzzi). Management not so subtly encourages guests to unplug—there are no phones in the rooms—so they can enjoy walks, boat rides, or tide-pool walks with the on-property naturalist. To properly outfit guests for those walks, the hotel also recently introduced a Hunter Boots borrowing closet in collaboration with the British brand, the first U.S. hotel partnership of its kind.
25 Spray Rock Road, 888-813-7862
Where to Shop
Savoy Bookshop and Café
One of the more recent additions to the continued revitalization of downtown Westerly—a small town on the up and up—is the Savoy Bookshop. The store has beautiful built-in wood
10 Canal Street, Westerly, RI 401-213-3901
Think hippie meets Lilly Pulitzer—that's the kind of assortment of wares you'll find at Christina Limited, which has two locations: one in Westerly and another in Watch Hill. This summer, they plan to offer martinis and massages every Friday on their back porch at their Watch Hill location—just another reason to check out their assortment of clothing, bags, quality and accessories, many of which are made from vintage linens and recycled fabrics.
119 Bay Street, Watch Hill, 401-315-2240
1 Railroad Avenue, Westerly, 401-315-2615
Where to Eat & Drink
Matunuck Oyster Bar
Hop in the car and drive about 25 minutes from Watch Hill to what should be known as the Joe's Stone Crab of Rhode Island. The restaurant, which is now in its seventh year, raises its own oysters on Potter Pond (over which the restaurant scenically sits), along with serving completely local vegetables and fish. The wait can be over an hour—time which is best passed drinking wine and eating delicacies from their raw bar—but once you sit down it's worth it for, among other things, their oyster stew, scallop ceviche, and panko-crusted fluke.
629 Succotash Road, 401-783-4202
Go for their dirty martinis that come with blue cheese-stuffed olives, their lick-the-plate Point Judith fried calamari, and their world-famous meatballs. Stay for the scene: real Rhode Island Italian, but a place that is also said to be a favorite of New England Patriots players. Also of note—it serves pies with not only savory but also sweet toppings like Nutella.
84 High Street, Westerly, 401-315-0881
Open for more than 100 years, the Olympia Tea Room is a Watch Hill institution, known for its simple, straightforward food such as seared scallops and braised lamb shanks. Locals tout its extensive wine list featuring bottles they say are best consumed al fresco overlooking the harbor. One of the few dining options in the village, it is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner and located right off the beach.
74 Bay Street, Watch Hill, 401-348-8211
Whatever delicacy ends up your plate at COAST, the culinary crowning achievement of southwestern Rhode Island, chances are it was probably sourced by Chef Ryan Beaudoin, the food forager at the Ocean House. The cuisine is exquisite yet accessible, with the ingredients as the stars of the plate. The four-course
One Bluff Avenue, 401-584-7000
Where to Sightsee
When the great hurricane of 1938 washed away all the homes on this 1.5-mile sandy spit extending into the Atlantic from Watch Hill village, it destroyed lives but left a stunning, serene beach and nature preserve behind with the trifecta of views: Fishers Island, Long Island, and Block Island. You would be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque stretch of coast in mainland southern New England.
This former training airfield for World War II pilots–future President George H. W. Bush was stationed here–was converted to a giant public park, the coastal portion of which is now a national wildlife preserve with miles of scenic paths that intersect the overgrown paved airstrip. It's a great spot for longer strolls on wide, family-friendly paths.
Watch Hill Lighthouse
Your trip to Watch Hill–or, for that matter, to coastal New England–is incomplete without a stroll to a postcard-perfect lighthouse. This one–past stately mansions and onto a lonely, windswept outcropping, is just a stone's throw from Watch Hill village. Go to spy the coast and the sea, take in a tranquil moment, and contemplate an earlier era of seafaring navigation.
Three wildlife refuges? You've come to Rhode Island for the coastal beauty, so don't shortchange yourself. And each park and stretch of coast has a distinct personality: while Ninegret shines with stark, open vistas of saltwater ponds, Trustom Pond charms with intimate backwoods and waterside paths nestled in the woods and underbrush. You're more likely to encounter birdwatchers, locals on their constitutionals, and fauna like wild turkeys, mink, and water fowl here.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.