There’s something about a good old-fashioned main street. You know the ones we’re talking about: mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, vintage brick facades, cobblestones, painted signs, and festive window displays. This is the stuff of postcards and calendar pages, but in South County, it’s simply called home. Our small towns each have that main strip that screams coastal New England, and while we’re taking time to rediscover our own state this summer, why not head inland just a bit to appreciate a little slice of Americana. With so many of these small businesses reopening, they all appreciate your patronage now more than ever. Here’s our breezy guide to rediscovering the pleasure of shopping and dining small at Main Street destinations, from the places you know to the ones you might not, so let’s mask up and enjoy!
Wickford is one of the best-preserved villages in the country, and its Main Street (along with West Main and Brown) is its most picturesque example. Find a range of storefronts tucked inside stately brick buildings that offer a quintessential New England vibe, plus a harbor, waterfront park, multiple coves, scenic bridges, and marina busy with yachts. You can easily cross the town on foot in about 10 minutes, but it’s worth stopping to browse some of its most unique offerings, like a two-story clapboard Colonial dedicated to cooking wares (Wickford Gourmet Factory Outlet) and a women’s fashion mainstay since the ‘70s, Green Ink Boutique, which has a sister location in Providence. Veer onto Brown Street for curated oils and vinegar from The Impressed Olive, and then grab a cuppa from cozy, family-focused diner Shayna’s Place.
The very end of Main Street has been home to a commercial fishing dock and seafood market since the 19th century, and today you can still buy straight from the sea at Gardner’s Wharf.
Wakefield, a small village of South Kingstown, is an arts and culture hub for outdoor Shakespeare, RiverFire, and Oktoberfest celebrations. Find adorable storefronts like elle G (where you can grab a stylish face mask!) and creative dining like frozen smoothie bowls from BŌL, or old-fashioned egg creams from Green Line Apothecary, which doubles as a pharmacy and old-timey soda fountain. Best of all, you’re just a hop, skip, and pedal away from the South County Bike Path, a bucolic and well-trafficked route connecting Narragansett to West Kingston, with Wakefield smack dab in the middle.
Wakefield is home to The World War II Foundation Global Education Center, an inconspicuous Main Street museum brimming with WWII artifacts, plus a wall of documentaries produced by founder, historian, and former TV sports anchor Tim Gray.
Downtown Westerly is a world unto itself. Historic storefronts along High and Canal Streets fit neatly together, like the setting for a turn-of-the-century novel, and the Pawcatuck River courses through the town as a natural line between Rhode Island and Connecticut. You can eat and drink your way through global cuisine, starting with Mexican at Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila, gourmet pretzels from The Malted Barley, Irish fare courtesy of The Brazen Hen, and finish at The Bridge for raw bar, cocktails, and water views. Plus, Savoy Bookshop & Café is a stunning bookstore-cafe combo on Canal, and Tapped Apple is equally exceptional, turning apples into both wine and cider.
The United Theatre has a long history, beginning in 1926 as Vaudeville venue until its quiet close in 1986; today, the historic playhouse is being renovated for another generation, and in the meantime, has been presenting films through their Virtual Screening Room, plus live concert series (co-produced with Knickerbocker Music Center) projected on screen at the Misquamicut Drive-In.
Nestled in the southeastern part of Conanicut Island, beyond the patchwork of farms and woodland, is Jamestown. Where Narragansett and Conanicus Avenues intersect is a surprisingly busy crossroads, where restaurants like cool-casual Narragansett Cafe and upscale New American Simpatico Jamestown mingle with local landmarks and cultural institutions, like the Jamestown Arts Center, which takes over the island with installations and arts experiences for the first-ever Outdoor Arts Experience. The best part? Right along the waterfront, you can take in one of the best possible views of the Newport Bridge.
The village’s classic seafood joint Chopmist Charlie’s is being reimagined post-COVID as “groceraunt” IslanDish Fresh Market, a cafe, bar, and to-go gourmet food purveyor.