Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Charlestown, RI

  • Published 2023/01/23

Charlestown is a town in Washington County, Rhode Island.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the area was occupied by Native Americans whose lives centered around agriculture, fishing, and hunting.

Currently, the town serves as the headquarters of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, with their lands, institutions, and historic sites still in use.

One of the earliest Europeans to arrive in the area was Col. John Mason, who marched to Connecticut to fight the Pequots in the 1630s.

Back then, the present-day Charlestown and Richmond comprised the town of Westerly until it was separated in 1738.

Named after King Charles II of England, who granted Rhode Island its charter, Charlestown’s strategic coastal location was ideal for mills and farms.

Today, the town is known for its unspoiled, sandy beaches and the award-winning Charlestown Seafood Festival.

Here are the best things to do in Charlestown, Rhode Island:

Explore the Burlingame State Park

Boats on the water of Burlingame State Park

Susilee Dean /

Located on Burlingame State Park Road, Burlingame State Park is a 3,100-acre public recreation area that offers hiking, camping, and water activities.

Sitting on the shores of Watchaug Pond, the park was opened as a campground in 1934 and named after Audobon Society’s longtime chair, Edwin A. Burlingame.

The park is famous for camping, picnicking, swimming, and fishing.

Sunset at Burlingame State Park

Susilee Dean /

The rocky woodlands make perfect hiking trails, connecting the campground and the Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary.

Observe the park’s biodiversity while walking through the trails and see deer, rabbits, foxes, otters, and over 80 bird species in the wild.

Burlingame State Park has over 700 rustic campgrounds and 20 cabins, with restrooms, shower facilities, and canoe rentals conveniently located nearby.

Walk through the Fantastic Umbrella Factory

Located on Old Post Road, Fantastic Umbrella Factory is a collection of gift shops housed in one property.

It was established in 1968 by Robert Bankel on an old farm homestead as a small candy store and gift shop.

He eventually expanded the store, added a café, and brought local artisans to work and sell their products on-site.

Bankel beautified the property’s landscape and opened a bed and breakfast in 2008.

Today, Fantastic Umbrella Factory has eight specialty shops, including Small Axe Productions, which sells local and imported goods.

The Umbrella Factory Gardens offers tropicals, perennials, and even consultations.

Frills has items from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

Also on the property is a bamboo forest you can walk through, just like in Japan.

Soak up the Sun on East Beach

Located on East Beach Road, East Beach is one of the least explored and developed beaches in Rhode Island.

If you want a relaxing time by the beach, this is the perfect spot as it’s not frequented by people because of its limited parking and changing rooms.

But what it lacks in amenities, it makes up for with its white sands and spectacular ocean views.

Its unique geographical feature is a three-mile-long barrier beach that separates Ninigret Pond from the ocean, giving you breathtaking views and calm waves perfect for swimming.

You can also try saltwater fishing during off hours or camping at any of the ten designated campsites only accessible to four-wheel drive vehicles.

Bring a mat and sunbathe on East Beach’s shores if you’re only here for a day.

Spend the Day at Ninigret Park

Sand sculptures at Ninigret Park

TongRoRo /

Located on Park Lane, Ninigret Park is a 227-acre park with plenty of open fields, bike lanes, picnic areas, and a freshwater pond with a public beach.

The park has eight tennis courts open to the public and a state-of-the-art playground where children of all ages can enjoy hours of playing.

Located next to the playgrounds are the basketball courts where you can shoot some hoops and play three-on-three with some locals.

People at Ninigret Park

TongRoRo /

The almost-a-mile bike path is open for cyclers, joggers, walkers, and rollerbladers when not reserved for a race or special event.

Ninigret Park also has an 18-hole golf course where you can practice your swing with the challenging layout.

The Little Nini Pond is a freshwater swimming pond where you can launch your kayak and go boating.

Try Surfing at Blue Shutters Beach

Located on East Beach Road is a surfing spot called Blue Shutters Beach.

The beach is famous among families looking to enjoy a lovely afternoon by the beach.

Because of its location on the shores of Block Island Sound, it receives moderately strong waves that are perfect for surfing.

Waves can be rough for inexperienced swimmers, but lifeguards are permanently stationed to look out for anyone struggling with the waves.

There are several cold shower stations, changing rooms, and bathrooms if you plan to stay the whole day.

It doesn’t get as crowded as other more popular beaches, and plenty of parking spaces nearby.

If Blue Shutters Beach’s waves get too strong, you can always walk on the sands and pick up shells to add to your collection.

Eat Lobster Rolls at the Breachway Grill

Located on Charlestown Beach Road, the Breachway Grill is a chill dining spot offering pizza, surf ‘n’ turf, and sandwiches made from local ingredients.

The restaurant was opened in 2010 by friends Craig Marr, Bob, and Rick Harris.

Marr’s idea was to open a grill where locals could enjoy fresh fish tacos and other casual meals.

The Breachway Grill is famous for its New York-style, thin-crust pizzas and juicy burgers fresh off the grill.

Aside from the crowd-favorite fish tacos, another must-try is the lobster roll made with fresh Maine lobsters and a special sauce.

There are nine flavors of the 16-inch thin-crust pizza, but you should order the Boss Man, made with sliced meatballs and mozzarella cheese, or the Jammin’ Clams Casino, topped with sliced clams and bacon.

See the Milky Way from the Frosty Drew Observatory and Science Center

Exterior of the Frosty Drew Observatory and Science Center

Kyle Lee /

Located inside the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge is the Frosty Drew Observatory and Science Center.

The astronomical observatory is owned and operated by the Frosty Drew Memorial Fund.

The name honors Edwin F. “Frosty” Drew, a writer turned environmental activist who led the efforts to block the construction of a nuclear power plant in Charlestown.

It’s currently equipped with a PlaneWave CDK600 24″ Corrected Dall-Kirkham telescope installed in 2021.

The observatory is open to the public for free every Friday night all year round, but some events require admission tickets.

You will be guided by Frosty Drew astronomers and team members on properly handling equipment to see clear views of the stars and other celestial bodies.

Explore the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge

Located on Bend Road, the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge is an 858-acre nature preserve consisting of diverse upland and wetland habitats.

Established in 1970, the refuge covers salt marshes, kettle ponds, shrublands, and wooded swamps.

Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge is a popular birdwatching spot, especially during spring and fall migration, with over 250 species of birds calling it home.

Six miles of hiking trails will take you to a unique wildlife viewing experience at the Ninigret Pond, the largest coastal salt pond in the state.

The pond hosts diving ducks, Canadian geese, and black ducks during winter.

Around the Kettle Pond Visitor Center, you can find blueberry shrubs, black and white oaks, princess pine, pitch and white pines, and sweet ferns.

Shop for Home Decor at Simple Pleasures

If you’re looking to spruce up your home when you return from vacation, you might want to check what Simple Pleasures offers.

The 8,000-square-foot store on South County Trail offers coastal living home decor, gifts, jewelry, and “Made in New England” products you won’t find elsewhere.

Fashionistas will have a field day choosing from racks and trendy clothes priced lower than usual retail prices.

Simple Pleasures also have plates, bowls, and mugs that fit right in your kitchen.

Home decors made from wood, ceramics, shells, and beach stones could be the perfect addition to your crib.

Catch Fish at Charlestown Breachway

Jetty at Charlestown Breachway

Mark12211 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on Charlestown Beach Road, Charlestown Breachway is a seaside public recreation spot on Block Island Sound.

Breachway is the artificial channel connecting Ninigret Pond to the Atlantic Ocean.

The area is popular among campers, with 75 camping sites accommodating self-contained RVs.

Charlestown Breachway is also widely considered one of the best places in South County for saltwater fishing.

Here you can catch smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, and sunfish while enjoying a panoramic view of Block Island Sound.

Rent a Boat at Ocean House Marina

Located on Town Dock Road, Ocean House Marina is a full-service marina offering boat sales, rentals, parts, and equipment.

You can rent a pontoon to explore the Ninigret Pond and have the option of a daily, three-day, or weekly boat rental.

The Marina’s fleet of pontoons ranges from 20 to 24 feet in size and can accommodate ten to fourteen passengers.

You can also rent aluminum boats for clamming or fishing.

Aluminum boats can be 14 or 16 feet in length with a capacity of up to four passengers.

If you’re looking for a different experience, try renting a boat at Ocean House Marina.

Buy Premium Cigars at Vintage Cigar Lounge & Club

Located on Charlestown Beach Road, Vintage Cigar Lounge & Club offers a great selection of premium cigars worldwide.

Choose from over 375 types of local and imported cigars stored in cedar boxes to ensure they’re in perfect condition.

The Lounge offers ample seating and is equipped with TVs, Wi-Fi, and a full bar.

You can order a glass of handcrafted cocktails while enjoying your choice of cigar.

A favorite among patrons is the espresso martini, but Vintage Cigar Lounge & Club also has a great selection of whiskey if that’s your preference.

Join the Charlestown Seafood Festival

People at the Charlestown Seafood Festival

TongRoRo /

The Charlestown Seafood Festival is an annual gastronomic feast celebrating Rhode Island’s best seafood.

Held at Ninigret Park every August, the festival attracts local food vendors to showcase their seafood specialties in their booths.

You’ll never run out of choices.

Enjoy chowders, fish and chips, lobster rolls, and raw bars.

The three-day event includes concerts, fireworks displays, a carnival, and car and bike shows.

If you are in town during the first week of August, don’t miss the Charlestown Seafood Festival.

Buy Rare Antiques from Rusty Rabbit Antiques

Rusty Rabbit Antiques is located on Old Post Road, a small antique store with a great selection of rare finds.

As the name suggests, the store’s front signage is decorated with bunnies, so it’s pretty hard to miss.

The space is relatively small and cramped, with antiques in good condition.

You can find Hummel figurines, salt and pepper shakers, old postcards, and other vintage knickknacks.

There are art pieces, books, playing cards, and toy sets that you can add to your collection.

Inventory is constantly changing, but you can be assured that Rusty Rabbit Antiques will have a great selection of vintage finds every time.

Enjoy Dinner with Live Music at the Charlestown Rathskeller

Located on Old Coach Road, the Charlestown Rathskeller is a restaurant, event, and live music venue housed in a 1930s building.

Originally a speakeasy in 1933, Rathskeller specializes in grilled steaks, local seafood, burgers, and sandwiches.

Go back in time when you sit in the restaurant’s beautifully restored dining room and tavern, complete with original murals and elegant décor.

You can choose to be seated on the patio or at the outdoor bar.

In the backyard is a rustic outdoor music and entertainment venue where live bands perform on selected nights.

Enjoy some fish and chips, the cowboy burger, steak frites, and a glass of cold wine or beer while listening to live music at the Charlestown Rathskeller.

Final Thoughts

As a coastal town, Charlestown has many unspoiled and unexplored spots beach lovers can brag about to friends.

If you enjoy gastronomic adventures, this town offers some of the best seafood in New England.

Whether you’re looking for good meals or unforgettable nature trips, you should try the best things to do in Charlestown, Rhode Island.

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