By LAUREN DALEY
If you think Newport, R.I. is a summertime-only destination, think again.
The storied seaside port town, where moneyed Gilded Age socialites built their summer mansions, and where JFK and Jackie O married, is synonymous with sailing, tennis and all things stylish and summery.
But it’s also a surprisingly awesome destination in the autumn and winter.
There’s always something happening in Newport. From live music, to mansion tours, from boutique shopping to waterfront fests, this is a summer town that doesn’t shut down after Labor Day. It keeps going, full steam, year round.
My boyfriend and I spent a recent weekend in Newport, and despite the jacket-weather, we had a blast. We expected a quiet off-season weekend, but instead found live music, boatloads (literally) of tourists, a seafood festival in full swing on the bustling waterfront, incredibly unique shopping, fresh seafood dinners, and a tall ship that looked like it sailed off “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
We arrived on a fall Friday to check in at Gurney’s Newport, a gem of a waterfront resort, with grounds offering 360-degree water views. It’s technically on Goat Island, but you don’t need a boat to get there — it’s just a short drive from downtown Newport.
And yes, there are goats. Cornelius and William. And they’re adorable.
The hotel itself boasts a playful nautical theme — think boat propellors encased under glass in the lobby table, bronzed scuba diving helmets atop coffee tables, nautical rope chairs, circular porthole windows.
There’s also a full-service spa for and if you’re someone who appreciates a good hotel gym—they’re rare— this one’s beautiful, as is the indoor heated pool. There’s nothing like a dry eucalyptus sauna after a chilly fall day exploring the waterfront. The spa also offers deep-tissue massage, body wraps, facials and the like.
We dined onsite at Scarpetta, where the bread—served with cheese, meats and dipping oil— is a meal in itself. There are a handful of sister restaurants around the U.S., including in the Hamptons, Manhattan, Las Vegas and Miami, and I see now why they’re so buzzed about. You’d be hard-pressed to find fresher seafood. The crudi platter of raw yellowtail with olio di zenzero and pickled red onion which was so fresh it could’ve been plucked from the ocean minutes before. Ditto on the seared scallops. Menus items include duck and foie gras ravioli with marsala reduction; lobster tagliatelle with asparagus, basil bread crumbs; Colorado lamb loin with pesce carne, spring onion puree, radishes, fava; or dry-aged sirloin with trumpet mushrooms, cipollini onion, potato and truffled spinach.
The vibe of the restaurant itself is nautical-romantic, lit largely with candles, and all polished wood, white canvass and ocean views. The abutting Regent Lounge was lively both nights, with live music and guests sipping beer and wine.
The next morning we bundled up for a morning downtown and found that at the waterfront hub Bowen’s Wharf, there’s always something going on, rain or shine.
We happened to catch the Bowen's Wharf 27th Annual Seafood Festival, a free-admission fest under multiple tents by the ocean. It was drizzling, but the fest was absolutely cranking, with live bands on stage, beer and wine, and platter after platter of raw oysters and fresh seafood. (Seafood-lovers, mark your calendar for the 28th Fest.)
Nearby, the tallship Oliver Hazard Perry, Rhode Island's 200-foot sailing education vessel, was docked at Bowen's Wharf Marina and available for visits.
If you’re planning for holiday trip, you’ll want to head to Bowen’s Wharf for their Newport Holiday Stroll Dec. 1 to 3 and 8 to 10. Catch the 47th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting, held rain or snow, at Bowen’s Wharf, Dec. 2 , with caroling and a visit from Santa himself, also the Newport Winter Festival from Feb. 16-25. There’s always something going on at this wharf, no matter the weather or time of year.
After the fest, we spent time wandering downtown, where the shopping is plentiful and eclectic. Strolling the cobblestoned and redbrick downtown— with its boutiques, high-end shops, confectionary shops— feels like something from a Norman Rockwell painting. Just walking the red brick waterfront Thames Street, you’ll find anything from outdoor gear shops like Team One Newport to small galleries with handblown glass and handmade jewelry, upscale stores, and yes, even an exotic gourmet jerky store, where you might try alligator, emu, elk, or camel jerky.
I should mention here that if you’ve never been to Newport before, there are a few must-dos: One is Newport’s Cliff Walk is simply stunning year-round. The 3.5-mile oceanside trail winds bluff, rocky outcrop, miles of ocean and stately mansions. You will want to Instagram everything you see. #CliffWalk
Two: Tennis buffs might want to check out the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Browse a comprehensive museum of the game’s history, or book playtime on the courts.
And three: You’ll want to take a mansion tour. Especially if you’re still mourning the end of “Downton Abbey.” The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House and Rosecliff are all jaw-dropping.
The creative and varied menu includes torched oysters with jalapeño bourbon butter and lime, spicy Rhode Island clam with mango, celery, scallion; lump crab cocktail with avocado and wasabi tobiko and char-grilled octopus with chickpea salad and lemon. Entrees include blackened mahi-mahi, caramelized sea scallops, and the Good Burger with gruyere, bacon and onion jam.
Walking back after dinner, we stopped to look at the harbor lit up at night and the moon over the water. We heard live music pouring into the street from local bars, saw lines of people outside Ben & Jerry’s with the smell of fresh waffle cones in the air. Summer is where you find it— and you can always find it in Newport.