Your college roommate just called — looks like you’ve got yet another Newport wedding to attend!
Part of you is thrilled because hello, nautical beauty. But you’ve seen the mansions, the beaches, and the sailboats already—many times over—and now you’re wondering whether there are enough adventures to keep you and your plus-one occupied when you’re not gorging on lobster rolls and lemonade. The answer, of course, is a resounding Yes! because what you may not be aware of is the history behind this famed destination. And really, isn’t it the backstory that makes everything so interesting?
Grab a shandy and settle in for a tour of the largest island in Narragansett Bay — Aquidneck Island. Bet you didn’t know that’s where Newport lives.
1.) Cliff Walk
Even if you’ve walked it before, Cliff Walk is a must. It stretches for three-and-a-half miles along the coast behind the Newport mansions, and offers a public right-of-way through the private properties. Though it’s been in place for over a century, Cliff Walk has a slightly tumultuous history behind its creation. It was first formed by the local deer, then the Narragansett Indians, but from 1880 to 1929, the estate owners began cleaning it up piece by piece, with a slight halt during the Great Depression.
To this day, the public partners with estate owners take care to clear the path for the public to enjoy the walk, though it’s not unheard of for some of the wealthy owners to build barriers, re-route the path to make it less convenient, or even bring dogs (sometimes bulls) to deter people’s pathway. But don’t let that stop you — Cliff Walk has centuries of prior use to guarantee the public’s legal right to walk along the cliffs.
2.) Rough Point — Doris Duke’s seaside mansion
Think what you will about socialites, but if your favorite pastime is following the antics of America’s heiresses, this house should be high on your list of places to see. As the only child to tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke, Doris Duke has quite the eclectic legacy. Famed for being known as the world’s richest girl, she used her inherited wealth to pursue interests in the arts and travel the world. During World War II, Duke also worked in a canteen for soldiers in Egypt, for a whopping annual salary of one dollar.
Though short-lived, Duke passionately tried out various interests, including learning how to surf competitively, writing for Harper’s Bazaar, and acting as a correspondent throughout war-ravaged Europe in 1945. Later in life, she kept dogs and pet camels on the grounds of her homes, and contributed to the conservation of wildlife refuges and historical preservation.
Not one to follow a crowd, Duke, who was an avid fan of Jazz, often hosted black jazz musicians at her parties, well before Newport society deemed it socially acceptable. Even today, her legacy lives on — the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation contributes to the arts, environment, medical research, and child well-being.
3.) Block Island
What’s in a name? Since Colonial times, Block Island was known as Claudia, then Luisa, after French Royals, but the Narragansett natives first named the island Manisses, or “the little island of Manitou.” In 1614, Dutch explorer Adrian Block named the island after himself, and was officially recognized as such on a map from 1685, which clearly labels Block Island as Adriaen Blocks Eylant (“Adrian Block’s Island”).
But even with all the name changes, Block Island escaped an identity crisis.
Unpretentiously, Block Island offers a quaint getaway: you can go barefoot in the sand, bike the island, or run through the rolling green hills like they’re alive with the sound of music. There are also hundreds of freshwater ponds, and dramatic 250-foot bluffs—kinda like Ireland—which you probably had no idea even existed in the U.S. Bonus!
Newport definitely has its charm, but Block Island is the ultimate stop for when your vacations needs a vacation. Leave everyone and everything behind — except maybe a bike and your camera — with just a short ferry ride to paradise.
Now that you know a few more of Newport’s little secrets, don’t keep them all to yourself! Impart some knowledge on your friends, like a local, and if there are any little secrets you know that we don’t, share them in the comments, below.