NEWPORT — Folks in the “Sailing Capital of the World” are still buzzing over Oracle Team USA’s dramatic America’s Cup victory, in which it won eight straight races against New Zealand to defend the Cup last month in San Francisco Bay. Rome Kirby, the only American (and the youngest crew member) on the Oracle, is from Newport, and a second-generation Cup yachtsman (his father, Jerry, is a three-time Volvo Ocean Race veteran with six America’s Cup races under his belt). There’s already talk that the race may return to Newport, especially since Oracle owner Larry Ellison, the software billionaire, recently bought a home here. (He plans to open it as a museum, displaying his collection of 18th- and 19th-century art.)
Whether the Cup returns or not, this sailing-centric city remains a year-round magnet for anyone interested in boats. Founded in 1639, this city hugging the coast of Aquidneck Island is steeped in maritime tradition. Sea captains’ homes still line the cobbled streets and alleyways, reminiscent of Colonial times when this was one of the country’s leading trade ports. The renowned harbor has been home to the US Naval Academy, is currently home to the prestigious New York Yacht Club’s on-the-water Clubhouse, and starting point for prominent, international sailing events. For more than 50 years (1930-83) it hosted the America’s Cup, the most celebrated racing event in the world. Today, Newport boasts a world-class yacht museum, a renowned yacht restoration school, the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, and a host of famous yachtsman watering holes. The harbor may be quiet now, most of the boats out of the water, but there are plenty of places to soak up Newport’s rich nautical atmosphere.
FRIDAY: Check into Forty 1° North (351 Thames St., 401-846-8018, www.41north.com, from $399), a contemporary, boutique waterfront hotel. Rooms are sleek and modern with high-tech bells and whistles, soothing neutral palettes, luxurious Frette linens, and gas fireplaces. Relax with drinks at the cool, wraparound bar.
Have dinner at the hotel’s Grill restaurant (entrees $25-$55). Start with the rich lobster bisque or local mussels simmered in wine, garlic, and shallots. Steaks and chops are popular landlubber entrees; try the bone-in ribeye or Kurobuta pork chop, with a side of Parmesan and truffle fries. The caramelized scallops and peppercorn-crusted swordfish are also favorites.
SATURDAY: Have breakfast at casual, waterside Belle’s Cafe, located at the Newport Shipyard (1 Washington St., 401-846-6000, www.newportshipyard.com, $5.75-$9.75). The dishes are straightforward — pancakes and build-your-own omelets — but the setting, in the middle of the shipyard, is impressive. The city’s oldest working shipyard has accommodated well-known yachts like Maltese Falcon, one of the largest privately-owned sailing yachts in the world (formerly owned by Tom Perkins, the venture capitalist behind Google and Amazon); Johnny Depp’s yacht, Vajoliroja; and John Kerry’s multimillion-dollar yacht, Isabel. Gawk at the huge, dry-docked boats, or watch as crew members ready yachts for next season.
From the public viewing gallery at the International Yacht Restoration School (449 Thames St., 401-848-5777, www.iyrs.edu, free), you can watch students restoring and building boats, and see the ongoing restoration of the 1885 schooner yacht Coronet. The school, housed in the restored 19th-century Aquidneck Mill building, sits on a 2.5-acre waterfront campus, with sweeping views of the harbor and Narragansett Bay. Visit the Museum of Yachting, also on the IYRS campus (formerly located at Fort Adams), to view a diverse collection of Newport yachting and coastal scenes. The current exhibit features artwork done in different mediums from the 19th century to contemporary times.
Bundle up for a visit to Fort Adams to walk across the rolling lawns bordering the bay, where the America’s Cup World Series was held last summer. Also take a stroll on the newly-minted BayWalk, a two-mile walking path around the perimeter of the park.
End the day with dinner at The Mooring (1 Sayers Wharf, 401-846-2260, www.mooringrestaurant.com, entrees $19-$38), a perennially busy, water’s-edge restaurant, housed in the former clubhouse of the New York Yacht Club (whose schooner America won the first Cup race in 1851 and was the official defending club until 1983), and specializing in fresh seafood. Don’t pass on its signature native scallop chowder, one of the best dishes, along with a pile of deep-fried seafood fritters, the famed Bag of Doughnuts, served in a paper bag. Still have energy? Head to Clarke Cooke House (Bannister’s Wharf, 401-849-2900, www.bannistersnewport.com), a longtime sailor’s hangout, filled with yachting flags and maritime memorabilia. Raise a glass and give a proper sailor’s toast: “Here’s to tall ships. Here’s to small ships. Here’s to all the ships at sea. But the best ships are friendships. Here’s to you and me.”
SUNDAY: Start with a hearty breakfast at the casual Corner Cafe (110 Broadway, 401-846-0606, www.cornercafenewport.com, $3.75-$11.25). The lively bistro gets raves for its creative menu, showcasing dishes from around the world, including the Ovos Acores, a Portuguese muffin topped with chorizo, poached eggs, pepperjack cheese, and hollandaise sauce; the Irishman omelet with potatoes and rashers; and the Rustica, a multigrain French toast stuffed with Canadian bacon and caramelized apples.
Now, head to nearby Bristol to visit the Herreshoff Marine Museum & America’s Cup Hall of Fame (1 Burnside St., Bristol, 401-253-5000, www.herreshoff.org, $12 adults, $5 students, under 10 free). Rhode Island’s oldest private yacht, the first US Navy torpedo boats, and a slew of giant schooners were designed and manufactured by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. The museum’s impressive collection has more than 60 boats, including the 75-foot Defiant, built in 1992 to challenge for the Cup defender’s role, to Harold Vanderbilt’s Trivia, and two of Captain Nathanael Herreshoff’s personal yachts. The model room includes some 500 models that Herreshoff used to create his designs, including his America’s Cup defenders. The adjacent America’s Cup Hall of Fame honors nearly 80 sailors who have been inducted into the Hall.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.