Bristol, Rhode Island

Rhode Island may be the smallest state, size wise, in the country, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in inviting beaches, interactive history, and plenty of family friendly activities.

Bristol, a town of about 23,000 people, is located between Newport (look for upcoming posts!) and the state capitol, Providence. A few years ago, my husband and I taught academic courses for Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth summer program on the campus of Roger Williams University. We were able to spend time getting to know this beautiful town that separates Narragansett Bay and Mount Hope Bay. Here are some of our favorite spots: (and I did fact check to make sure information is up to date as of June 2017)

1. Try and plan a visit around the 4th of July. The oldest 4th of July parade in the country (going all the way back to 1785) starts at Chestnut Street, ends on High Street, and travels through the downtown area. They even paint the double lines on the road (which marks the almost 2.5 mile parade route) red, white, and blue. Bristol is celebrating all summer long;  you can find a list of activities here. Expect large crowds and get their early if you want a good viewing spot.

2. Colt State Park:  A 464 acre park, free to enter and park, with plenty of space to picnic, fly kites, ride bikes, and take hikes.  There is a place to fish, but you’ll need to go to a local bait shop to get a license if you’re over the age of 15. The beach, situated on the Mount Hope Bay side of town, is run by the town of Bristol and charges a nominal entrance fee. There are bathroom facilities, a concession stand, and a great playground if kids need a break from the water.

  A view of Mount Hope Bay from Colt Sate Park.

A view of Mount Hope Bay from Colt Sate Park.

3. Coggeshall Farm Museum. Located right next to Colt State Park. You’ll be transported to back to a 1790s salt marsh farm in Rhode Island. The self guided tour of the farm allows you to get as interactive as you wish; you can be hands-off observer, or you can prepare to get dirty doing any number of farm chores: weeding and watering in the garden, wool carting in preparation for making yarn, using a two man saw to cut firewood, feeding the cows, preparing for the harvest in the fall, or making candles in the winter. I love the idea of a family experience, where your family (up to 10 people)  can make an advanced reservation for hearth cooking. You’ll harvest and prepare an entire meal using period receipts, cook it in the 18th century kitchen, and then eat the meal together. My family is definitely visiting this summer for this activity! The farm offers a wide variety of programs and special events all year, so be sure to check out the website for upcoming events.

  Learning how to cook in an 18th century kitchen at Coggeshall Farm Museum.

Learning how to cook in an 18th century kitchen at Coggeshall Farm Museum.

4. America’s Cup Hall of Fame: Sailors and enthusiasts will enjoy exploring half hull models, steering wheels, and dinghies at this museum, located on the grounds of the former Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, which built yachts that raced in America’s Cup in the early 1900s. There is also a museum for the Herreshoff company that showcases 60 over boats created by the manufacturing company. Kids (and maybe a few adults!) will enjoy climbing into some of the boats (it's clearly marked which ones you can touch and climb about) and pretend to steer the wheel. There is a waterfront area with picnic benches- perfect spot to run around and enjoy a picnic lunch.

5. Blithewold Mansion: You don’t have to stay in Newport to tour a “Gilded Age” era mansion. Blithewold mansion was built for the Van Wickle family who made their fortune from coal mining in Pennsylvania. The tours are self guided and include opportunities to explore the gardens. There are lots of program for children, and a local favorite during lunchtime on Fridays in July and August is the Family Fun Fridays, with concerts, face painting, craft, and pizza. Make sure to check out the bamboo grove forest, and make a date to return for their holiday celebrations. There’s a scavenger hunt for children to complete as they look for holiday period decor in each room.

  Part of Bamboo Grove at Blithewold Mansion

Part of Bamboo Grove at Blithewold Mansion

 My bets for Rhode Island Clam Chowder ( clear based broth instead of cream) and dining with a view of either bay:

Aidan's Pub:  5 John Street in Bristol. Great Irish pub and bar. We went here frequently when we were in town, and it looks like they're a mainstay in Bristol. Casual atmosphere and I would bring kids for a late lunch or early dinner to eat on the patio. 

DeWolf Tavern: 259 Thames Street in Bristol. A local recommended DeWolf for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The tavern is housed in a stone warehouse from 1818. They also have a waterfront deck open for the summer. The menu has a nice variety of American cuisine and while they don't have a formal kid's menu, the staff assured me they can whip a variety of traditional options for the younger crowd. 

Lobster Pot: 119 Hope Street in Bristol. Another good spot for seafood and chowder with a view of Narragansett Bay. A little on the pricier side but still casual enough to bring the kids. 

Roberto's: 450 Hope Street in Bristol. Very popular street for shops and boutiques. If you've tired of seafood, Roberto's is known for their fine Italian cooking. They also have an outdoor eating area for the summer.