Everywhere You Should Stop Along Coastal Rhode Island’s Scenic Route 1A

Because good things indeed come in small packages (and small package stores).

It’s no secret that Rhode Island is our most pint-sized state—after all, you could cram about 220 lil’ Rhodies into Texas and still have room left over for a few spare Newports. While the Ocean State may be small in stature, what it lacks in acreage it makes up for tenfold in delicious seafood, fascinating historic sites, and stunning natural beauty, all of which can be encountered firsthand on a road trip down Scenic Route 1A.

Measuring in at just over 30 miles, the highway starts off in the Connecticut-adjacent town of Westerly and terminates just minutes from historic Wickford Village, breezily meandering through sweeping beaches and idyllic hamlets along the way. And after cruising through this itinerary, you’re sure to return home with visions of quahogs and coffee milk dancing in your head.

This free museum highlights the complex relationship between humanity and the ocean’s most misunderstood—and perhaps most feared—resident. Upon arrival, visitors acquaint themselves with prominent shark-related media frenzies of yore, ranging from the 1916 New Jersey maneater attacks to the post-Jaws era, a period in which “sharksploitation” was at an all-time high. Along with vintage ephemera, the exhibit is also home to a sizable collection of shark teeth with both modern-day and long-extinct specimens scattered throughout the gallery. While sharks may not be the cuddliest creatures, expect to walk away with a newfound appreciation for these besmirched beasts of the deep.

Deep in the southwesternmost reaches of Rhode Island, the Watch Hill Lighthouse has served as a beacon for passing sailors since 1856. Though the structure itself is inaccessible to visitors, the surrounding peninsula provides onlookers with a spectacular view of the pebble-clad shoreline. For the full coastal New England effect, gaze wistfully across Block Island Sound like an 18th-century whaling wife waiting for her long lost captain to return from sea, then head three minutes north to the historic district of Watch Hill, an uber-rich neighborhood that’s hosted some of the country’s most influential figures, including Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, and, yes, Taylor Swift.

Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge
Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge | Flickr/Meagan Racey/USFWS

Home to the largest coastal salt pond in the state, Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge is your one-stop shop for flora, fauna, and all things outdoors. Trek along the 1.3-mile Grassy Loop Trail in search of white-tailed deer, foxes, and spotted salamanders, or cast a reel into Ninigret Pond from the comfort of your own kayak. When it comes to birding, the refuge offers a boatload of opportunities to spot great blue herons, ospreys, and even the elusive piping plover, a tiny shorebird that can be found flitting along area beaches during the summer months.

Aunt Carrie's

Point Judith

No Rhode Island road trip would be complete without eating your weight in fried clams at least once, and Aunt Carrie’s is here to help you achieve that fishy dream. Fresh off the heels of their 100th anniversary, this time honored diner prides itself on crafting high quality fare from scratch, with staff arriving at the crack of dawn to get a head start on the apple pies. Take a deep dive into the area cuisine by ordering the Rhode Island Shore Dinner, a hearty dose of chowder, clam cakes, steamed clams, fried flounder, and a homemade dessert.

Rhode Island may be best known for its tantalizing seafood, but don’t sleep on the Ocean State’s bustling booze scene. This innovative South Kingstown distillery sets itself apart from the spirited crowd by incorporating full-bodied craft beer into their distillate rather than a generic fermented base. Although their tasting room is closed at the moment, the whiskey faithful can still drop by to check out the facility’s exterior and snag a curb-side bottle of Battle Cry. Derived from a Belgian-style ale and inoculated with spice-laden Trappist-style yeast, this super unique and widely-acclaimed American Single Malt has picked up multiple gold medals since its 2014 debut.

John H Chafee Nature Preserve
John H. Chafee Nature Preserve | Flickr/Gary Brownell

This pristine patch of wilderness offers visitors a glimpse into the wild world of Rhode Island, with some of the state’s most adorable critters basking in the reeds just beyond the shoreline. Grab your binoculars and set out along Rome Point Trail, a 1.5-mile path carved into the dense maze of New England forest. Once you’ve hit the coast, peer out toward the horizon in search of Rhode Island’s official State Marine Mammal, the venerable harbor seal. January through April are considered peak seal-spotting season, but Rome Point’s picturesque landscape and endlessly serene vibes persist year-round.

Sick of 2021 already? We know the feeling. Transport yourself back to the colonies with a trip to Wickford Village, one of the state’s top destinations for perfectly preserved old-timey architecture. While there’s no shortage of Revolutionary War-era structures punctuating the town’s quaint streets, one particularly interesting attraction is the Old Narragansett Church—the humble house of worship dates to 1707 and is considered the oldest surviving Episcopal church in the entire northeastern United States. After you’ve had your fill of yesteryear, head to local favorite Tavern by the Sea for a hefty lobster roll paired with gorgeous views of Wickford Cove.

Jared Ranahan is a contributor for Thrillist.