An Italian dinner at the decidedly old-school CASA CHRISTINE (145 Spruce Street, 401.453.6255; bring your own wine) is best followed by dessert at PASTICHE (81 Spruce Street, 401.861.5190; pastichefinedesserts.com) or at CAFFE DOLCE VITA (59 Depasquale Square, 401.331.8240; caffedolcevita.com), home of Providence’s best stuffed cannoli. If you’re not in the mood for Italian, Atwells Avenue also boasts one of the city’s best Chinese restaurants, MUMU CUISINE (220 Atwells Avenue, 401.369.7040).
Hop the west end neighborhood bars
Providence’s hip WEST END is home to an increasing number of trendy, inexpensive bars. JULIAN’S (318 Broadway, 401.861.1770; juliansprovidence.com) is a neighborhood favorite, complete with $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons and mixed drinks named after some of the regulars; It’s also home to the long-running Scrabble Club on Monday nights. In Luongo Square, check out THE AVERY (18 Luongo Square, averyprovidence.com), a newish spot for those who want to feel classy while sitting in a near-dark environment and checking out intricate wood-carved naked ladies behind the bar. You might find $2 tequila shot specials at THE SCURVY DOG (1718 Westminster Street, scurvydogbar.com) which fashions itself a spot for those who live life according to the values of beer, booze, and rock and roll. Who doesn’t?
Live the Newport high life
Unless you’re already there as a student at Salve Regina, you need to make a special trip to Newport. The most scenic way to get there is on the PROVIDENCE-NEWPORT FERRY (it leaves from 180 Allens Avenue, Providence, 401.781.9400; ripta.com/schedules/ferry.php). Get on the RIPTA-run ferry before it stops for the season on October 16, because the state may shut it next year. The three-and-a-half mile CLIFF WALK (which starts on Memorial Boulevard by Easton Beach) is less treacherous than it sounds, but just as pretty, with views of the shoreline and of the city’s enormous mansions, many of which date to the Gilded Age. When parents come to town, take them on one of the NEWPORT PRESERVATION SOCIETY tours (424 Bellevue Avenue, 401.847.1000; newportmansions.org). One of the best is the visit to THE BREAKERS, a 70-room Italian-style palazzo which was built for the Vanderbilt family more than a century ago.
Root for the home team
OK, so Rhode Island doesn’t have major league sports, but tickets to minor league games are cheap, easily gotten, and with team names that allow you to pretend you’re in Boston. Head to McCoy Stadium to see the PAWTUCKET RED SOX (1 Ben Mondor Way, 401.724.7300; pawsox.com), or to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence (1 LaSalle Square) for a PROVIDENCE BRUINS game (providencebruins.com, tickets at 401.331.2211). The PROVIDENCE COLLEGE FRIARS men’s basketball team (tickets at 401.331.6700, fri-ars.cstv.com) also plays at the Dunk, sometimes holding their own in the high-quality Big East conference. The city also boasts the sassy women’s PROVIDENCE ROLLER DERBY (providencerollerderby.com), which holds its “bouts” in the skating rink in Kennedy Plaza.
Work a loom in Pawtucket
Centuries before American factories moved to Mexico and China, they started in Rhode Island’s BLACKSTONE VALLEY. Pawtucket’s SLATER MILL (67 Roosevelt Avenue, 401.725.8638; slatermill.org), which was built in 1793, was the first water-powered cotton-spinning mill in North America. It has been restored as a museum, complete with a 16,000-pound water wheel. To learn more about the French-Canadian immigrants who came to the area to work in the mills, visit the MUSEUM OF WORK AND CULTURE (42 South Main Street, Woonsocket, 401.769.9675). Pawtucket also boasts one of the state’s best annual collections of 21st-century craftsmanship, THE FOUNDRY ART SHOW (held at 172 Exchange Street; foundryartshow.com), held for two weekends just before Christmas, and a great place to grab unique gifts.
Hunker down on a stool
For a state to be home to the AMERICAN DINER MUSEUM (401.723.4342; americandinermuseum.org), there has to be some good diners. The museum helps restore diners and col-lects memorabilia, but it doesn’t have an exhibit. For the real thing, try THE MODERN DINER (346 East Avenue, Pawtucket, 401.726.8390), which has just the right combination of grease and charm (just be ready to wait for a table on weekends). If you’re out at in downtown Providence, check out HAVEN BROTHERS, a food trailer (it parks at night outside City Hall, 25 Dorrance Street) with a surprising amount of stool space inside.
Take a day trip to Block Island
No, Rhode Island is not an island, but BLOCK ISLAND is (800.383.BIRI; blockislandinfo.com). An hour-long ferry ride from Point Judith connects you to Block Island’s 17 miles of beaches and 30 miles of biking trails, great for a day trip or an overnight stay. You can take a bike over on the ferry, or rent one at the many shops on the island. Before you get on the ferry or after you come back, check out CHAMPLIN’S seafood restaurant (256 Great Island Road, Narragansett, 401.783.3152; champlins.com) for fried fish that just came off the boat.
Get outta here
I’ll admit it — sometimes you do need to leave Rhode Island. If you want to go to Boston, the MBTA COMMUTER RAIL (trains at 100 Gaspee Street; mbta.com) can take you to South Station in an hour for only $7.75, and it’s much more comfortable than the bus. And though some proud Rhode Islanders might disagree, my favorite place to get Rhode Island-style clam chowder is actually in — gasp — Connecticut. Just over the border on I-95 is the pretty waterfront town of Mystic, where you can stop at KITCHEN LITTLE (135 Greenmanville Avenue, 860.536.2122) for chowder on your way to the MYSTIC AQUARIUM & INSTITUTE FOR EXPLORATION (55 Coogan Boulevard, 860.572.5955; ife.org) one of the only places in North America housing beluga whales. But that’s a whole other story.