Every corner of South County is pretty awe-inspiring – thousands of acres of woodlands and nature preserves, century-old working farms, dozens of trails, an enviable collection of 17th- and 18th-century buildings, oyster-brimming salt ponds, and more mesmerizing we’re-lucky-to-live-here wonders – but arguably it’s the sea and those 100 miles of coastline that’s most deeply woven into the region’s identity.
As the warmer weather returns, the itch to experience the aquatic spoils of Rhode Island’s southernmost sector grows more difficult to ignore. Whether you’re looking to learn to sail on local waters, paddle along Narrow River, go night fishing on a yacht, or dock and dine for sunrise or sunset, we’ve assembled the ultimate resource for living your best Ocean State life – no need to wait for the official start of summer.
If you’ve dreamed of gripping the wheel of a sleek sailboat with the wind billowing in your sails up Narragansett Bay’s West Passage at a steady clip under a cloudless sky but can’t tell stem from stern, fear not. New England Sailing Center (NESC) in Jamestown offers beginner through advanced sailing certification courses, both private or in group settings up to four. Accredited by the American Sailing Association, private lessons can be tailored to couples or families as well, so all aboard can learn to cruise safely and confidently, whether trimming the sails or mastering the perfect starboard tack. In the Basic Keelboat course, students learn the fundamental principles of sailing in just two days via both classroom and on-the-water training, rendering them ready to skipper an 18- to 27-foot keelboat.
With its mostly shallow water, protected peaceful coves, ample public access, and captivating waterfowl amid the shrublands, the seven-mile long tidal inlet Narrow River (formally the Pettaquamscutt) is idyllic for serene paddling adventures, whether by kayak, canoe, or standup paddle board (SUP). For folks with their own equipment, there are four public access points, and the Narrow River Preservation Association offers two downloadable paddle maps for kayakers and canoeists to take a self-guided tour with suggested routes for safe exploration.
Over in North Kingstown, The Kayak Centre offers rentals too, allowing paddlers to soak in the charm of picture-perfect Wickford Harbor and paddle to Rabbit Island, a gift from Queen Sachem, wife of Narragansett Chief Canonicus, to Roger Williams for his goats. Today, the small uninhabited island is ideal for a paddling respite. For the more adventurous, head out a little further to Cornelius Island. Folks at the Kayak Centre’s Charlestown location on Ninigret Pond can suggest pairing paddling routes appropriate to each participant’s experience and comfort level, but one of the best ways to soak it in, and make sure you don’t miss a thing, is on a guide-led sunset paddle.
Pro tip: Pack a lunch ahead of time or pick up provisions at Shayna’s Place on Brown Street and paddle on over to Rabbit Island.
Deeper inland, the Queen's River Kayak Company offers waterside delivery and pick up to the Upper Wood River and the Upper Pawcatuck River (kayaks are on site at Queen's River). The Rhode Island Blueways Alliance, which works in partnership with nine watershed organizations, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, and the Rhode Island Foundation, describes the Upper Wood River paddle “the most impressive natural experience of any river” in Rhode Island, touting its winding four miles through forests and wetlands in addition to a tricky set of Class I rapids found in Exeter on the northernmost part of the route.
Pro tip: Pick up a waterproof phone pouch holder in advance. You can adjust the lanyard to make it fit comfortably around your neck while still having access to your phone’s camera.
In 1962, Narragansett Surf Shop made history by being the first surf shop to open in Rhode Island. Today, folks of all ages and abilities speckle the swells at Narragansett Town Beach, and most days, the waves are decidedly undaunting, making conditions ideal for both longboards and new learners (but don’t be fooled – a good storm swell brings out top talent!).
Paddle Surf RI offers both private and group lessons for kids and adults that will have you hanging ten in no time. They provide the surfboard, leash, and wetsuit, and once your on-land instruction wraps and you’ve mastered the moves on sand, you’ll hit the waves.
Pro tip: Parents, Paddle Surf RI offers weekly surf camps in the summer, but hurry – they sell out quick!
Feeling adventurous? Head to the Port of Galilee where you’ll find captains and crews ready to take you out to sea to fish. There’s Frances Fleet with a variety of experiences, including half- or full-day charters, night fishing, and for serious anglers up for a fight, tuna charters where you might be reeling in albacore, yellowfin, and bigeye tuna, as well as swordfish, mahi mahi, and bonito that’ll put your muscles to the test. Starting late June, Frances Fleet adds whale-watching and dolphin excursions to the mix. It’s hard to miss the Seven B’s V’s “White and Green Fishing Machine” – a custom fishing yacht with a capacity of 113 persons run by Captain Russ Benn. May through June, discover fishing for squid and fluke. Not sure what to do with all that fluke? Head to SevenBs.com for recipes! Both businesses have rod rentals and provide bait.
If you can’t be on the water, being next to it – while devouring some delicious eats – might just be the next best thing. The salt-soaked breezes and the creaky whine of the docks as they gently bob up and down paired with a simple sunrise and avo toast or picnic-style sunset provisions is just about summertime perfection.
Keep driving west along Jamestown’s Narragansett Avenue until you hit the water’s edge of the West Passage - that's when you’ll know you’ve arrived at Scuttlebutt Snack Bar at Dutch Harbor Boatyard. It’s a front-row view to the shipswights and sailors scurrying about, and what the snack bar lacks in variety it makes up for in charm, with simplicity at the very core of its menu. A couple sandwiches, ice cream, and basic beverages are juxtaposed by Scuttlebutt’s quintessentially Rhode Island location, affording some of the best sunset views in the state.
A straight shot south will lead you to 1 Ferry Wharf, Conanicut Marina’s on-site restaurant, where sinking your teeth into a lobster roll or fresh fish tacos made with local scrod just seems like the right thing to do. Catch some live music, indulge the kids at the Sugar Shack, or order another round and watch the world go by. A short walk away, head to East Ferry Deli, a popular spot for soup, sammies, and salads, or ditch the beach wear for real clothes and experience a meal at BEECH, a true Jamestown gem where you’ll dine beneath bistro lights and a big ol’ beech tree.
For a hearty breakfast or handcrafted burger, put the outdoor patio at B & B Dockside in Westerly on your list of summertime stops – and your four-legged friends can join in the fun. Overlooking the Pawcatuck River, the specialty drink selection here is outstanding and slips are available at the Viking Marina dock. Not far from there is the Olympia Tea Room, a fixture in Watch Hill since 1916, and its location directly across the street from the Watch Hill Docks makes it hard not to fall in love with this iconic spot.
Pro tip: The nearby Flying Horse Carousel, the oldest continuously operating merry-go-round in the country, is the perfect après Olympia Tea Room activity.
Over in East Greenwich’s historic waterfront district on Greenwich Cove, you’ll find Finn’s Harborside, BLU on the Water, and Water Street Kitchen and Bar. More than 100 slips are available just steps away at East Greenwich Marina for nightly, weekly, or seasonal dockage.
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