The Charm of South County, Rhode Island
Washington County, known locally as South County, Rhode Island, is the southernmost of the state’s three counties. Just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the state capitol, visitors in Rhode Island can experience the rich history and tradition of this unique area. Many structures and institutions—some dating back to pre-revolutionary war—still exist in this relatively unknown area. Most popular among tourists are the stunning beaches; however; many of South County’s historical gems go unnoticed by visitors and locals alike.
We asked a native of Kingston, a tiny historic district named after King Philip’s war (whose most famous battle was fought just down the street at the Great Swamp in 1675), to help us give you a complete days’ worth of dining and exploring some of the best historic sights South County has to offer.
Shayna’s Place Cafe: Café/Bakery, Historic Wickford Village
45 Brown Street
North Kingstown, RI 02852
Located in the heart of Historic Wickford Village, Shayna’s Place is a delightful café with a heartfelt, welcoming atmosphere. Known for their specialty breakfast and lunch sandwiches—made from scratch, of course! —you won’t want to pass on a refreshing Cucumber Mint Lemonade or a specially crafted coffee beverage. Be sure to say hi to Shayna, the café’s namesake, a passionate young woman with Down Syndrome who makes sure everyone who walks through the doors feels the love and magic of Shayna’s Place!
Be sure to take a stroll around downtown Wickford for some great views and quirky shops selling everything from artisanal jewelry, to clothing, to plants and home decor!
Historic Casey Farm: North Kingstown
2325 Boston Neck Road
Saunderstown, R.I. 02874
A charming historical farm located on Boston Neck Road in Saunderstown, RI, Casey Farm is a well-known agricultural landmark among Southern-Rhode-Islanders. Offering tours, workshops, and other educational opportunities, Casey Farm is a wonderful stop for families and anyone who wishes to learn more about where their food comes from. Don’t forget to visit the cute animals while you’re there!
BONUS: Visit Casey Farm on a Saturday morning from May to mid-October to experience a dazzling array of local produce, food products, and artisanal goods at the Coastal Growers’ Market.
Gilbert Stuart Museum: North Kingstown
815 Gilbert Stuart Road
Saunderstown, RI 02874
Fun fact: Gilbert Stuart, one of the most famous portraitists of 18th century America, was born right in South County! Best known for his portrait of George Washington (which appears on the one-dollar bill), Gilbert Stuart had an impressive career as an artist—which all started in Saunderstown, RI. Visitors can explore the restored historic home and grist mill of the Stuart family via guided tour, learning all about life in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Oak Hill Tavern: Tavern, North Kingstown
565 Tower Hill Road
North Kingston, RI 02852
This renovated historic Stagecoach shop is a local favorite for classic BBQ eats! Best known for their vibrant tavern atmosphere—and killer slow-smoked BBQ ribs—there is something to satisfy every appetite at the Oak Hill Tavern. A bit calmer in the afternoon for lunch time, the energy picks up in the evening with live entertainment—and a rush of locals and visitors vying for a taste of that tangy signature BBQ! Be sure to check out their extensive selection of whiskeys, from distilleries all across the USA, and around the globe.
Aunt Carrie’s: Fast-Casual, Narragansett
1240 Ocean Road
Narragansett, RI 02882
A Narragansett institution, Aunt Carrie’s is a family restaurant known across the country for their award-winning New England classics. Their famous clam cakes and chowder recipes date back four generations, original creations of Aunt Carrie herself! Updated in recent years to include desserts and an ice cream stand, you won’t want to miss this South County Tradition!
The Coast Guard House: Narragansett
40 Ocean Road
Narragansett, RI 02882
If you’re in the mood for a more upscale dining experience, the Coast Guard House is the place to be. The original building was built in the late 1800’s out of solid granite and served as a Coast Guard station before converting into a restaurant full-time in the late 1970’s. Thanks to some intense hurricane seasons, the building has been renovated in recent years and now offers stunning panoramic views of Narragansett Bay. Located directly on the water, the upstairs deck offers a more casual atmosphere, including a full-service bar, while the indoors dining area boasts a slightly upscale vibe. Their menu abounds with fresh-caught, local seafood! Be sure to try their famous Fish & Chips or classic Lobster Roll, and the Crispy Eggplant sandwich is sure to please any seafood skeptic!
This restaurant can get crowded, especially during the summer months. Make a reservation to ensure your table will be ready for you when you arrive!
Hit The Beach!
People have been flocking to South County beaches since the 1800’s! Choosing which beach to attend can be tricky—there are so many options! Here are my picks for the best state and town-run beaches:
East Matunuck State Beach: South Kingstown
The land that makes up East Matunuck Beach was slowly acquired by the state of Rhode Island over many years. Many of the structures that once inhabited the Matunuck coastline were swept away by hurricanes and coastal storms over the 80 years. Another quiet choice, East Matunuck features steady but small waves, making it a go-to spot for those learning to surf.
950 Succotash Rd,
Wakefield, RI 02879
Watch Hill Town Beach & Carousel: Westerly
Watch Hill beach offers a homey, charming feel. Located on the southwestern-most point in RI, Watch Hill beach is known for its spectacular views of Block Island Sound, and amazing sunsets. While you’re there, enjoy one of the oldest flying horse carousels in the country. Visiting the Watch Hill Beach and Carousel is a long-standing tradition for many local families, and it’s no question that your inner child will come out to play at the sight of this nostalgic gem!
153 Bay St,
Westerly, RI 02891
Blue Shutters: Charlestown
A great quiet, family-friendly option, Blue Shutters is Charlestown’s Town-run beach. You’ll pay to park, but access to the beach is free. Mostly frequented by summer residents, Blue Shutters is less crowded by the stereotypical rowdy tourists you may find at other spots. Pack some snacks picnic-style; and enjoy the calm, soothing waves, and playful laughter of children playing in the sand.
485 E Beach Rd,
Charlestown, RI 02813
East Beach State Beach: Charlestown
Located just down the sand-and-gravel driveway from Blue Shutters, East Beach is a local favorite. Here’s one of the best kept South County Secrets: The views of the sunrise over the ocean at East Beach on a clear morning are impossible to beat!
East Beach Road
Charlestown, RI 02813
Afternoon Tea at The Ocean House, Westerly
1 Bluff Avenue,
Watch Hill, RI 02891
The Ocean House is a true South County gem, situated between the sea and the streets of downtown Watch Hill. This gorgeous historic hotel first opened in 1868, just after the end of the Civil War. Sadly, the original building was closed in 2003, before being completely rebuilt the following year. The original structure and charming interior are exactly replicated in the new building, which offers dazzling culinary experiences in addition to luxurious accommodations. We recommend stopping by the cozy, welcoming Living Room to enjoy a scrumptious Traditional Afternoon Tea, complete with fresh pastries, delicate tea sandwiches, and a selection of aromatic teas.
South County Museum, Narragansett
115 Strathmore Street
Narragansett RI 02882
Looking for something not-so-beachy? The South County Museum is a must-see. Located within the gorgeous 174-acre Canonchet Farm, visitors can learn about everything from Native American life, to what might be found in a 19th century Victorian Kitchen. With many buildings and exhibits to explore, this museum gets you up close and personal with an incredible variety of historical artifacts. The rich history of South County is beautifully captured in this treasure of a museum!
The Charlestown Rathskeller: Tavern, Charlestown
489a Old Coach Road
Charlestown, RI 02813
The Charlestown Rathskeller tavern is the perfect end to a spectacular day of exploring. A little off the beaten path, this popular tavern and former speakeasy offers a spectacularly fun dining experience for adults and children alike. The menu offers pub food with a high-quality makeover; ask to be seated in the dining room to enjoy newly restored wall murals originating in the 1930’s. Before or after your meal, order a drink or two from the bar and head outside to enjoy lawn games such as bocce, horseshoes, and cornhole. Wander further down the path to check out the fire pit and, on summer weekends, live entertainment!
Places to Stay
Lilly’s at Little Rest, Historic Kingston Village, South Kingstown
2545 Kingstown Road,
Kingston, RI 02881
Lily’s at Little Rest B&B is located right in the center of historic Kingston Village; the restored building is bursting with history. The rooms are simple and comfortable, and the limited space is ideal for two couples or a family of up to five. Home-cooked, restaurant quality breakfast is served daily, and additional meals can be prepared upon request. A short walk away from the Kingston Free Library and the South County History Center (located in a historic county jail), and a short ride away from the historic Courthouse Center for the Arts, Lily’s location is understated, yet plentiful. There is plenty to explore just footsteps in any direction!
Admiral Dewey Inn, Matunuck Village, South Kingstown
668 Matunuck Beach Road,
Wakefield, RI 02879
Stepping into the Admiral Dewey Inn is like stepping back in time. The 1898 Victorian “Cottage” was until the 1930’s a bustling “seaside boarding house hotel.” The massive inn, boasting 10 guest chambers, was restored and renovated in 1986 to include heating and plumbing, and has been refurbished with antique furniture and décor. Guests enjoy a complete breakfast buffet each morning, and East Matunuck State Beach is just a under a half mile down the road!
Get Your Tickets!
See historic southern Rhode Island from the water! The tour includes 11 of Rhode Island’s 21 lighthouses, Newport Mansions and Narragansett Harbor.
Photo credit: David Zapatka
Discover Broadway musicals on the beach this summer such as Singing in the Rain and Newsies and many Chidren’s Theatre productions such as Snow White, Aladdin and Little Red Riding Hood!
Fun Facts About South County, Rhode Island
- The original U.S. Constitution was rejected at the Constitutional Convention held in the Kingston Courthouse (Now the Kingston Free Library). (The Constitution was later ratified with the addition of a Bill of Rights.)
- Historic Kingston Village is also home to the University of Rhode Island, the state’s only public university, which is home to nearly 14,000 undergraduate students each academic year.
- Narragansett, RI was once a casino-centric gambling town! Much of the present-day family-friendly beach town was destroyed in a disastrous fire in the year 1900—the famous “Towers” of Narragansett are one of the only original structures to have survived the fire.
- South County has been home to the Narragansett Indian tribe for more than 30,000 years, according to archeological and historical evidence. The Narragansett people hold a traditional pow-wow each August, which is open to the public.
- South County is home to South Kingstown, the town with the largest geographical area in Rhode Island.