Located just outside Providence, charming Bristol, Rhode Island offers a host of rural and cultural activities for everyone, plus fine dining for adults and hands-on summer camps for younger schoolchildren. Only a two-and-a-half hour train ride from New York and even closer to Boston, Bristol is the perfect weekend escape — or week-long respite — from the noise and rush of a big city.
This small Rhode Island town encapsulates the Americana feel and offers a surprising amount of history, interactive farming exhibits and entertainment at any time of year.
Independence Day in Bristol at the July 4th Parade
Full of quaint, cookie-cutter houses, American flags and pristinely landscaped yards, Bristol is a town with a lot of character.
The 4th of July is the time to be in Bristol, according to all of the locals. Every year the celebration attracts over 150,000 people. If you can’t stand the crowds, don’t despair. With all of its history and spirit, the town is innately patriotic all year round. Streets in Bristol bear names like “Constitution”, “Washington” and “State.”.
And if that’s not enough American pride, the street used for the 4th of July parade route is permanently painted with red, white, and blue lines. And of course American flags are found on nearly every corner – hanging from shop windows, old buildings and landmarks.
My Favorite Bristol Activities with Kids: History
There is an endless amount of activities to do with the family, surprising in such a small town. And in the summer, Bristol is warm enough to enjoy the beaches, bike paths, and parks in this corner of Rhode Island. Here are some of my must-see sights that have special children’s programming.
Linden Place Museum
Built in 1810 by George DeWolf, this mansion was designed in the Federal style, with floor to ceiling windows, beautiful doorways, and amazing natural light. Tours are about 45-60 minutes long, and can be uniquely tailored to the group’s interests upon request. Kids and parents alike will enjoy seeing the rooms as they were over a hundred years ago. With original furniture, access into the bedrooms, and walls plastered with history (a letter from Thomas Jefferson hangs in the upstairs hallway), a tour of Linden Place will give your kids an engaging and interactive history lesson. If the weather is nice, pack a picnic and have lunch in the garden.
For summer 2013, from July 22-26th, the museum offers a Summer History Camp for kids in grades 3-6. Kids will have fun weaving, playing colonial games, ballroom dancing, and going on outdoor expeditions. A Summer Arts Camp is also offered for children in 1st grade or higher. The sessions run from July 15th-19th and July 29th- August 2nd.
Situated on 33 pristine acres overlooking Bristol Harbor and Narragansett Bay, Blithewold Mansion defines the luxury and wealth of an early 20th-century, upper-class family. Step inside the beautiful foyer, where floor to ceiling windows welcome you with breathtaking views of the grounds and the bay. Take a tour of the mansion and see the rooms with the furniture arranged as it was in 1910. Seeing the children’s bedrooms, play areas, toys and boats, your kids will get a sense of how it was to grow up in the Blithewold household.
The grounds and gardens of the house may be even more breathtaking than the house itself. Get lost in the amazing gravel road that takes you through a wooded forest, past the green house and along the green house. During the summer, regularly scheduled concerts, family activities, and yoga classes are held on the lawn. The mansion also hosts 8 one-week sessions of summer camp, Camp Sequoia, for kids K-4. Each of camp session focuses on a different activity, so no two are the same. For example, kids can choose from a week of ocean learning or a week of theatre, amongst other choices as well.
My Favorite Bristol Activities with Kids: Farming & Nature
Coggeshall Farm Museum
Milk a cow, play with the chickens, learn to cook and experience the life of an 18th-century farming family at this living history museum. Museum staff dress in colonial garb — living and breathing the time period. The little three-bedroom house, which was once a tenant farmhouse, is filled with objects and furniture that the typical working family would have owned and used. Kids can jump on the hay-filled mattresses and try on the hats and clothes. Kids also have the opportunity to explore the farm, where they can hold a rooster and even milk a cow. The museum also offers a couple of workshops throughout the year.
Don’t miss their Kids in the Kitchen program, where kids can learn about hearth cooking and even prepare an 18th century dish. Times and dates are available here. With a handful of smells (from animals to bread cakes cooked over a fire), artifacts to touch, sounds of roosters, and colorful garden plants to see, this museum is a truly a sensory experience. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-4pm.
Audubon Society of Rhode Island
Take your kids to learn about animals and habitats native to Rhode Island. There are only a few exhibits featured in the center, so it doesn’t take long to explore and there’s a learning corner where kids sit and play as well. In the summer, Audubon offers a host of outdoor activities: a guided walk through the wetlands and forests; kayak paddling; and lighthouse tours. There are also evening hikes and birding trips. Activities just for kids in the summer include “Calamari Anyone,” held August 1st from 10:30-11:30am in 2013 – register early!
Herreshoff Marine Museum
Gaze in awe at the museum’s Hall of Boats, which contains over 60 significant and beautiful boats. Children will delight in getting a fish’s view, as they walk under massive suspended yachts and sail boats. You can even hop onto one and get a peak inside the cabin. Boat parts, steam engines, and various other Herreshoff memorabilia can be found throughout the museum. Guided family tours by a docent can be arranged upon request.
Mount Hope Farm
Get lost in the 220 acres of Mount Hope Farm, which is over 325 years-old. The property also has three cozy inns – Governor Bradford Inn, North Pasture Guest House and Pool House — if you decide to stay. A Farmers Market year round happens every Saturday from 9am-1pm. Enjoy live music, adorable goats, and of course the local, fresh products sold at the market. You can also take a stroll along the many scenic walking paths and enjoy the fresh air.
Bristol’s Foodie Favorite Restaurants
In a small town where American traditions are celebrated every day, you might expect a lot of fine cooking and some apple pie. Foodie alert: Bristol has a wide variety of excellent restaurants that will encourage everyone in the family to try new foods, but here are my favorites that adults or families with older kids will enjoy. Book ahead on summer weekends.
This restaurant serves up fresh, delicate and delicious cuisine that adults will savor because ingredients are high quality and meticulously sourced. Persimmon was even voted “Best Restaurant in Rhode Island, 2009” by Rhode Island Monthly Reader’s Poll. The mastermind chef, Champe Speidel, has also been a three-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Chef in the Northeast. Dishes are innovative, creative and presented so beautifully, that it’s initially painful to dig your fork in. Leave the kids with a sitter for a night out of fine dining.
The Lobster Pot
Sip mango martinis, chow down on the freshest lobster, listen to the live guitarists and enjoy breathtaking ocean views at this notable Rhode Island restaurant, which has received the Rhode Island Monthly “Best of Rhode Island” awards for their seafood, chowder, views, and adult bar. The seafood here is incredible. From the clams and mussels to the cod and crab cakes, you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and of course the lobster is out of this world. Perfect for a fun dinner date without the kids.
Bristol’s Top Restaurants with Younger Children
Kids of every age will love the food and atmosphere at these local eateries. They are well priced, too.
This tavern is former home to the 1818 warehouse built by James and William DeWolf. Remnants of the old warehouse can be seen in the entranceway to the restaurant, where a gigantic rum barrel (an extensive collection of Rum is available) and 19th-century graffitied stone walls welcome visitors. The amazing setting (located right on the water) is complimented perfectly by creative, innovative and delicious cuisine. The food is described as “Contemporary American Cuisine” with a touches of Indian elements and the menu consists of dishes such as naan pizza, lobster popovers, and Tandoori Marinated Swordfish.
Located in downtown Bristol, this cozy two-story cafe serves up a tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner. Enjoy a hearty, healthy and reasonably priced meal that both kids and parents will love. The menu has interesting and tasty dishes such as a black bean fritter, lemon cornmeal pancakes, and the bacon and buttermilk pancakes, to name a few. The menu and the venue at Beehive are both child friendly, so keep this one on the list: breakfast and lunch are served everyday from 7am to 3:30pm and dinner is served only Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights.
Favorite Family Friendly Hotels & Inns in Bristol
There are several welcoming B&Bs where you can sample the great local Bristol cuisine, stroll a charming neighborhood and sleep in a bit of history, all with young kids in tow.
Bristol House Bed and Breakfast
Home to the best chocolate chip cookies in Rhode Island, and maybe even in the whole world (in my opinion), this bed and breakfast is a perfect stay for families. Besides the phenomenal cookies, the Bristol House offers you a convenient location, wonderful rooms, as well as a beautiful backyard patio and garden. Innkeeper Kathleen Seguin, will make sure that your stay in Bristol feels like home. She’ll also provide your family with any information you need on activities and restaurants in the area.The B&B offers three main bedrooms, each with private bathrooms and all of the typical amenities you would find in a hotel. And every morning you’ll be served one of the best breakfasts in Rhode Island – it was even voted “Best B&B Breakfast” by Yankee Magazine in 2012. How does potato bacon gratin with cherry roasted tomatoes sound?
Bristol Harbor Inn
Located on the water at Thames Street Landing, the Bristol Harbor Inn offers you a setting rich with history. Once a major center of commerce, Thames Street Landing was the former location of the DeWolf Rum Distillery, the Historic Bank of Bristol, and the Wardwell Coal and Lumber. Boasting elements of charm and elegance in all 40 rooms, the inn is perfect for families or larger groups. Walk along the boardwalk and stroll into town and explore the local merchants of Bristol.
Point Pleasant Inn & Resort
Surrounded by Naragansett Bay and Bristol Harbor, this inn encapsulates beauty and luxury. With only six suites, the mansion inn is able to give guests the feeling of coziness and comfort, yet simultaneously maintain its resort qualities. The resort pricing is all-inclusive, with a 24-hour open bar, snack closet, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres nightly, as well as a fabulous breakfast cooked by their adorable, charming and talented Chef, Franny. She’ll whip up Scottish eggs and scrumptious blueberry stuffed French toast, which you can enjoy on the terrace overlooking the water. Fitness center, pool, hot tub, tennis courts, and bikes are available at your leisure. Although this is not a place recommended for rambunctious young children, keep this in mind for a romantic anniversary getaway or for just a weekend away from the kids.
Trip Planning Details for Bristol Rhode Island Getaway
Be sure to check out the local shops and stores of Bristol when you visit. There are tons of hand crafted goods, from artwork and soap to candles and candy.
This is a very stress-free vacation, but for moms in need of extra pampering, there’s Alayne White Spa or New Leaf Hair Studio.
For more information on shops, restaurants, hotels, and activities check out ExploreBristolRI.com.
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