Summer is here, at last.
This we know for sure: The sun is out. The weather is hot. The water is calling your name. So much about summer in the East Bay is the same as it ever was. We’ll spot sailboats drifting down the bay. We’ll frequent most of the same establishments and wave to the same neighbors. Sure, some things are different. We’ve weathered a pandemic, for goodness’ sake! Yes, masks must be worn. Antibacterial gel must be applied. There’s a mandated limit on how many people can gather in a single place. Some of our favorite events changed shape a bit (like the beloved Fourth of July Parade) but found new ways to keep rolling. But let’s remember: Summer in the East Bay is awesome, and nothing can take that awesomeness away. Our towns are still replete with fun things to do. Scores of restaurants are allowed to seat their guests, many with ample decks and coastal views. And we are geographically enwreathed in open spaces – parks, preserves, and waterways – many of which are open with limitations – and waiting to host your outdoor adventure.
In fact, there are so many diversions for a summer day that we could only list a fraction of them in this magazine. Here are some of our favorite activities – old, new, and modified – to keep you engrossed during the hottest time of the year.
Bars have struggled. Theaters have struggled. So what happens when you’re both? The Galactic Theatre in Warren found an upbeat solution: Sell ice cream. Leave it to the eccentric showspace to come up with the Yabba Dabba Dooo, a mix of Moonstone Beach vanilla ice cream, strawberry sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles, Fruity Pebbles, and a cherry on top – among other heat-wave-friendly concoctions, like sundaes and shakes. We’re all rooting for the Galactic to return to its music-hosting, film-screening roots, but until that day arrives, have some fun with a cherry on top.
There’s just something about an ice-cold can of Narragansett – ahem, ‘Gansett – on a hot day, and whether you’re kicking back on a porch, balcony, or boat, we hope you enjoy it. But for truly local flavor, the East Bay has its own breweries to sample: Coddington Brewing Company in Middletown, which is also a restaurant; Ragged Island Brewing Co. in Portsmouth, which will soon move its operations into a new, 9,000-square-foot complex; and the still-new Twelve Guns Brewing, whose taproom has opened again in Bristol.
Shellfish are our pride and joy, and you can spend days hitting up clam shacks along the East Bay. These aren’t just fun spots to slurp up invertebrates; some are historical landmarks, like Flo’s Clam Shack (founded 1936) in Middletown, and Evelyn’s Drive-In (1969) in Tiverton. Clams are a summer go-to, of course, but the seafood options are practically limitless. Note: Blount’s Clam Shack won’t open in Crescent Park this summer, due to renovations, but you can still find Blount’s on the Warren Waterfront.
There are so many ways to cool down during an East Bay summer, but the best ones are sweet, frozen, and come in a paper cup. There’s the Del’s Frozen Lemonade stand on the bike trail in Warren, Gray’s Ice Cream in Tiverton, and The Daily Scoop in Barrington, among countless others. Don’t forget cafes, which can bring you both iced coffees and special concoctions, like the Red Rooibus Peach Melba iced tea at the Blue Kangaroo in Barrington.
While you’re savoring the art of fermentation, you may also take in some pastoral scenery – at any of three East Bay vineyards. Greenvale Vineyards is nestled into Portsmouth’s farm country, and the environs are beautiful enough to host weddings. Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard hosts dinners and other outdoor events in its beautiful Little Compton estate. Newport Vineyards is both the largest grower of wine grapes in New England and home to Taproot gastropub.
After being mostly shuttered all spring, small businesses could really use some love this summer. All along Route 114, from Riverside to Newport, find each town’s main commercial streets – along with side streets – brimming with independent retail shops selling everything from clothing and jewelry, to antique and vintage, to home accents, handmade curios, and more. Make a day of it, stopping for a coffee, a snack, or delicious meal. Your community business owners will thank you!
For culture enthusiasts, Art Night Bristol and Warren is a hallowed institution. It’s a great excuse to amble through town, pop into art galleries you’ve always meant to visit, and run into familiar faces along the way. This summer, Art Night went virtual in May and June; participants could tour local art spaces from the comfort of their sofas. But if all goes well, Art Night will resume as a physical event, and you’ll finally have a chance to browse paintings and sculpture in person. Art Night in Bristol takes place July 30 and in Warren on August 27.
Blithewold, iconic Bristol landmark, is back in action, inviting guests into its resplendent gardens and hosting “Tea and Scones” parties at the mansion. While much of the historic estate’s regular programming has gone virtual via their YouTube channel, members and non-members are still invited to visit (reservation recommended) and even enjoy a picnic on the grounds.
To the relief of fans, Newport Polo matches will still take place this summer. This month brings you The Vanderbilt Cup, Newport vs. Pittsburgh, and USA vs. Ireland – and the games continue to gallop through the finals at the end of September. The polo grounds and pavilion at Glen Farm will maintain strict social distancing rules, including masks worn by all attendees and an all-online ticketing system. But this is a small price to pay for a chance to see international champs in person.
Prudence Island may be Rhode Island’s best kept secret – a secluded patch of land in the middle of Narragansett Bay. Many lifelong Rhodies have never visited Prudence, and the only way to cross the water is by ferry (or your own boat). If you make the passage from Bristol, you’ll find an island of easygoing roads (20 mph speed limit), scattered houses, ample scenery, and one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the state – perfect for a bike ride or picnic.
The creative folks at The Collaborative in Warren have been navigating the pandemic with all kinds of innovative programming, including their summertime takeover of the parking lot at Cutler Mills for drive-in movies. Be sure to make a reservation and bring your own snacks before driving over to 30 Cutler Street. On Wednesdays classic films (cult and otherwise) are screened, and Fridays watch favorites from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Our beaches are our beaches, which makes the East Bay sands safer and chiller than many other places in the state. Spots like Bristol and Barrington Town Beaches are community touchstones, with calm waters and mostly local visitors, and South Shore Beach in Little Compton faces the open waters of Rhode Island Sound. Now that Rhode Island beaches are open for the summer, we contend that you can enjoy nearly all the wading and sunbathing you always do and still maintain social distancing.
The Audubon Nature Center and Aquarium in Bristol has reopened with a Thursday to Sunday schedule. To allow for social distancing, advance registration for timed ticket entry is required. This natural history museum includes a mini aquarium featuring a tide pool exhibit, and 33-foot life size model of a North Atlantic Right Whale; outdoor trails are open to all from dawn to dusk.