Rhode Trip

Y ou can make reservations, firm up dinner plans and pack as much sunscreen as you want, but there’s no controlling the weather. Two weekends ago, a trip to Misquamicut, in Rhode Island, found the shore enveloped in fog and transformed into a coastal ghost town—its amusements abandoned to the hardy handful who still ventured out.

Misquamicut, typically about a 75-minute drive from New Haven, is a three-mile long state beach in Westerly, Rhode Island. Stretching from the ultra-posh neighborhood Watch Hill Point—pop queen Taylor Swift’s mansion crouches at the top of the hill—to more modest Weekapaug, it separates the placid Winnapaug Pond from the often roiling Atlantic Ocean.

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We arrived in the early evening at the Sea Shell Motel. Pepto-Bismol pink and decorated with swaths of tulle, sparkling lights and a large fiberglass clamshell, the Sea Shell looks like the place where a low-budget Venus rose out of the waters of Winnapaug.

At $90 a night on weekends, it’s one of the most affordable options in the area, and the price includes a pondside hot tub and the use of the motel’s kayaks, which we took out the following day. The pond itself is beautiful, surrounded by lush greenery and made mysterious by the fog. Two and a half miles across and about two and half feet deep, the shallow water put this nervous, first-time kayaker at ease, and allowed us to see a horseshoe crab making its way across the pond floor.

If it’s water you’re after, the pond is just an appetizer. The main course is only a few minutes’ walk away: the Atlantic, sleet gray, rough and cold for the length of our stay. But the stormy weather was a boon for the seagulls, who pulled whole fish from the surf, as well as the surfers, who threw themselves into it.

A mile down the shore, we found ourselves at a cluster of eateries and entertainment called Atlantic Beach Park, where Rhode Island’s only roller coaster—its lone car a small purple dragon with red pinprick pupils—is coiled up outside a carousel. A scoop of Monster Mash ice cream (crushed-up candy in a vanilla base) at Dusty’s Dairy Bar, or a margarita at the Windjammer Surf Bar, or both, will afford you the sugar rush necessary to charge into the beeping, flashing arcade and play a few rounds of air hockey and skee-ball.

Across the street at the Bayview Fun Park, you can spin yourself silly around a go-kart track for $6, which is also the price for a round at the disarmingly shabby and therefore surprisingly difficult mini-golf course. Come dinnertime, if you’re in the mood for something a little fancy, Maria’s Seaside Café is the kind of place you can split a bottle of wine and enjoy a plate of scallops, but sometimes beach dining is at its best when it’s informal, like at Two Little Fish, a family-owned restaurant where, as soon as you place your order, you can hear the fish frying in oil that will be recycled as biodiesel.

For the evenings, we much preferred Sandy’s Lighthouse, a dive bar with a pool table and an incorrigible “pet” seagull named Sammy—who hammered the window with his beak in search of snacks until an obliging waitress went out to share a hot dog—over Paddy’s Beach Club, a tourist trap where we were pressured to buy plastic novelty cups at a mind-boggling markup.

For breakfast the next morning, The Cooked Goose—a few minutes’ drive inland—is clearly the local hotspot, and while the coffee is uninspiring, it does great work with bacon and eggs and makes the best chocolate chip pancakes my companion, a connoisseur, has ever had. Since you’re already in your car, a trip out to Watch Hill—try to get street parking, because the lots are run by piratical teens who charge an arm and a leg—finds rockier, ruggedly pretty beach to walk along, with sandy dunes, meandering coastlines and a foggy view of the lighthouse in the distance.

While the area is very popular when the sun’s out, the strange emptiness of the place on a rainy weekend was fun in its own, more adventurous way. Fair weather is still ideal, but, by traveling in the fog, we might have gotten a clearer view of Misquamicut’s charms.

Misquamicut State Beach
257 Atlantic Ave, Westerly, RI (map)
(401) 596-9097
www.riparks.com/…

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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Sorrel is a California transplant to New Haven. She studied English at Harvard and fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She spends her free time among her house rabbits and houseplants, looking at maps of Death Valley. She loves New England for its red brick and rainstorms and will travel great distances in pursuit of lighthouses and loud music.

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