The warmest swim I ever had in New England was well past Labor Day, on the last day of September in South County, Rhode Island. As a born and bred New Englander from north of Boston, I’d been swimming in the chilly Atlantic waters since birth—from coastal Maine to Cape Cod. Growing up, I never understood why the Rhode Island license plates declared it as “the ocean state.”
Until, in my late 30s, my husband-to-be brought me on a tour of Little Rhody and I spontaneously jumped into the water at Captain Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett. “It’s so warm!” I exclaimed. “I can’t believe tomorrow is October 1 and the water is so warm.” And, after a coastal drive around South County, I understood why Rhode Island is known as “the ocean state.”
Twenty public beaches line the hundred-mile coastline in South County, Rhode Island. Tucked in between these public beaches are many more secret, more private beaches only the locals really know about, but visitors who return year after year have also discovered them, either by chance or by sheer determination to find them.
Look around and you’ll find people exploring the water any way they can—paddling, whether by kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board. Paddle out to a sand bar and you have your own private oasis – perfect for a romantic picnic. Catch some live music down at the Ocean Mist in Matunuck or take the kids to the oldest continuously operated flying horse carousel in the country down in the village of Watch Hill. While you’re there, hike Napa Tree Point and watch the sun set.
Miles of hiking and biking trails weave their way through lush forests and wildlife preserves. In the spring and fall you might glimpse rare, migrating birds stopping for a rest on their way north or south. All year long you can still see owls, eagles, and osprey. South County has so much natural beauty to take in. Hikes range from easy to difficult, woodsy to coastal. You can easily explore a new trail every day you’re there.
It’s New England so don’t expect perfect weather every day, but even on the not so sunny days, there’s plenty to do. Brush up on history and tour one of their museums, like the birthplace of Gilbert Stuart whose portrait of George Washington graces our dollar bill, or visit the Tomaquag Museum and learn about indigenous culture from descendants of the native Narragansett tribe.
In Narragansett, tour the Towers which are all that remains of the Narragansett Pier Casino and Resort from the late 19th century. The stunning building arches across Ocean Road and is now a popular wedding venue. During a storm when the waves are high, you can watch surfers on Narragansett Town Beach.
Dine on fresh, local seafood as often as you can. At the famous Matunuck Oyster Bar, the oysters are harvested right from the pond outside and the vegetables are all organically grown on a farm nearby. The Coast Guard House offers breathtaking ocean views and fresh seafood as does George’s of Galilee. While in Galilee, visit the docks and pick up some lobsters fresh off the boat directly from the lobstermen. You can also book a fishing charter for the day and catch your own fresh fish or try digging for clams at one of the many salt ponds. Nothing beats the satisfaction of catching your own dinner.
Summer definitely lingers longer in South County, Rhode Island. I’d say the best month to visit is September. Most tourists are gone, the ocean is still warm from the hot summer sun, the seafood is just as fresh and always abundant, and you’ll have plenty of privacy. Plan your South County vacation today at southcountyri.com.