Best of Bristol, Rhode Island
Some people like to go to the beach. Some people like to visit museums. A great compromise can be found in Bristol, Rhode Island, a historic seafaring town on the northern edge of Narragansett Bay.
Just one hour from the Boston area on Route 24, Bristol is a great getaway for families, and there’s plenty – make that tons – of stuff to do there.
Why Visit Bristol?
• It boasts the oldest continuous July Fourth parade in the country; july4thbristolri.com.
• The Audubon Society of Rhode Island on Route 114 offers an interactive marine science museum and accessible boardwalk for viewing tidal marshes.
• An annual drum and bugle corps competition is held at Mt. Hope High School on Chestnut Street each July.
• Colt State Park beach is a great place to catch hermit crabs.
Blithewold Mansion & Gardens, at 101 Ferry Road, offers a real-mansion experience in a comfortable setting on the outskirts of town. See its saltwater bathtub and luxuriant décor inside, then explore the garden paths and a real bamboo grove on grounds that stretch to the waterfront. Kids will enjoy trying to wrap their arms around some of the trees in the gardens, which include a sequoia, or watching frogs on lily pads in the garden pond.
Linden Place, at 500 Hope St., is an “in town” estate built in 1810 and worth the guided tour. Learn about the builder’s family history and late-night departure when finances went bad. The house was later a summer haven for film star Ethel Barrymore and was featured in the film The Great Gatsby.
Herreshoff Marine Museum, at 1 Burnside St. (kids under age 12 are free), dedicated to all things sailing and the memory of brothers Nathaniel and John Herreshoff, who designed and built some America’s Cup champion racing sloops 100 years ago. And John was a blind boat builder!
On the other side of the peninsula is Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, 300 Tower St., an extensive collection of native artifacts from many continents and cultures. See colorful Taoist paintings, Hopi Katsina dolls and ancient roots of modern globalization.
On the far side of the harbor, along Poppasquash Road, is the Coggeshall Farm Museum, a working history farm that includes heirloom breeds of livestock brought by the first European settlers. Like Sturbridge Village or Plimoth Plantation, this tiny farm includes a blacksmith shop and house, and offers special events that coincide with farm rituals such as harvesting or sheep shearing.
Bristol is home to a safe, relatively flat section of the 15-mile-long East Bay Bike Path, which starts along the harbor and winds its way toward the next town, Warren, and eventually to Providence. The Audubon Society nature center can be reached via the bike path, just a few miles north of downtown Bristol.
Or jump on the Prudence Island Ferry at the intersection of Church and Thames Streets, which offers a fun, open-air crossing of the bay (that’s Hog Island on your left, going out) to Prudence, an island about four miles long and almost two miles wide. There’s not much there, so a picnic lunch and mountain bikes are recommended. See the island’s one-room schoolhouse or explore the nature preserve on its southern tip.
The big stone building in Colt State Park, off Hope Street (Rt. 114), was the cow barn for a grand mansion that stood sentry over this part of the bay. Bronze bull statues at the gate were modeled on the former owner’s pets, an interesting way to welcome visitors. The park offers broad expanses of grass, picnic sites, an Indian Powwow in late summer, great kite-flying spaces, a skate park, fishing, a boat ramp and a beautiful place to watch the sunset at the end of the day