Written By: Mary Lyons
It�s the part of Rhode Island that puts the ocean in the �Ocean State.� South County is a geographical designation for the state�s Atlantic coastline and nearby areas in the southern part of the state, west of Narragansett Bay. South County includes eleven towns: Charlestown, Coventry, East Greenwich, Exeter, Hopkinton, Narragansett, North Kingstown, West Greenwich, and Westerly.
Wickford has been named to the list of the Ten Best Main Streets in the USA. Rhode Island�s Coastly Kingdom Charlestown was founded by the Narragansett Indian Tribe, a fact it celebrates at the Tribe�s annual August Meeting Powwow. A Nature Center, Observatory, and Kettle Pond Visitor Center intrigue those who can tear themselves away from Charlestown�s beaches. For shopping, the Fantastic Umbrella Factory is the emporium of choice. The Charlestown Seafood Festival is a popular early August event.
Coventry is steeped in history. The homestead of Washington�s second-in-command, General Nathanael Greene, is here, as is the one-room 1831 Read Schoolhouse. Antiquing is also a well-rewarded pastime in this area. Tours looking for outdoor experiences can visit the Audubon Society�s 860 acres of woodland and trails. Also located here is the Centre of New England Complex, with restaurants, shopping, and two inns.
East Greenwich is known for its array of restaurants and shops. The Varnum Memorial Armory is a National Historic Site, there�s a pretty waterfront, and a monthly Main Street Stroll focused on art.
Exeter is home to the nativerun Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum, and a winter sport mecca. It is also a popular fall tour destination because of its rural character, exemplified by the 13,814-acre Arcadia Management Area.
Hopkinton is rural and traditional, too. Its Meeting House was built in 1790, its Town Hall in 1861, and penny candy is still sold in the Hack & Livery Store.
Narragansett once drew the wealthy with its casino; the casino�s Towers remain to greet visitors looking for sun and waves. The Port of Galilee has Rhode Island�s only whale watching cruise, and is the departure point for ferries to Block Island, the state�s Atlantic outpost. Visitors can take in the picturesque Point Judith Lighthouse, in operation for about two centuries. The South County Museum is also located in Narragansett. Groups can tour the museum�s six buildings in addition to meeting the state bird�a purebred flock of Rhode Island Reds resides at the Living History Farm.
North Kingston includes the villages of Wickford and Quonset. Among tour attractions are Casey Farm, one of America�s oldest working farms, and the birthplace of portrait painter Gilbert Stuart. Also in the area is Smith�s Castle, an award-winning restoration on the site of a 1638 trading post. Wickford has been named to the list of the Ten Best Main Streets in the USA. Its Art Festival features over 250 international artists, and its Festival of Light brightens short winter days. Quonset honors Seabees with a giant statue and a Seabee Museum and Memorial. There is an Air Museum and Air Show.
Richmond attracts visitors to its Annual Scottish Highland Festival. Its 1796 Sagecoach House Inn is right on the Wood River, said to offer some of the best fishing and kayaking in Rhode Island.
South Kingstown is home to the University of Rhode Island, which makes it a yearround cultural center. There is much well-preserved Federal architecture, the Kinney Azalea Gardens, and two beaches. The University holds a summer Hot Air Balloon Festival. Tours of the old-fashioned Kenyon Corn Meal Company are available. The Company�s granite millstones were quarried in Westerly.
Almost half of West Greenwich is conservation land, and the area is a treasure trove of stone walls and old graveyards. It is home to the University of Rhode Island�s W. Alton Jones Campus, which offers natural exhibits, camping, and a variety of retreats.
Westerly was named �one of the twelve most distinctive destinations in the country� by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The honor was occasioned by its Vctorian architecture, beautiful parkland, oceanfront ambience, and perhaps the Flying Horse Carousel in Watch Hill, with a claim to being the country�s oldest. There are shows at the renovated Granite Theatre and a winery at Langworthy Farm, as well as a monthly Wednesday Art Stroll. The area�s Misquamicut Beach is the state�s largest, with an amusement park and evening movies on the beach.
For groups seeking a variety of attractions in a compact area, South County�s palette of itineraries are worth considering.