Tucked away between Newport and Providence, Bristol is an underappreciated gem, with a quaint village area, historic homes, and side streets framing scenic views of the harbor and Poppasquash Point. Besides being easy on the eyes, the town is loaded with recreational opportunities, interesting shopping, and a range of dining and lodging options, making it a popular place for couples, families, and singles. The town is known for having the country’s oldest Fourth of July parade, but it’s no slouch at Christmas either, starting with the entertainment, shopping, and hoopla at the annual downtown Holiday Preview and Snowflake Raffle kickoff Friday and Saturday.
Bristol House B&B (14 Aaron Ave., 401-396-9066, www.bristol
housebnb.com, rates from $109) is a Cape Cod-style home, furnished in New England coastal style, featuring three rooms and innkeeper Kathy Seguin’s gourmet morning meal, dubbed best B&B breakfast by Yankee magazine in 2012. Landscape architect Fletcher Steele designed the gardens at Walker’s Landing (20 Hope St., 401-396-9505, www.walkerslandingri.com, rates from $125), a four-bedroom inn overlooking Walker’s Cove on Bristol Harbor, with 18th-century stone walls, scenic water views, and stunning sunsets. Set on 200 sprawling acres of protected farmland and hiking trails open year-round to the public is Mount Hope Farm (250 Metacomet Ave., 401-254-1745, www.mounthopefarm.org, rates from $150). Antique and traditional furnishings grace the 11 rooms spread out over three historic buildings, including the Governor Bradford Inn, built in 1745.
Start your day at Beehive Cafe (10 Franklin St., 401-396-9994, www.thebeehivecafe.com, breakfast from $4), overlooking Independence Park and the harbor, with a seasonal, locally sourced menu that includes Rhode Island eggs from Baffoni Farms, house-made sausage, lemon cornmeal pancakes, and a killer cornbread hash. Beehive also serves lunch daily and dinner Thursday to Sunday. At Thames Waterside Bar & Grill (251 Thames St., 401-253-4523, www.thameswaterside.com, entrees from $14.95), they do lunch and dinner both inside and out — under a closed-in porch that stays open as late in the year as possible and affords terrific sunset harbor views. Popular items include littleneck clams Bristol style — sautéed in beer, garlic, chorizo, and kale — stuffed quahogs, fish and chips, and crab-cake salad.
Persimmon (31 State St., 401-254-7474, www.persimmonbristol.com, entrees from $24) is a cozy, modern restaurant that boasts new menu items nightly, featuring many regional specialities, such as Vermont lamb, native lobster, Massachusetts scallops, and locally sourced veggies. Can’t decide? Check out the five- and seven-course tasting menus. Get your French fix at Hourglass Brasserie (382 Thames St., 401-396-9811, www.hourglass
brasserie.com, entrees from $24), with French-inspired cuisine by chef Rizwan Ahmed served in a casual bistro setting. Start off with a coddled egg and lemon- and-cumin-zested frog leg, and work your way up to the loin of venison. Great food and history reign at DeWolf Tavern (259 Thames St., 401-254-2005, www.dewolftavern.com, entrees from $12), originally a warehouse built in 1818 and renovated in 2004. The tavern is noted for its raw bar and traditional tandoor oven for charcoal roasting of meats and fish, including native lobster and other creations.
DURING THE DAY
Kids love poking around inside a 33-foot, life-size model of a right whale or watching wiggly things in a tidal pool at the Audubon Environmental Education Center (1401 Hope St., 401-245-7500, www.asri.org, adults $6, children $4), located on the 28-acre McIntosh Wildlife Refuge with its quarter-mile boardwalk winding through fresh and saltwater marshes. History buffs should check out Linden Place (500 Hope St., 401-253-0390, www.lindenplace.org, admission $10), an 1810 mansion said to have the only four-story, freestanding spiral staircase in America. The mansion is now a museum showcasing generations of seafaring and slave-trading DeWolfs and Colts, as well as actress Ethel Barrymore, who married into the family. The house museum gets decked out in December for the holiday, with a Celtic Christmas concert Dec. 13 and reading of “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 14. Stocking up for Christmas? Check out the funky and fun Copper Quahog (54 State St., 401-297-7749, www.copperquahog.com), opened last year by Pamela DeCosta, who crafts gifts from copper and also sells vintage items, newer ones, and the work of many local artists. Want welcome mats made from recycled fishing line or sea bags made from sails? The Knotty Dog (31 Bradford St., 401-396-9520, www.theknottydog.com) has all that, plus furniture, glassware, lighting, and a “green zone” line of products made from recycled goods. Pull up a bench and rest your feet after all that walking at Rockwell Park at the end of John Street, a 1.2-acre harbor side space with playground and swings, all overlooking the picturesque harbor.
Order a beer from one of the dozens of taps and listen to music from live bands and DJs Thursday through Saturday at Fins (198 Thames St., 401-253-2012, www.finsri.com). Beside the tunes, the bar features massive high-def TVs for watching sports, regular poker and karaoke nights, and an impressive menu of burgers, steaks, fish, and signature crab cakes. Cozy and warm is the British Beer Company Pie and Ale House (29 State St., 401-253-6700, www.britishbeer.com/bristol), with its stained-glass front windows and fireplace. Here aficionados can choose from among more than 50 beers and 18 drafts, custom cocktails, a great pub menu, live music (no cover), and trivia and open mike nights. Theater your thing? At Roger Williams University (1 Old Ferry Road, 401-254-3666, www.rwu.edu), they do live drama, dance, and music in a performing arts center that includes a gorgeously restored 19th-century barn.Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at Kandarian@globe.com.