1. Where to Stay
Explore the historic district from one of Bristol Guest Suites’ lofts (from $175), which include fully stocked kitchens and ample living space. All three apartments are located in well-maintained historic homes—the Sailor’s Loft, for example, is housed in the restored carriage house of a Federal home from 1824.
Nap on the hammock in the spacious, blooming backyard at Bristol House Bed & Breakfast (from $189), a three-bedroom inn that opened in May 2011 in a residential neighborhood outside of downtown Bristol. After having breakfast made by the CIA-trained innkeeper, you can walk less than a half-mile to Narragansett Bay and the gorgeous East Bay Bike Path.
Wander through more than 200 acres of protected farmland and hiking trails at Mount Hope Farm (from $200), a bayfront property that dates back to 1745. Guests stay in eleven rooms spread out between three historic buildings, the grandest of which can be found in the Governor Bradford Inn, though some may prefer the secluded North Pasture House surrounded by meadows full of peacocks and wild turkeys.
2. Where to Eat
Make a reservation for dinner at Persimmon, an intimate 38-seat bistro with the most sophisticated menu in town. Chef Champe Speidel, a three-time James Beard Award semifinalist, cooks modern American dishes that push boundaries without testing your patience, like mussels served on edible “shells” made from potatoes and squid ink. Order the five-course tasting menu ($65, additional $38 for wine pairings), which changes daily and is interspersed with additional one-bite treats that you won’t find on the menu.
Walk along the harbor after dinner at Hourglass Brasserie (reservations recommended), which serves French cuisine with contemporary flourishes in a converted garage. The chef has an eye for stunning presentations and unique ingredient combinations, evident in a spring-vegetable salad ($10) with smoked goat cheese, pumpernickel “soil,” sorrel, and pea tendrils; and halibut in a Madras curry with turnips ($28).
Dine al fresco at DeWolf Tavern, a casual waterfront restaurant in a renovated warehouse dating back to 1818. Chef Sai Viswanath’s Indian-inflected menu features meats roasted in a traditional tandoor oven, excellent sandwiches made with naan (from $12), and chickpea-battered shrimp with a sweet chili sauce ($10). The bar holds a wide selection of rums, in a nod to the town’s history as a trading port.
3. What to Do
Learn how to improve your knife skills in an intensive, two-and-a-half-hour butchery class held at Persimmon Provisions (from $60), the sister shop to the restaurant Persimmon. On select Sundays over wine and snacks, the chef tackles topics like butchering poultry and the basics on breaking down and cooking half of a pig. Afterward, you can pick up some cheese and charcuterie in the shop.
Experience Bristol’s agrarian past at the interactive Coggeshall Farm Museum, a still-active farm that dates back to the 1790s. Crowing roosters will welcome you to Wake Up in the Barnyard ($10), a Saturday morning program that allows you to partake in the morning chores: feeding a horse, donkey, and ox; gathering freshly laid eggs; milking cows; and cooking johnnycakes on the farmhouse’s hearth.
Get lessons on starting your own home garden, shearing sheep, and other hands-on activities at the Mount Hope Farmers Market (Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) on the edge of Mount Hope Farm. Each week features expert-led demonstrations, after which you can purchase local honey, herbs, and vegetables. Grab a banh mi from the on-site food truck, and follow Cove Road through the farm for a lunch with ocean views.
4. Insider’s Tip
For most visitors, Blithewold Mansion is just another impressive summer estate leftover from another era, but locals know there’s more to enjoy than a stroll through the rose garden and tour of the 45-room mansion. Skip those and instead opt for a wide range of small classes, held in the mansion and its grounds, that focus on art, gardening, cocktails, and even yoga. Call as soon as possible to see if any classes are scheduled during your trip, since they sell out early.
5. Oddball Day
With water on both sides of the peninsula, a trip to the region isn’t complete without experiencing some of Bristol’s waterfront pleasures. Begin your day with one of the town’s best views at Sip ‘n Dip (775 Hope Street; 401-253-7970), a drive-through breakfast spot with benches overlooking Bristol Harbor. Call ahead to Benny’s, a local store that sells clamming permits ($11), where the staff can advise you on when and where to find quahogs (larger hard-shelled clams) or smaller, more tender cherrystone clams. If your lodging comes with a kitchen, you’re free to take what you find for an evening clam feast. After working up an appetite, head to the old Portuguese neighborhood and stop at the no-frills Azorean Butcher Shop (529 Wood Street; 401-253-7724) for affordable meats and cheeses for a waterfront picnic. If you need some caffeine, head to Angelina’s, which features a rotating collection of single-origin beans and is the only place in town to get pour-over coffee. Rent a bike from local outdoor adventure company Boating in Boston ($25/half-day) to explore the coastline on two wheels along the fifteen-mile East Bay Bike Path, a trail originally carved by a freight train line that stretches to Providence. Detour off the track into Colt State Park, a 464-acre expanse of shoreline, hiking trails, and manicured lawns where you can swim in Narragansett Bay. After getting cleaned up, grab a table on the upstairs balcony overlooking Independence Park at the Beehive Café (dinner served Thursday through Saturday only), which creates simple, hearty dishes such as house-smoked fish cakes with pickled vegetables (market price) and Narragansett Creamery ricotta gnocchi ($14). Linger over the day’s fresh-baked pie or cake to watch the sunset. Finish the day with a grapefruit martini ($10) on the outdoor terrace at the Lobster Pot, an unfussy neighborhood favorite with plenty of chairs and tables facing the bay.
Bristol’s official website has all of the latest details on local events and attractions, as well as a companion app available for download.
On the last Thursday of the month through October, Bristol is teaming up with the nearby Warren for Art Night, including gallery and open studio tours in both towns and free trolley service.
Rhode Island Monthly is a magazine covering the best of the state, with weekly roundups.
The oldest Fourth of July celebration in the country takes place in Bristol each year.
If you’re not driving, taking the Acela to Providence and then arranging taxi service is the best way to get to Bristol.