The true riches of America’s smallest state endure in the coves and crannies of its 400-mile shoreline, tucked under the scrubby pines and behind the dunes, available to anyone curious enough to find them. The drive down Route 77 from Tiverton to Sakonnet, in the southeastern corner of Rhode Island, is a real charmer, taking you past grazing cows and quirky shops. In Little Compton Commons, you’ll find New England’s perfect snack: a lobster roll at Commons Lunch. Across the street, the town’s ancient graveyard is ideal for wandering, as is the gracious, clapboard United Congregational Church, whose white steeple can be seen from the sea. The mansions of Newport’s 19th-century nouveaux riches, 22 miles south of Little Compton, are jammed with tourists in high summer. Probably the most interesting gems are Kingscote, a Gothic Revival built in 1841, and Redwood Library, a Palladian-style structure housing rare books and early American paintings. To feel like a vacationing Vanderbilt, stay at the Chanler at Cliff Walk, an opulent 20-room property where staffers stand at the ready with spiced pear sparkling wine. Or drive an hour to Watch Hill, which once vied with Newport as the toniest town in the state, but whose turn-of-the-20th-century shingled residences were much less pretentious. Ocean House, one of the town’s oldest buildings, was recently rebuilt as a 49-room luxury retreat—it still has the original stone hearth and stunning views of a long, sandy beach.
Rhode Island Family Tip: In Portsmouth, the Green Animals Topiary Garden, which dates back to 1880, has boxwoods shaped like a camel, a giraffe, a bear, and other animals. It’s a delightful place to let the kids stretch their legs. 380 Cory’s Lane, Portsmouth; 401/847-1000.
Rhode Island Affordable Tip: The summertime antiques and crafts fairs in Tiverton’s Four Corners plaza are worth noodling around, especially with sandwiches on freshly baked country-white bread from Provender (3883 Main Rd., Tiverton; 401/624-8084; lunch for two $25) or a scoop from Gray’s Ice Cream (ice cream from $3).
Rhode Island: World’s Best Scorecard
Chanler at Cliff Walk Newport 92.67
Chanler at Cliff Walk 117 Memorial Blvd., Newport; 401/847-1300; thechanler.com; doubles from $599.
Commons Lunch 48 Commons Way, Little Compton; 401/635-4388; commonslunch.ambz.com; lunch for two $32.
Kingscote 253 Bellevue Ave., Newport; 401/847-1000; newportmansions.org.
Ocean House 1 Bluff Ave., Watch Hill; 401/584-7000; oceanhouseri.com; doubles from $595.
Redwood Library 50 Bellevue Ave., Newport; 401/847-0292; redwoodlibrary.org.
United Congregational Church 1 Commons Way, Little Compton; 401/635-8472; ucclcri.org.