Guide to a Summer Coastal Tour of Southern New England
By Carly Eisley
Summer is arguably the best time to visit New England (it’s a close second to Fall in my book). Miles of coastline, mountains to the North, quaint coastal towns, city life, rolling farm fields – all of it is within easy reach in this small but mighty region. Take advantage of the sunshine and head out on a coastal tour of Southern New England you won’t forget!
Pick up your Escape campervan at the New York camper van rental location and head North – first stop, Connecticut. I-95 will get you out of the city and on your way, but you’ll want to veer off the highway sooner rather than later, to meander up the more interesting coastal route 1. Driving straight from New York to the Rhode Island Border on the highway will take you about 3 hours – but who wants to do that!? There are coastal towns, craft breweries, wineries, beaches, and more to explore!
Stop in to one of the many craft breweries along the way to have a (responsible) taste, and pick up some beer to go – some great ones along the coastal route include Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, New England Brewing in Woodbridge, Stony Creek in Branford, Fox Farm in Salem, and Beer’d in Stonington.
Bring your new stash of craft brews or a bottle of wine along for lunch or dinner. Seafood lover? You’re in luck! There are numerous lobster and seafood shacks that are delicious, scenic, and BYOB. Some top picks – Lenny and Joe’s fish tale, Lobster Landing in Clinton, Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London, Ford’s Lobster in Noank, Abbott’s in Noank, and Costello’s clam shack in Noank.
Take a scenic hike along the sound at Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton, and explore the streets of quaint coastal towns like Stonington Borough and Mystic. Traveling with kids? Check out a unique and educational cruise with Project Oceanology in Groton – experience marine life hands-on with a trip out on their research boat.Love lighthouses? There are many accessible on land, and a cruise out of the New London Ferry docks will give you an on the water perspective of multiple area lighthouses.
Where to Camp
Want a camping experience steps from the beach? Check out Hammonasset State Park in Madison and Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme. Head a little inland for more secluded wooded camping at Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam (great hiking and a waterfall), or the campgrounds of Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown: Green Falls (no potable water so come prepared. There is a pond for swimming with some great hiking trails) or Chapman Area/Mount Misery (miles of trails, including a wild rhododendron sanctuary that blooms in July).
Just over the Connecticut border, your first stop is Westerly, Rhode Island. Stroll through downtown and grab a coffee and a beach read at Savoy bookshop and cafe (or beer/wine in the evening!). Take a walk through Wilcox park, home to events such as Summer pops concerts, outdoor movies in the park, and a yearly Shakespeare festival. Head over to Watch Hill to walk the beach at Napatree Point, check out the Ocean House, and enjoy the small downtown area.
Continue up Route 1 to the Charlestown area for some more beach time! Camp at Burlingame State Park and enjoy the pond and hiking/biking trails there. Head over to East Beach (state beach) for some quieter beach time. This beach is one of the larger stretches and has a very small parking area, so get there early to get a parking spot! The only facilities are composting toilets; this, along with the limited parking, makes this one of the quieter and more peaceful RI beaches. If you can’t get into East Beach, the Blue Shutters town beach on the same road is also a great bet for some sun and sand. Visit nearby Ninigret park, home to a national wildlife refuge, salt pond, and park with tennis courts, walking paths, and a playground.
Further up route 1 is the beach town of Narragansett. Camp at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park and enjoy its close proximity to Scarborough, Roger Wheeler, and Salty Brine beaches. Hop on the ferry in Point Judith for a trip to picturesque Block Island. Sadly there is no camping on Block Island, but it is a fantastic day trip! Rent mopeds or bikes (or bring your bike on the ferry if you have it!) and explore the island’s roads, cliffs, and beaches. Head inland a little for some famous Allie’s Donuts (also available at a beach kiosk this year!) and some craft brews and local oysters at Tilted Barn brewery or hit the food trucks and watch a movie on the projector at Proclamation Brewing.
After enjoying some sun, sand, and waves, head to Newport, RI. Camp at Melville Ponds Campground, just 5 miles from historic Newport. Tour the famous mansions; drive the scenic ocean drive; walk the 3.5-mile cliff walk with views of the historic mansions along crashing waves. Visit historic Fort Adams, and if you haven’t had enough, hit the beach again. Tennis buff? Check out the Tennis Hall of Fame! Music fans, check out the famed Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival, both held at Fort Adams State Park.
Into the Woods
Need a little forest in your life after all of that sun and sand? Big River Management Area and Arcadia Management area have miles and miles of trails to explore by foot or bike. Since Rhode Island is a pretty tiny place, these areas are only about 30-40 minutes from the coast and offer a diverse landscape of pine and deciduous forest as well as ponds and the Wood River for fishing and boating.
From here, your options are limitless! Circle back through Northern Connecticut on your way back to New York; Continue up the coast through Massachusetts and Maine; Spend some time exploring the beaches, trails, and towns of Cape Cod (don’t miss Provincetown!); Head inland and explore the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont… the sky’s the limit. Happy travels!