There’s plenty to see and do in the scenic village by the bay.
DISTANCE FROM BOSTON: 75 miles
POPULATION: Wickford is a village of North Kingstown, population 26,734.
ODD FACT: The Poplar Point Lighthouse at the entrance to Wickford Harbor is the oldest all-wooden lighthouse still standing in the United States; it is now a private home.
A picturesque village on Narragansett Bay, Wickford features one of the largest collections of 18th-century houses in the Northeast and a mind-boggling array of shops. It’s no wonder that Pat Ross in her book “Remembering Main Street: An American Album” (Viking, 1993) included Wickford Village as “one of America’s 10 best Main Streets.” A merchants association lures shoppers with an ambitious schedule of festivals. Next up is the Harbour Festival Sept. 20 and 21, which will feature kayak and rowboat races, harbor tours, historic downtown walking tours, a floating garden competition, children’s activities, music, dancing, and crafts, as well as food, beer, and wine. Event proceeds support the North Kingstown food pantry, mentoring programs, and scholarships.
Tavern by the Sea (16 West Main St., 401-294-5771, www.tavernbytheseari.com, sandwiches $7.50-$9, entrees $13.50-$25) highlights Mediterranean fare and offers outside dining overlooking Wickford Marina. Greek specialties include homemade hummus, souvlaki, and grilled gyros. Fans of Italian food will find a wide selection of pasta and veal dishes. Beach Rose Cafe (85 Brown St., 401-295-2800, sandwiches $5-$8 and up, depending on market price) specializes in fresh seafood, salads, and sandwiches. The signature Beach Rose salad features greens, dried cranberries, glazed pecans, and a poached pear topped with raspberry dressing. The restaurant is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and till 8 on Fridays. Try a lobster roll at the Wickford Diner (64 Brown St., 401-295-5477, $4-$16), open for breakfast and lunch. Owner Stu Tucker reports that he’ll open for dinner Friday, Saturday, and Sunday beginning Oct. 15, as the Wickford Oyster Bar. Besides luscious cakes and pastries, Pastry Gourmet (45 Brown St., 401-295-8400) sells deli sandwiches, spinach pies, calzones, and hot and iced coffee.
Wickford has several bed-and-breakfasts, each with something special to offer. The 1906 Haddie Pierce House (146 Boston Neck Road, 401-294-7674, www.haddiepierce.com, doubles $130-$150) is a charming Victorian.
The number and variety of shops in the village are truly impressive. A Bit of the West (83 Brown St., 401-294-1089) offers jewelry, textiles, and wall decor from the Southwest. About 90 percent of the jewelry is Native American made, the clerk told us. Next door, you can smell the incense when you enter Midnight Sun (83-85 Brown St., 401-294-1601), where you can find funky clothing and accessories from around the world, including batik, tie-dyed items, and leather sandals. At Mystic Scrimshanders (35 Brown St., 401-294-2262, www.scrimshanders.com) owner Barbara Cullen does “stippling,” which she said is similar to tattooing, on walrus tusks. The result is an almost photographic quality in the engraving. Cullen hosts a national scrimshaw competition in Wickford each year. This year’s festival will be held Sept. 13-29. The shop also carries amber jewelry from Poland and intricate sailor’s valentines. Blue Hydrangea (2 Main St., 401-295-2583) is the place to go to decorate your beach house or to make your everyday house feel like a beach house. The shop is packed with shell art, beach-theme signs, dried hydrangea wreaths and flowers, pillows with beach- and ocean-related sayings, and garden decor.
Take a walking tour of the historic village, and be sure to see the Old Narragansett Church (Church Lane, 401-294-4357). Built in 1707, this is one of the oldest Episcopal churches in the United States and the second church built in Rhode Island. You can pick up a walking tour brochure at the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce (8045 Post Road) or buy a CD or DVD that includes information about area locations as well. Smith’s Castle (55 Richard Smith Drive, 401-294-3521, www.smithscastle.org) is not really a castle, but it does showcase four centuries of Rhode Island history, from the time when Colonists traded peacefully with Narragansett Indians through modern dairy farming. The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum (815 Gilbert Stuart Road, Saunderstown, 401-294-3001, www.gilbert stuartmuseum.org, adults $6, children 6-12 $3) is not only a showplace for reproductions of the works of one of America’s foremost portrait painters, but also an authentically restored workingman’s home and site of the first snuff mill in America.
Wilson Park on West Main Street has a boat ramp, sports fields, basketball and tennis courts, and a playground. A 1 1/2-mile loop circling the 75-acre park offers picnic spots, hidden coves, and water views. It’s suitable for bikers, walkers, and in-line skaters. Take a tour of an 18th-century working farm on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Oct. 15 at Casey Farm (2325 Boston Neck Road, Saunderstown, 401-295-1030, www.caseyfarm.org , adults $4, children $2). Children will enjoy seeing the heirloom Dominique chickens and heritage-breed turkeys.
Evenings are pretty quiet in the village, but you can find live music on weekends just down the road at Duffy’s Tavern & Restaurant (235 Tower Hill Road, 401-295-0073, www.quahog.com/duffys.html) and Oak Hill Tavern (565 Tower Hill Road, North Kingstown, 401-294-3282, www.oak hilltavern.com). Duffy’s appeals to an older crowd, with a mix of big band sounds, oldies, and current hits. Oak Hill draws younger patrons with country music, dancing, and open mike night on Thursdays.