A quick visit to Newport, Rhode Island: Oysters! Sailboats! JFK!

By Caitlin Kelly

If I haven’t fled the computer and apartment and town every three or four months, I get restless!

So a quick and easy choice was the 3-4 hour drive northeast to Newport, RI, a town I hadn’t been to in decades, since a friend in a town near it loaned us her house while she was away for a week. She has long since moved away, but at a writing conference last year I met a fun young woman, a fellow writer, who spoke on a panel and with whom I later had coffee when she came to NY from Newport.

I found a very cheap and funky B and B right in town, and she and I hung out. Perfect weekend!

I was also very lucky to be there in the off season so I was able to park my car for three full days, at no cost, a block away on the street and enjoyed uncrowded tourism as the place is truly mobbed in the summer, especially with the jazz festival and folk festival.

Friday night we splurged on dinner at The White Horse, the oldest restaurant (1673) continuously operating in the U.S., and a building of tremendous history. The meal was great and the surroundings lovely.

This interactive game was amazing! It even uses a real wooden tiller to “steer.”

It can happen!

Saturday I went to the new sailing museum, which — as a sailor from childhood — I loved! It has fantastic interactive exhibits I completely enjoyed, a cut-open J24, a classic boat, examples of sail materials, great action videos, trophies, fab photos. I had a great pizza across the street and wandered Thames Street, (there pronounced to rhyme with James), lined with all sorts of shops. I bought two small lovely vases by a local potter and that evening sat at the bar at the Red Parrot, watching the busiest bartender ever manage his job with grace and calm.

Newport, as some of you know, has some extraordinary mansions — known as “cottages”, built by the country’s wealthiest. People love to tour them, but I was more intrigued, literally walking around the block from my lodgings, by row after row of elegant 18th c houses. I love history and architecture and the late 1700s is one of my favorite periods of design, so this was heaven!

A block north of my room stands St. Mary’s, an imposing red brick Catholic church right on the corner…where, on Sept. 12, 1953, a young woman named Jacqueline Bouvier married a handsome young Senator named John F. Kennedy.

I’m usually not easily moved emotionally by many official sights and monuments, but I was so struck by the humanity and intimacy of seeing the church where her new life began — and gave her barely a decade of joy and marriage and young children before being brutally widowed in 1963. Like everyone who has married in a church (as I have twice), there’s such a moment of excitement and nerves and anticipation as you stand at that front door and walk down the aisle to take your vows and begin a wholly new life. I could really feel it there.

That’s the spire of St. Mary’s in the background

Sunday morning I loved breakfast, again, around the corner, at Franklin Spa — opening hours 6 am to 1pm — and watched it filling up with locals and regulars. My friend picked me up and we drove to Tiverton Four Corners, to see a glamorous new cafe and two adjacent shops, Groundswell. So fun! On offer were glorious teas from French maker Mariage Freres and some of the yummiest pastries ever — including this astounding thing we had never seen before and LOVED. Basically a brioche full of whipped cream, called a maritozzi.

Soooooooo good!

The spring sun was warm but the wind bitter; my friend very thoughtfully brought two thick blankets which we wrapped around our legs as we sat in Adirondack chairs around a propane firepit.

We looked at the gorgeous tableware and aprons and condiments for sale but I only bought some tea and a jar of ginger and jam.

We dined at The Clark Cooke House, which was wonderful — more oysters! My friends were very generous and used a gift certificate so it was free. I was so grateful to be so welcomed and hosted and shown around.

Monday morning was a visit to a place I’ve been buying from for many years, Fabric Connection, mostly to say hello to the staff. They have an amazing array of gorgeous fabrics and pillows.

I made a final quick stop at the beach — to sniff the ocean and grab a shell! — but the wind was sooooo bitterly cold.


19 thoughts on “A quick visit to Newport, Rhode Island: Oysters! Sailboats! JFK!

  1. Forgive me Caitlin–it seems to me you went mostly east, and only slightly north to get from where you live to Newport. Although I can’t remember exactly where you are in New York, but none of New York State is more than maybe 50 miles south of Newport. (I’m a fanatic about geography, probably the result of three x-country road trips by the time I was barely more than 8.)

    I’ve only been once, over a decade and a half ago, and I shall have to get there again. I didn’t realize that JFK and Jackie got married there, although I’ve read enough Kennedy bios that I probably did know that, and simply forgot it. The latest, JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, (1917–1956), was the most interesting to me, as the author dug deeper. JFK was very thoughtful from a young age.

    Beautiful photos. Intriguing seeing a navy hat from the Civil War.

  2. I love Newport, the Salve Regina University campus is along the Cliff Walk and is one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. St Mary’s made me feel the same way you did when I visited years back. We had a home on the Island and enjoyed the Sakonnet River in Portsmouth. Tiverton is a sweet town and glad to hear there is a delicious restaurant there now! I think Newport is at least a three hour trek to NYC due to traffic and it is about 1 1//2 hours with traffic on 95 to New Haven Ct. It is definitely more that 50 miles to NY state if I remember correctly…I grew up all along that coastline…Boston is 1 hour away with no traffic. Sorry but I disagree with your other reader. Perhaps if you went off toward Hartford you could get to somewhere in NY faster via 84 but I sincerely doubt it.

    1. DAvid Holzman

      I’m sorry, I don’t want anyone to get lost due to confusion about where things are, due to my previous post. What is critical to know if going from southern NY State to Newport, or the reverse, is that Manhattan is around 174 miles from Newport going on 95 (the shortest route), Tarrytown NY, in a fairly central part of Westchester and along the Hudson, is 160 miles from Newport, also mostly on 95. (google maps)

      Also, for anyone going between Boston and Newport, Boston proper is actually more like an hour 25 from Newport, with no traffic, a condition that rarely exists. (google maps and personal experience.)

      My original, esoteric point, which generated the confusion about the distance between New York and Newport, is that Newport is mostly east of the part of New York where Caitlin lives, and only slightly north of it.

      As for the 50 miles, I was making the esoteric point, that no part of New York State is at a latitude that is more than 50 miles south of the latitude of Newport. If that’s still confusing, don’t worry, it’s not important, except to those of us who are on the spectrum and fanatical about geography.

      1. Got it… I was totally confused! My whole life growing up revolved around traffic up and down that Boston, New York, D.C. corridor . I remember when there was no Newport Bridge …my first visit to Newport was via Ferry from Long Island

      2. David Holzman

        My original post was definitely confusing.
        My first–and only visit to Newport so far was probably in ’05 or ’06. I hope to have a second this year!
        I can imagine the ferry from Long Island might have been fun. In my early years, 0-4 and 7-8, my family took Puget Sound ferries fairly frequently.

  3. Jan Jasper

    What a wonderful trip; I love your descriptions and your photos. But I’m confused about that Navy hat. I’d guess it’s much older than the civil war, but that’s what’s indicated on the placard. Is it possible that for some ceremonial reason they wore an older style of hat?

  4. One of these days, I want to get out to Rhode Island and tour Newport and Providence. Partly because of the history, partly because Lovecraft and New England vampires are from there, partly because I have a novel idea set there, and partly because it just seems like a cool place to be.

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