Rhode Island has a lot going against it. The state ranks last or close to last in most economic indicators. Taxes are high and jobs are scarce. Our most prominent cultural export may be Pauly D.
So why are we here?
Because it is a beautiful place filled with top-shelf art, culture, and people. Our restaurants, bars, and food trucks rival those of the biggest American cities.
And though we may be broke, it's easy to take in a lot of this great stuff on the cheap. Start with the following 10 items.
It's a list geared toward students and other newcomers. So some items may be familiar to long-time Rhode Islanders. But even the locals are sure to make a couple of discoveries.
1 | NEWPORT CLIFF WALK
The path, running along the eastern shore of the City by the Sea, provides a stunning view of the ocean on one side and a Peeping Tom's view, on the other, of the mansions that made the city famous. The first site in New England to be designated a National Recreation Trail, it is 3.5 miles long and about two-thirds of it makes for easy walking. Beware of the rocky parts of the trail, poison ivy and, of course, falling (cliffwalk.com).
2 | PEOPLE WATCHING ON THAYER STREET
One of the best ways to observe Rhode Island's more peculiar denizens is to find a seat at one of Thayer Street's many outdoor eateries and observe them in their natural habitat.
There are more restaurants, cafes, and bars on this trendy stretch of pavement than ever before. Plenty of them offer outside seating and reasonably priced beverages. Keep an eye out for kids with hundreds of dollars of silver pierced into their heads asking for spare change. Do not give them any.
3 | SEAL WATCHING AT ROME POINT
By the time Thanksgiving rolls around in North Kingstown, some 20 to 60 seals have usually arrived. The population increases in January, meaning you can expect more than 100 seals barking away from now until May. Weather and tides affect the numbers, but you'll see plenty unless powerboats or kayaks spook them. Check out romepointseals.org for some expert tips.
4 |WATERFIRE PROVIDENCE
A forward-thinking art installation that is open to all, WaterFire is a perfect culmination of the best of Providence. The bonfires on the water, the scent of wood smoke, and the flickering firelight on the city's bridges mix with music from around the world. It's pretty amazing and it's free. Of course, vendors from all over the state offer food and drink. But if you bring a flask and a little charcuterie in your backpack, no one will notice (waterfire.org).
5 | PROVIDENCE ATHENAEUM
This stately stone and granite landmark on Benefit Street is more than just a place for books; it is a story in of itself. The Athenaeum, as its web site says, "is neither a public library, nor an academic library, nor a community center, nor a private club — it is a little bit of all these things and it is more." Just walking around the institution, founded in 1836, is a treat.