NEWPORT, R.I. — A city whose prime attractions are opulent mansions brimming with fragile antiques may not appear to be a kid-friendly destination at first glance. After all, mention “The Breakers” to parents of small children, and they’ll immediately think of their kids instead of the famed Vanderbilt residence. Newport, however, abounds with so many attractions beyond its famed Gilded Age “cottages” that this popular retreat also doubles as a fantastic family getaway.
With our 3- and 5-year-olds in tow and keys to a house we had rented from friends in hand, our family spent a recent summer weekend in Rhode Island’s premier coastal community. We properly introduced ourselves to the “City by the Sea” by hitting the water aboard the Amazing Grace for a one-hour narrated cruise around Newport Harbor. The cool sea breezes delivered welcome relief as my wife and I enjoyed the panorama of lighthouses, seaside estates, and America’s Cup winning yachts while our two mateys maintained a constant lookout for any pirates lurking about the harbor.
Buccaneer-free and safely back on dry land, we gave the kids some free-range time at Fort Adams, the massive citadel that for generations defended the entrance to the harbor. The 6½-acre parade ground in the heart of the country’s largest coastal fortification provides more than enough green space for running around or unfurling a picnic blanket. We wandered the fort and peeked at the exhibits on a limited self-guided tour, but families who want to explore the dark underground tunnels or mount the ramparts will want to take one of the guided tours that depart hourly.
Tuckered out from the sea air and midafternoon sun, we all piled into the car for a drive around Newport. As they drifted off for a nap, we enjoyed a scenic coastal excursion. After driving down Ocean Avenue with the waves crashing on the rocks below, we mansion-gawked on a ride down shady Bellevue Avenue.
Although Newport’s reputation for upscale dining and summertime crowds initially had us concerned about finding a kid-friendly eatery, we discovered a welcome oasis on busy Thames Street. O’Brien’s Pub offered just the type of casual atmosphere and kids’ menu we were looking for, and its 250-person outdoor patio featured a bubbling fountain stocked with toy fish. While our little fishermen worked on reeling in the daily catch, we enjoyed the live acoustic music and a couple of adult beverages.
On Sunday morning, it was all aboard one of the two weekly runs of the Old Colony & Newport Railway. At the city’s historic depot near the visitors center, we boarded a vintage 1904 Boston & Maine coach for a 10-mile round-trip ride along the west side of Aquidneck Island. After chugging through the Newport Naval Station and passing the awe-inspiring USS Saratoga, a massive decommissioned aircraft carrier, we were treated to vistas of Narragansett Bay. The rail car’s antique potbelly stove remained idle on this summer day, and luckily the coach’s old-fashioned air conditioning — open windows — provided all the cooling we needed.
Before heading home, we made one more playground run, which we have found is a must for family harmony when traveling. Luckily for us, our lodgings were just blocks from harborside King Park where a swing ride comes complete with views of sailboats gliding on sparkling waters, seagulls searching for food, and the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge soaring in the distance. Good luck finding a New England playground with a more spectacular view.
AMAZING GRACE HARBOR TOURS 1 Sayers Wharf, 401-847-9109, www.oldportmarine\.com; Fort Adams, 90 Fort Adams Drive, 401-619-1511, www.fortadams.org; O’Brien’s Pub, 501 Thames St., 401-849-6623, www.theobrienspub.com; Old Colony & Newport Railway, 19 America’s Cup Ave., 401-849-0546, www.ocnrr.com; King Park, Wellington Avenue.Christopher Klein can be reached at www.christopherklein.com.