Charlestown, located in what’s commonly known as South County, is a place that embraces summer with miles of ocean beaches and recreational opportunities by land and sea. How picturesque is the shoreline? Beautiful enough for celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz to shoot Oscar-winner Meryl Streep on a beach here for a 2012 Vogue magazine cover. Festivals are big as well, with events on tap that include the 18th annual Rhythm and Roots Festival on Labor Day weekend, and the 31st annual Charlestown Chamber of Commerce Seafood Festival Aug. 7-9, both at Ninigret Park.
STAY Hathaway Guest Cottages (4470 Old Post Road, 401-364-6665, www.hathawaysguestcottages.com, rates from $125),cq has sevencq cottages, twocq of them pet friendly, and has have been around since the 1940s,cq its main house built in 1863cq and registered with the Charlestown Historical Society.cq There's a pool, horseshoe pit, barbecue grills, and bikes and kayaks for guests to use. The nearest beach is three 3 milescq by car, more fun by bike, but is bikeable and close enough to hear the ocean at night.
Set on saltwater Foster Covecq is the Willows Inn & Resort (5310 Old Post Road, 401-364-7727, www.willowsinnri.com, rates from $150),cq a 15-acrecq estate in the Duhamelcq family for 80-pluscq years, with 50cq rooms in various categories, including motel, villa, apartment, camp, townhouse, and cottage.
The historic 18-room General Stanton Inn (4115 Old Post Road, 401-364-1818, www.generalstantoninn.com, rates from $95)cq is said to be the second-oldest continuously used inn in America. A big draw here is the weekend flea market, one of the state's largest, running for a half century.
More outdoorsy? Try Burlingame State Park (34 Klondike Road, 401-322-8910, ,www.riparks.com/locations/locationburlingame.html, rates from $14),cq 3,100cq acres of rocky woodland surrounding Watchaug Pond,cq with 50cq fireplaces, bathrooms, beach, and boat launch.
Get your morning java and muffins at the popular Dave's Coffee (5193 Old Post Road, 401-322-0006, www.davescoffeestore.com, muffins $3), owned by David Lanning, whose wife runs the adjacent Galapagos Boutique, set on a hill and bustling in summer. The coffee is roasted by Lanning and the fresh-baked muffins are huge, served in an 18th-century building with free Wi-Fi, local art on the ancient walls, and two cozy lounges for sipping and Web surfing.
Kids love their pancakes cut into fun shapes like dump trucks and elephants at Hungry Haven (5000 South County Trail, 401-364-3609, breakfast from $3.50) where you can go simple or creative, with things like eggs Benedict with prime rib, breakfast burritos, or Betty's apple omelet of cheddar cheese and apples, named for a waitress from long ago.
Take your seafood on the deck by the beach at Johnny Angels Clamshack (523 Charlestown Beach Road, 401-419-6732, www.johnnyangelsclamshack.com, from $4), with such popular items as clam chowder, clam cakes, and fried whole-belly clams, along with lobster rolls, fish and chips, burgers, hot dogs and Del's Lemonade.
Reflecting the 1933 speakeasy it once was is the reopened and restored Charlestown Rathskeller (489a Old Coach Road, 401-792-1000, www.the
charlestownrathskeller.com, entrees from $17), with old paintings of boxers that have hung on the wall since the '30s. Here you'll find a wide range of seafood, steaks, burgers, and more from chef Butch Bush, including the signature Rathskeller fries you can get heaped with truffled pecorino or short-rib gravy, and beer chilled to 27 degrees. Take it outside and play horseshoes or bocce.
DURING THE DAY
Beachgoers delight in the sandy opportunities in Charlestown, including the town-run Charlestown Town Beach at 557 Charlestown Beach Road and Blue Shutters Town Beach at 469 East Beach Road (401-364-1222, nonresident day pass $20 for each, www.charlestown
A hidden gem is the Charlestown Breachway (Charlestown Beach Road, 401-364-7000, www.riparks.com, nonresident day pass $20), with smashing views of Block Island Sound, some of the best saltwater fishing in the state, and an adjacent self-contained recreational vehicle campground on the breachway.
You're best advised to arrive early at the small and popular East Beach (East Beach Road, 401-322-0450, www.riparks
.com, nonresident day pass $20), with 3 miles of shoreline, one of the state's least developed beaches.
Get out on the water at The Kayak Center (562 Charlestown Beach Road, 401-364-4411, www.kayakcentre.com, rentals from $28), where you can also rent stand-up paddleboards and take guided full moon and sunset tours, including a popular one on Ninigret Pond.
Learn the town's history at the Charlestown Historical Society (4417 Old Post Road, 401-641-1952, www.charles
townhistorical.org, free admission, donations accepted) in a well-preserved 19th-century one-room schoolhouse, with displays on the Narragansett and Niantic tribes, a World War II display from the former air base in town, historical documents, and resources for ancestry research.
Pick up a trail map and hike to your heart's content at the 1,112-acre Francis C. Carter Memorial Preserve (Old Mill Road, 401-273-7110, www
.nature.org/rhodeisland), The Nature Conservancy's second-largest holding in the state, with rare pitch pine barrens, vernal pools, and a 35-acre grassland where you may see the Eastern towhee and the prairie warbler.
Upscale spirits and more can be found at Charlestown Wine and Spirits (4625 Old Post Road, 401-364-6626, www.charlestownwineandspirits.com), with local and imported craft beer such as Grey Sail and St. Bernardus, wines from around the world, local sausages, cheeses and breads, tastings, and regular speakers from vineyards.
Funky retail and live animals combine at the Fantastic Umbrella Factory (4820 Old Post Road, 401-364-6616, www.fantasticumbrellafactory.com), set on an old farm and featuring stores selling jewelry, clothing, art, and more, onsite craftsmen selling their wares, and perennial gardens where you'll see goats, chickens, and emus wandering about.
Plan to browse a while at the large, multiroom Simple Pleasures (2000 South County Trail, 401-364-9852, on Facebook), brimming with home decor, gifts, Mariposa tableware, Alex and Ani jewelry, and much more, including the recently added clothing room upstairs and fun stuff like pillows embroidered with "A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor."
Like to sing and watch sports? Check out The Cove (3963 Old Post Road, 401-364-9222, www.thecoveri.com), with sports on eight TVs, karaoke on Friday nights, and live bands on Saturday nights, all while you sup on burgers, pizza, steaks, and more.
In addition to great food, you can get your fill of fun at The Breachway Grill (1 Charlestown Beach Road, 401-213-6615, www.breachaygrill.com), with team trivia on Monday nights, Thursday night blues, brews and BBQs, and live bands on weekends.
Cast your eye to the summer night skies at Frosty Drew Nature Center & Observatory (62 Park Lane, 401-364-9508, www.frostydrew.org, free admission, suggested $1 donation), where every Friday there are public viewings through its 16-inch Meade LX200 Schmidt Cassegrain telescope, a very popular stargazing place since 1981.
Charlestown is about 90 miles southwest of Boston. For information, visit www.charlestownri.com.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at email@example.com.