Sure, the Ocean State is tiny. But don’t underestimate its beach power. Rhode Island has lakes, ponds and a whopping 400 miles of saltwater shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean. Wherever you roam, you’re never far from one of RI's best beaches.
Each stretch of sand in this scenic and historic state has distinct character all its own. So, how will you choose the best beach for you? With our picks for the best beaches in Rhode Island based on specific interests.
With its gentle surf, sugary brown sand and lighthouse views, the petite public beach at the foot of Bay Street in the village of Watch Hill is a perfect first beach for young children. Best of all, the beach is just steps from Rhode Island’s coolest carousel. Only children under 5 feet tall who weigh less than 100 pounds are allowed to ride America’s oldest surviving Flying Horses Carousel, with its unique suspended ponies that soar as the merry-go-round picks up speed. A walk along Napatree Point is the perfect bonus ending to a day at the beach. You probably won't bump into Watch Hill's most famous resident—pop star Taylor Swift—but it's not out of the realm of possibility.
The Misquamicut Beach area in Westerly, Rhode Island, is home to Misquamicut State Beach, town-owned Wuskenau Beach and other patches of sand, plus the densest concentration of classic family amusements you’ll find anywhere in the state. Don’t miss the arcade games and kiddie rides at Atlantic Beach Park, waterslides at Water Wizz, affordable drive-in movies at the beach, live music and tropical drinks at Paddy’s Beach Club and hermit crab races on summer Wednesday nights at Purple Ape. Really!
Leashed dogs are always allowed on all 17 miles of public beach on Block Island. Why venture far, though, when lovely Surf Beach is just a three-minute stroll from the ferry dock at Old Harbor? With soft sand and turquoise water that looks more Caribbean than New England, this in-town beach is close to everything, yet a peaceful place to splash in saltwater with your pup. And here’s an important tip for dog owners: If you take the Block Island Express ferry from New London, Connecticut, your dog can travel with you free in an approved pet carrier.
Surfing is a year-round sport in Naragansett, Rhode Island… really! Find the gnarliest waves at Narragansett Town Beach, which hosts the New England Mid-Winter Surfing Championships each year in February. If you’ve never surfed, never fear! Instructors from surfing legend Peter Pan’s Narragansett-based Surfing and SUP Academy will bring all the gear you need to Town Beach and show you how to ride a wave. Even if you struggle, you’ll have one of the most enchanting views in all of Rhode Island of the historic Narragansett Pier Casino Towers. Built in 1886, the towers are all that remain of the 1886 landmark resort designed by Gilded Age architects McKim, Mead & White.
Known to locals as Second Beach, this 1.25-mile curve of sand near Newport in Middletown, Rhode Island, is angled to offer views of the sun setting behind Rhode Island’s famous seaside city. Vigorous waves glitter with gold as the day’s last light illuminates the beach. The adjacent Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge is also an ideal place for quiet sunset walks. Don't like summertime crowds? Newport is one of New England's best winter beach destinations.
Best Beach for Photographers: Clay Head Preserve
The beach at this 190-acre preserve, a Nature Conservancy property, is as striking as you’ll find in Rhode Island. Located at the northeast tip of Block Island, it’s worth the journey if you’re a photographer looking for an otherworldly scene of stark clay cliffs, wave-tossed rocks, curious sea debris and milky-blue water. Wildlife photographers should visit in the fall for a chance to capture images of migratory songbirds. Atop the cliffs, there is a series of serpentine, unmarked trails known as the “maze” to explore.
Prefer swimming in calm freshwater more than salty ocean waves? Head inland to this Burrillville, Rhode Island, family favorite and bring every cent of spare change you can rustle up. Kids love the lake’s slides, rental boats and free-to-borrow games and toys. Adults love the clam cakes at the concession stand. And there’s fun for all ages inside America’s oldest penny arcade. Some of the Spring Lake Arcade’s antique games still only cost a dime, a nickel or even a penny to play. And they'll challenge your reflexes every bit as much as the arcade's more modern games.
This clean, well-groomed beach is small, and a breakwater keeps the surf tame. But you’ll love the views of commercial fishing boats heading in and out of Galilee. Even better: You can feast at the beach on super-fresh fish, lobster and squid caught locally. In addition to its own concession stand, Salty Brine Beach is just steps from two seafood restaurants. George’s of Galilee has a walk-up window with a limited menu, or you can also order takeout from the restaurant menu, which features Point Judith calamari, unusual local fish, fried seafood, sushi and more. Champlin’s Seafood Deck makes one of Rhode Island’s best lobster rolls and has all of your other favorites including white, clear and red chowder. Below Champlin’s, you’ll find the Sweet Spot, where you can treat the kids (and yourself!) to homemade ice cream.
This hidden Rhode Island beach is worth finding if you’re planning a romantic picnic or simply would like to spend time alone with the sea. The nearest place to park is on Marine Road inside Quonset Business Park. From there, it’s a 1.4-mile walk or bike ride to this mile-long crescent of sand and crushed shells. The effort required keeps crowds away. Just keep in mind there are no restrooms or other facilities at this secluded beach hideaway.
If you’re dreaming of camping by the ocean in Rhode Island, reserve one of the 20 RV sites at East Beach in Charlestown. Sheltered within the Ninigret Conservation Area, this pristine, three-mile beach is the anti-Misquamicut: undeveloped, wild, scenic, with almost no amenities. What this beach lacks it makes up for in the natural beauty of its pale sand and dazzling water and its nearness to one of the best places in New England for stargazing. There is limited parking for day visitors, so arrive early if you’re not camping overnight.