South County (southeastern Rhode Island) proves that Rhode Island compresses a lot of history, culture, and natural beauty in a small space (map).
To Narragansett, Rhode Island from:
Galilee RI (Block Island Ferry): 5 miles (3 km) S
Newport RI: 17 miles (27 km) W
To get across Narragansett Bay from Newport, you will have to cross two bridges on RI Route 138: first, the Claiborne Pell (Newport) Bridge from Newport to Jamestown Island (toll), and then the Jamestown Bridge from Jamestown Island to Saunderstown (no toll).
RIPTA operates local and intercity buses within Rhode Island. Bus 66 connects Providence with T F Green Airport, Narragansett, Scarborough State Beach, Roger W Wheeler State Beach, and Galilee for Salty Brine State Beach and the Block Island ferry. More...
US Route 1A skirts the southwestern shore of Narragansett Bay passing through Narragansett, 31 miles (50 km) south of Providence and 7 miles (11 km) north of Port Galilee, the port for the Block Island Ferry (map).
Narragansett was a shipbuilding center and a port for ferries to Newport before becoming a posh summer resort in the 19th century. Grand, sprawling summer hotels were built in the tNarragansett Pier district. The grandest was the Narragansett Casino (1886) designed by McKim, Mead and White. But as with most of the grand 19th-century summer hotels—which were built of wood—the Casino was destroyed by fire in 1900. Only the Towers, ts grand towered stone archway entrance remains. You'll probably drive right beneath it as you pass through town on RI Route 1A.
Narragansett does still have several motels and inns for lodging, although most of the area's lodgings are in and around nearby Newport. More...
Narragansett Town Beach stretches north along Beach Road from the famous Narragansett Towers of Narragansett Pier (map). It's a broad swath of fine sand eagerly sought by both residents and visitors on hot summer days.
Two pavilions, North and South, contain showers, toilets and food stands, and are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but the huge parking lots are reserved for town residents and beach season-pass holders.
No worries! There's street parking on Ocean Road just north of the Narragansett Towers, and also south of the Towers. The southern end of the beach is just to the north of the Towers. These parking spaces fill up early, espcially on hot days and summer weekends.
There's also a private parking lot inland from the South Pavilion on Hoxsie Lane charging the usual beach parking fees, and open to all.
Please read these Important Beach Tips so you're not greeted by any unpleasant surprises when you reach the beach.
South of Narragansett Pier, US Route 1A passes near the Scarborough State Beaches facilities (off RI Route 108), very popular on hot summer days although never filled to capacity. The Scarborough State Beaches, like all Rhode Island beaches, works on a system of parking/admission fees, charged per car.
Jutting southeast into the Atlantic Ocean and dividing Block Island Sound from Rhode Island Sound is Point Judith, part of the Town of Narragansett RI.
Point Judith Light near Galilee RI.
The peninsula of Narragansett's southern extremity (map) offers several things to travelers:
— The car and passenger ferry docks for ferryboats to Block Island, located at Galilee
— Camping and picnic facilities at Fishermen's Memorial State Park and Campground, only 2 miles (3 km) east of Galilee
—Three of Rhode Island's best beaches along the southern and eastern shores of the peninsula.
Galilee, also called Port Galilee, two miles (3 km) northwest of Point Judith, is a small but busy fishing port, the port for ferries to Block Island, the Salty Brine State Beach, and the site of a Coast Guard station.
Sun-seekers relaxing on Salty Brine State Beach in Galilee, with a Block Island car ferry in the distance.
Fishing boats cruise in and out of Galilee throughout the day, and ferries to Block Island depart at scheduled intervals while sun-seekers relax on Salty Brine State Beach right by the breach (boat channel) or Roger W Wheeler State Beach farther east along the shore.
Restaurant-goers give orders for some of Rhode Island's freshest seafood in the many small sit-down and take-out restaurants and fish markets that dot this port village.
Assuming you come to Galilee by car, your first job in entering Galilee is to find a parking place. The small village has little space and few street parking places to accommodate the hundreds of daily visitors in summer.
Here's how and where to park:
For Salty Brine State Beach
The beach has its own small parking lot, but it fills early on summer days, especially on weekends, so if you're looking for a day at the beach here, come early!
If you're only interested in a quick swim, you may be able to find a 2- to 4-hour-limit parking meter place on the street.
For Restaurants & Fish Markets
Parking places on the street are few and in high demand, and parking is limited to 2 to 4 hours, but these free places are the best bet for a short visit to one of these establishments. Don't park there for any other purpose or your can may be towed.
For the Block Island Ferry
Numerous large private parking lots accommodate travelers taking the Block Island ferry on a day-trip, or overnight, or for several days. The going rate is $10 per calendar day. Advance reservations are not generally available, or necessary.
Where Not to Park
Note that the restaurants and motels in Galilee have parking lots, but they also put out fierce signs that threaten to have your car towed if your intention is other than patronizing their establishments. It's best to take them at their word, especially if you're going away to Block Island for the day or overnight.
Visitors flock to Rhode Island's wonderful South County beaches, ignoring picturesque Watch Hill, a genteel late-19th-century Rhode Island town at the end of a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pawcatuck River (map).
Bay Street in Watch Hill RI.
It's a sort of Newport-in-miniature: stately old homes (grand, but not palatial), yachts in the harbor (expensive, but not priceless), good beaches, a lighthouse, an antique carousel, a grand hotel and...Taylor Swift.
Swift owns an 11,000-square-foot (1022-square-meter), 8-bedroom "summer cottage" in Watch Hill.
Uh-oh...No Place to Park!
What it doesn't have is...parking. Its 19th-century streets and lanes are narrow, real estate is expensive, and the general feeling is one of exclusivity: if you don't own a home here or rent a villa or apartment longer-term, well, there's not enough room for you.
Except for the wonderful but expensive Ocean House (rooms starting at $1300 per night), there are few lodgings for those wishing to stay a night or two. But it is precisely these limits and prohibitions to discourage visitors that help to preserve Watch Hill's special atmosphere.
Children will jump at the chance to ride on the 1883 Carousel at the end of Bay Street (map), one of the oldest merry-go-rounds in the nation.
In the little park across Bay Street from the Olympia Tea Room is a statue (1914) of Ninigret (c.1610-1677), Great Sachem of the Narragansett Indians, a noble man and friend of the local English colonists.
Ocean House opened in 1868 to accommodate well-to-do city-dwellers intent on enjoying the cooling sea breezes, spectacular ocean views, and well-structured society events of a top-class Victorian resort hotel.
In 2003, long past its prime, dilapidated, and in danger of going up in smoke, it closed—some feared for good.
In 2010 a brand-new Ocean House (1 Bluff Avenue), modeled on the historic structure but entirely up-to-date, opened with 49 guest rooms and 23 residences. Its maze of balconies and porches, sunny and shady, again offers spectacular views and the exhilaration of sea breezes.
Rates start at about $1,300 to $3,500 double, per night, in season...plus tax.
Taylor Swift's High Watch
In 2013, mega-star Taylor Swift purchased, for nearly $18 million, a white 1920s clapboard mansion named High Watch that overlooks East Beach and Lighthouse Road. Fans gather hoping to catch a glimpse of Ms Swift or her famous musician and fashion friends, particularly on the Fourth of July, when Swift throws her famous Independence Day party.
Before you go Swift-seeking, consider the challenges: parking is severely limited in the town; it's likely you'll find no place to stop at all. Also, townspeople are protective of celebrities' privacy. If you approach High Watch for a look, guards will shoo you away, and if you ask about Taylor Swift at the Olympia Tea Room, staff will answer with "No comment."
Watch Hill Beaches
Should you be so lucky as to find a parking spot, you can enjoy one of Watch Hill's beaches.
Carousel (Watch Hill) Beach
Most prominent is Carousel Beach, sometimes called Watch Hill Beach, right next to the antique carousel in the village center (map).
The daily beach fee gives you access to the beach, its changing rooms, showers and toilets, and the services of a lifeguard.
Lockers are available for rent to store your clothing, as are beach umbrellas (there's little other shade), beach chairs, and boogie boards (small flotant boards).
The sand is soft, the view fine, the location convenient.
East Beach, over the hill to the east, is longer, wider, open to the public for free, less crowded, and only a few minutes' walk from the town center (where you must park, as there is no parking near the beach).
Taylor Swift's mansion, High Watch, looms above East Beach, but don't bet on a celebrity sighting. Just enjoy the beach.
East Beach: plenty of room...
Come to East Beach if you need more space to spread out or to play beach sports.
To find East Beach, walk from the carousel uphill on Larkin Road, turning left as the street does (it becomes Bluff Avenue) at the top of the hill. There's a crosswalk leading to a narrow, poorly-marked path going downhill through the bushes to the beach. Here's a little map:
Nappatree Point Beach
Nappatree Point extending westward from Watch Hill Beach into Fishers Island Sound, is even bigger (more than two miles long), and is a favorite with boaters, fishers and water-skiers who walk here from the town. Because it is a wildlife refuge, there are no services whatsoever.
Misquamicut Beach, while not strictly in Watch Hill, is close enough that you can enjoy it if you're staying for a few days near Watch Hill. More...
Click on the link above for information on all South County beaches.
The Olympia is an authentic early 20th-century seaside-resort soda-fountain café, with black-and-white checkerboard floor tiles, well-used wooden booths, a few sidewalk tables, and waitresses in black dresses with white aprons.
The atmosphere is refreshingly real, not "re-created."
On fine summer days the prime place to sit is at one of the sidewalk tables, of course. The rule is hover and pounce: spot people near the end of their meal, move as close as possible without disturbing, then move in with determination when they rise from their seats.
As for the food, there's plenty of it, and it's more up to date: sauteed shrimp with feta cheese, clam stew, chicken fajitas with hot tortillas and guacamole, bouillabaisse, and of course, lots of seafood, from clams and sausages on linguine to boiled lobster.
Watch Hill lighthouse.
Watch Hill is out of the way, off at the end of its peninsula jutting into the sea. That—and the difficulty of parking in the town—makes it a bit more time-consuming to reach, which is what keeps it quiet...and changeless.
Distances from Watch Hill, Rhode Island to:
Newport RI: 40 miles (64 km) E
Providence RI: 48 miles (77 km) SW
Westerly RI: 6 miles (10 km) S
By car, go south from Westerly on US Route 1A to Avondale, then follow signs to Watch Hill (map).