Providence for College Students: Our Off-the-Beaten-Path Hot Spots
BY BOB CURLEY
Whether you’re a student living on campus or off, it can be hard to break out of the bubble. For campus-dwellers and city locals alike, Providence, Rhode Island, packs a ton of fun in a small package. Get the most of PVD with this guide to explore.
One of the great charms of the city is its walkability. It’s easy to stroll from the historic Downcityneighborhood—with its river walk, theaters, and shopping center—to the East Side and Benefit Street’s “Mile of History”; Federal Hill with its great Italian food and nightlife; and the new parks creating a green pathway to the city’s long-neglected Narragansett Bay waterfront.
Locals know to head to Julians, where they're all about the Benedicts. Photos courtesy of Julians via Facebook.
EAST COAST, WEST SIDE
That said, there’s a lot more worth exploring in New England’s best small city, outside of its downtown core. In fact, the city’s coolest neighborhood, the West Side, is a long walk (but a short drive) away.
Not so long ago, West Side’s Broadway neighborhood was home to an X-rated movie theater and not much else. Now, the Columbus Theatre is a cultural-arts center, historic mansions are being returned to their former glory, and the street is lined with great restaurants and boutiques. Longtime favorite eateries like the chef-owned Nick’s on Broadway and Julians (famed for its endless variety of breakfast “Benedict”sandwiches) have been joined by The Grange, an adventurous mix of vegetarian dining and upscale sips.
What the Cluck! is going on here? Urban gardening, that's what. Photos courtesy of Cluck!
A Broadway shopper’s stroll should include stops at Rocket to Mars for vintage housewares and clothing (cause your room deserves to look as spiffy as you do), Armageddon Shop and Analog Underground for music, and Piñata Center & La Tiendita…for that moment when you absolutely must have a piñata. Looking to take “farm to table”back home? Cluck! supplies and educates urban gardeners along with raising chickens and bees in the heart of the city. (It’s on you to ask your RA about dorm chickens.)
Even if you're Earthbound, Rocket to Mars will make your space(ship) look swell. Photos courtesy of Rocket to Mars via Facebook.
But the west end of Westminster Street may be the hippest address in Providence these days, home to the artsy and innovative Loie Fuller’s restaurant and the kitschy mid-century hipster hangout that is Ogie’s Trailer Park, among others. The Fête and Firehouse 13 music venues are also nearby.
Missing your pets from back home? Less than 10 minutes from downtown is the Roger Williams Park Zoo, one of the best small zoos in the country. Located within the beautifully landscaped Roger Williams Park in South Providence, the zoo has exhibit areas focused on Africa, Australasia, and North America, as well as a farmyard with a petting zoo and a wetlands trail. Animal inhabitants include African elephants, Masai giraffes, Grant’s zebras, American bison, cheetahs, snow leopards, red pandas, and kangaroos at the new Outback Trail. And come fall, the zoo’s Halloween season Jack O’Lantern Spectacular is a can’t-miss event with literally thousands of hand-carved pumpkins on display.
HAUNT 'N' JAUNT
Speaking of spooky, did you know that Providence was the birthplace of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft? The author of "The Call of Cthulhu” and other macabre tales wrote most of his best works here, but died impoverished and relatively unknown at age 46. Lovecraft’s gravesite in Swan Point Cemetery has become a pilgrimage site for fans, and even if you’re not a lover of scary stuff, it’s still worth the drive up tree-lined Blackstone Boulevard to visit this beautiful, 200-acre graveyard alongside the Seekonk River (and maybe earn some brownie points in your English Lit class). The garden-like grounds are a popular walking and biking destination.
PawSox it to me, with a sporty night out at McCoy Stadium. Photo courtesy of Pawtucket Red Sox via Facebook.
Further north from Providence, you’ll find the Blackstone Valley, the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. Slater Mill, located in downtown Pawtucket, was the first water-powered textile mill built in America, and the circa 1793 mill along the Blackstone River is well worth a visit for history lovers.
“The Bucket,”as the city is sometimes playfully called, is also home to the Pawtucket Red Sox, who play all of their home games in the intimate confines of McCoy Stadium. A PawSox game is one of the best spectator sports bargains around; you can easily score a fun night out for less than $20. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” not your summer jam? The eclectic Hope Artiste Village, located in a former Pawtucket mill complex, is the third home of The Met, one of Rhode Island’s most enduring concert venues.
MOVING TO THE COUNTRY
Rhode Island’s charms include how quickly you can transition from city to country, as you’ll find on a scenic drive down the eastern shoreline of Narragansett Bay—perfect for an old timey road trip.
Take I-195 in Providence to Route 114 southbound for a fun day out on the state’s East Bay; the road passes through the colonial coastal towns of Barrington, Warren, and Bristol, before reaching the span of the Mount Hope Bridge. Once you cross over this historic suspension bridge, you’ll have the option of heading south to Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport, or east to Tiverton and Little Compton.
Take the eastern option for a quiet rural drive, with stops at Tiverton Four Corners for ice cream at Gray’s and Little Compton’s quintessential New England town commons for some serious village charm. If you get on the road early, stop for johnnycakes at the Commons Lunch or brunch at The Barn in Adamsville.
Or, turn south for Newport: With its lavish mansions (no bunk beds here), signature jazz and blues festivals, and lively summer party scene, the City by the Sea is less than an hour’s drive from downtown Providence, and a dreamy escape.
Coast on down for a relaxing Rhode Island getaway. (Sea what we did there?) Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.
BEACH BLANKET LET'S-GO
One thing that Providence lacks is a beach. Fortunately, you can also get to New England’s best ocean beaches in under an hour, with a trip down to Rhode Island’s South County. In addition to soft sand and moderate surf, the beaches of Westerly, Charlestown, Narragansett, and South Kingstown can match whatever mood you’re in.
For a lively atmosphere with a tranquil backdrop, Misquamicut can't be beat. Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.
Surfers and other wave-riders head to Narragansett, a charming coastal town with plenty of shops and dining within walking distance of the shore. Misquamicut, in Westerly, has a bit of boardwalk atmosphere (minus the actual boardwalk) with its seaside amusement park, water slides, and restaurants. Roger Wheeler and Salty Brine beaches are a bit quieter, but for people-watching, you can’t beat Scarborough State Beach.
Did we include your favorite off-campus fix? Tell us your favorite Providence getaway destinations—big or small—in the comments below.