How many times have you barreled up Route 95 toward Providence, then headed east for the Cape, the Vineyard, or Nantucket? If annoying traffic delays and too many hours behind the wheel are becoming daunting, maybe it’s time to consider a “seashore vacation fix” closer to home.
The coastal gems of eastern Connecticut and next door Rhode Island offer everything from historic charm, beautiful beaches and harbors to top-drawer shops, a wide array of restaurants, delightful inns, and even world-class resorts.
My companion and I recently toured Stonington Village and Mystic in Connecticut, as well as Westerly, Weekapaug, and the Watch Hill areas of Rhode Island, and found much to admire. These destinations are all less than two hours from Fairfield County and are ideal for a weekend getaway.
If splashing about in the waves is not your top priority, you can enjoy all the other delights of a seaside resort from February to mid-May at nicely discounted rates before the high season begins. Winter rates run through March 31 and spring rates through May 23. As Danny Perrier, the charming French concierge at Ocean House, says, “Spring is an excellent time to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and gardens, and to walk around and discover the village of Watch Hill before the summer crowd arrives.”
Stonington Village is probably one of the most picturesque compact communities on the East Coast. It is a long, narrow peninsula with a long history dating back to the first white settlers in 1647. The village consists of two one-way streets, Water and Main, which form a triangle, leading past a steady stream of well-kept historic houses, interesting shops, and restaurants interspersed between two different town squares. An ideal place to stay is the Inn at Stonington, which overlooks the harbor and has guest parking in the rear. Wine aficionados will also enjoy wine tasting opportunities — Saltwater Farm Vineyard is close by and there are several other wineries in the Stonington area.
In nearby Watch Hill, R.I., Ocean House is the grande dame of resorts, not just on the East Coast but it’s also one of only 11 Forbes triple Five-Star resorts in the world. Perched high on a bluff overlooking the ocean and a pristine stretch of private beach, it was built in 1868, the first of the grand resorts in New England’s golden era of hospitality. Ocean House was totally rebuilt in recent years, with the new building replicating the previous landmark exterior, while the interior has been recreated with contemporary world-class amenities. Ocean House is ideal for special splurge events like family reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings. Open year-round, the resort has something for everyone and all ages, including a spa, fitness center, pool, squash courts, and championship croquet lawn and putting green, as well as waterfront activities. There are also culinary and wine classes, and an art gallery — marine art from the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery in Fairfield is on view throughout the public rooms.
The Watch Hill Inn, a neighbor of Ocean House, has its own prime location on the waterfront in Watch Hill village, and its guests have the use of the Ocean House private beach, multiple (six) restaurants and other amenities. The Watch Hill Inn, originally known as The Narragansett, has been welcoming guests since 1845 — with 20th-Century guests including Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Clark Gable, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Ford — but has has been newly reimagined as 21 contemporary residential suites with modern amenities including kitchen facilities.
A few miles away in the peaceful community of Weekapaug, R.I., is the Weekapaug Inn — a quiet retreat perched on a peninsula between two salt ponds, with sweeping views of Quonochontaug Pond and the ocean just beyond. The inn has had a devoted following ever since it opened in 1899. The inn prides itself on offering guests a chance to reconnect with nature, and an in-house naturalist helps plan outdoor explorations. There is access to a private white sand beach, heated outdoor pool, fitness center, daily boat tours, sailing, and many waterfront activities.
Other lodging options include the Langworthy Farm Bed and Breakfast (with winery) in Westerly, R.I., and the Old Mystic Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in an antique red Colonial house at 52 Main Street in Old Mystic, across the street from Old Mystic General Store. Old Mystic is not to be confused with Olde Mistick Village — a nationally known tourist attraction on Coogan Road, near the equally famous Mystic Aquarium, just off I-95, exit 90.
Joyce Olson Resnikoff, owner and co-founder of Olde Mistick Village with her twin brother, Jerry Olson, had the foresight and vision to create a center of more than 50 contemporary specialty shops in an historic setting. The individual Colonial houses look like part of a charming village of yesteryear, replete with a duck pond, an old-fashioned water pump, a gazebo, and little parks and gardens. Restaurants include the Blue Squid, a terrific spot for breakfast, where we had delicious pancakes, and Jealous Monks, a beer garden and pub.
The downtown section of Mystic Seaport also has interesting shops, including Bank Square Books, plus a fine craft shop and a frame shop that includes a small art gallery of works selected by the owner.
While in Mystic, we visited a friend now living with her husband at StoneRidge, a very attractive resort-style senior living community for seniors who want to pursue as active a lifestyle as possible — physically, intellectually and culturally. It offers a full range of options, from independent to assisted living and full nursing care. The apartments are unusually spacious, many with curved walls of windows that bring in lots of light. If you have ever considered moving to a retirement home, this is one to consider.