Bounty by the Sea: Rhode Island Summer Travel at the Farm Coast

by Jun 28, 2021Blog

A Quaint and Hidden Summer Getaway that Showcases the Best New England Has to Offer

Just a 30-minute drive from Providence brings you coastline, farms, a thriving arts community, vintage shops, restaurants, vineyards, Native American and colonial history, and even a hike or two, all in one place.

Those of us who did not grow up in state may not be familiar with what Yankee Magazine calls the Farm Coast. In fact, many of us who did might only think of Newport and Narragansett when it comes to coastal communities.

South Shore Beach - Little Compton, RI

The towns of Tiverton and Little Compton make up Rhode Island’s Farm Coast and they are truly a special place. Without the fanfare, crowds, and definitely without the commercialization of the rest of the state, it is characterized by a unique balance of culture, quaint farmland, and scenic beaches.

Most places would be lucky to offer the charm and appeal of just one of these things. On the Farm Coast, it’s all rolled up, concentrated into one tiny, quiet, humble, and unassuming package.

Why should you visit? If you’re looking for a place to truly get away, a real change of scenery, some variety, a taste of culture, quaint and earthy vibes, a break from anything commercial, and to spend time where a welcoming and unique community thrives, than this is the place for you.

There are Farms…There are Coasts….It’s the Farm Coast

Driving down RI route 77 from Fall River towards Little Compton immediately confronts you with the dichtomy I am talking about; scenic farms on your left and a Cape Cod-esque coastal waterfront to your right. Nowhere else is such a dichotomy as evident, at least anywhere I can think of.

The rising sailboats and cottages to the east, the barn gables, silos, and woodlands to the west compliment each other, like the symmetry of a poem in landscape form.

Said woodlands offer some pleasant and easy hiking trails. Choose any of the trailheads that mark the beginning of Weetamoo Woods and Pardon Gray Preserve to find serene forests, cattle pastures, remains of colonial structures, and even the sites of some of the battles of King Phillip’s War.

Tiverton and Little Compton are strewn with roadside farm stands and greenhouses. Whether it is a small stand with a few items ran on the honor system or something more established, you’re bound to find some great, farm fresh foods.

The most famous is easily Walker’s Roadside Stand, a very popular place to pick up the summer’s best produce and other local groceries. Closer to the beach is Wishing Stone Farm that features on and off-site grown produce like freshly picked June strawberries.

Peckham’s Greenhouse features an extensive selection of plants – indoor, outdoor, flowers, bushes, and succulents of all shapes and sizes. They are hosted within their extensive greenhouses, which are a perfect place to stop, explore, and take in the impressive greenery.

The Coast Part

Perhaps most famous, and the most Cape-esque part of this area is Sakonnet Point. There are private beaches, yachts, golf courses, lobsters fresh off the boat, and enough Vineyard Vines and boat shoes to fill out a catalog.

Across the way is South Shore Beach – a tiny beach that is probably one of my favorite beaches. Sure, it is a bit rocky, but the sand is golden and ocean is green. It is not big enough to get truly crowded and it offers campsites for tents and RVs. The beach is open to the public from 8am to 5pm for a $20 parking fee, but it’s free afterwards. This makes it the perfect place to pull up and watch the sunset after your day full of adventure.

Louise and Aidan at South Shore Beach – it was a solid 20F cooler here than inland!
A small hot dog stand at the beach.

The seascape to the east as mentioned before, is littered with picturesque coastal properties – it’s a carefully assembled jigsaw puzzle of gray-weathered siding clad homes surrounded by grasslands, plowed fields, manicured gardens and flowers, rock walls, and rocky coastlines. Sure, it these elements echo the Cape, but altogether, not much matches the tranquility, calmness, and beauty these two towns offer.

Small Community, Quaint Feel

Another reason to visit this part of Rhode Island is the quiet, quaint feel, and close-knit community.

This area of Rhody feels drastically different than others thanks to this. It’s far less crowded than Narragansett, Newport, and the Cape, which means there’s less noise, tourists, and lines between you and earthy, beachy vacation nirvana. It’s a far cry from the bustling streets of Newport’s Thames Street on a July day or traffic jams on the bridges across the Cape Cod Canal. If you’re looking for a real change of pace, something really different from your bustling 9 to 5 and family life at home, than this is the place. I really cannot stress this enough.

No part of this area could be described as on top of each other. Next door neighbors are hardly what you might call next door – homes are spread at acres apart and are protected by a canopy of trees and rock walls. Outside of a few shops and restaurants in town, the number of businesses like gas stations, grocery stores, or chains of any kind are next to nil.

A small shop in Little Compton.
A small shop in Little Compton.

Supporting this vibe is an equally quaint community, notably of farmers, artists, and beachgoers. Meeting members of said community is an easy task – they’re quite friendly. In fact, they make it hard to avoid.

This is ever so perfectly represented on a recent visit to Little Compton. Moments after stopping at a roadside stand with a “ORGANIC HEIRLOOM TOMATO PLANTS” (be still my beating heart), the proud proprietor of the operation, Dawn, came out to proudly speak of her tomato plant collection. Yes, it was something to be proud of. There must have been 500 plants available in 100 varieties.

We spoke of local goings on, the comings and goings of the summer crowds, and of course, delicious summer tomatoes. To my friends and I, this area was a serious break from the hustle and bustle of our lives and work, but to her? What we perceived as serenity was not enough. “I might move up to Maine”, she told us. “I can barely tell the difference between this place and the Hamptons”.

It may surprise you to find out that Little Compton and Tiverton are known to a thriving artist community. A perfect counterpart to their farmer brethren, these towns are home to artists of all kinds.

Again, this area is always about the perfect melange of standout elements and artists have certainly had their hands in the mix. The perfect example of this is the Art Café in Little Compton. This small café finds its home in a tiny barn. You’ll find delicious coffees, espresso drinks, and pastries, which are exceptional in their own right. What makes this place so special is the small art gallery jutting out of the main café and outdoor gathering area. To me, you could not draft up a better pre-beach meeting space for a pick-me-up.

Tiverton Four Corners: “The Hamptons” but for Artists

You’ll find most of these artists’ natural habitats in Tiverton Four Corners. Brought back to life since the mid-80’s by James and Rosalind Weir, it’s a tiny, but bustling center of art galleries, antique shops, glass and ceramicware boutiques.

With over 25 different shops and restaurants, you’re bound to find something to tickle your fancy, whether it be a meal, vintage clothing, sculpture, gifts, painting, or fixture for your garden.

An antique pickup truck outside Groundswell.

This shopping and commercial district is over 300-years-old and was transformed from neglect to the charming center that it is over the past 35 years.

The most notable stop is the Gallery at Four, the “biggest” contemporary art gallery here. A walk in puts you face to face with rotating art exhibitions – and the artist behind them, depending on the day. Again, this community is so tight nit and small that chances are high of such an occurrence.

This happened to me on my most recent visit upon stumbling into Rich Perry‘s tiny corner gallery and office. He is a photographer who restores 100-plus-years-old glass negatives he bought online. The portraits on his walls showcased people of a bygone era – names, ages, and lives lost to time. What made his display unique was the focus on showcasing unique expressions.

One, Rich imagined, was a real troublemaker, while other’s looked as if they had just heard an exceptionally funny joke. “I’m not a history teacher, nor have I really studied history. But it’s this kind of history I love”, he told me. “Plus, isn’t it just fun to imagine what’s going on in these photos? And who these people were? I almost don’t even want to know the answers. Would spoil the fun!”

You can – and should check out Rich’s portfolio of said images on his website here.

Every artist, shopkeeper, farmer you will meet in these parts are exceptionally enthusiastic to tell you about their work and are the definition of friendly.

Just down the street is Carmen and Ginger, a cat and dog themed vintage store that wouldn’t look out of place in Providence. A quick stop in will find you overwhelmed with mid-century vibes, costume jewelry,  antique cat and dog figurines, vintage post cards, a round screen TV. Oh, and not to mention an inevitable chat with Christine, the owner, and her docile cat, Django.

Nearby is famous Gray’s Ice Cream. Practically every child who has grown up in Rhode Island has at least one fond memory of getting a few scoops here.

Oh Yeah, You Gotta Eat

Rhode Island’s top-notch food scene extends to Tiverton and Little Compton. Evelyn’s Drive-In is another family favorite that has been humbly serving seafood from their bayside seafood shack for over 50 years. This is exactly the kind of place I was mentioning in my New England Clam Chowder Recipe.

Just down the street is home to two notable eateries; Plouf Plouf Gastronomie and Helger’s Ice Cream. Plouf Plouf Gastonomie is one of the areas best food trucks. It’s a no-frills way to enjoy proper French bistro meals that literally come out of a truck. I was so excited to see that they would be opening a proper restaurant in the coming days.

Helger’s grasshopper ice cream – mint chocolate chip with added Oreos. Sign me up!

My last trip here included my first trip to Helger’s Ice Cream and it was quite the treat! And not just because of the excellent grasshopper ice cream, but because the cows at Helger’s can join you just beyond the fence.

Of course, there are no shortage of other interesting eats to be had here, like Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, Four Corners Grille, The Red Dory, and Groundswell Café.

Of course, this only scratched the surface of what this very special part of my state has to offer. The best way to understand the magic of this place is to hop in a car, head down 95, wander into yet another antique shop I could not mention for brevity’s sake, another quiet farm stand, make your own new local friends, find your own special coastal alcove, and make your own unique adventure.

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