The Best of Aquidneck Island According to Three Generations of a Portuguese-Irish-American Family


The Sunderland Family: (left to right) John Lloyd Jr., Patty Ann, Mary, Cathy, Susie, Margaret, Laurie, Lucy, John Lloyd Sr.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! One of the many things I am so grateful for is my sprawling Portuguese-Irish family (look at all those aunts!!). And since we’re celebrating Aquidneck Island this month on Tidepooler, I thought I’d get their opinion about all the great things the island has to offer. From clam shacks to farm markets, mansion tours, and coastal hikes, we’ve got loads of ideas to help get you acquainted with the three towns that comprise the little land mass in the southeast quadrant of Rhode Island — Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth. Here are some recommendations from my clan of Aquidneck Islanders.

My Grandma Lucy, a veteran visiting nurse who has clocked countless miles visiting patients around the island — no one knows the backroads quite like she does: “Lots of history here. Mansions from the wealthy in the early 1900s. Scenic Cliff Walk and 12 mile drive. All of Newport. St. Marys Church where Jackie and John F. Kennedy were married in 1953. Lots of farmland. Beautiful beaches and dog parks.”

My Grandpa Lloyd, a life-long scuba diver and sport fisherman who knows Narragansett Bay like the back of his hand: Ledge Road in Newport is the best place to dive for lobster. I saw two beautiful baby sharks there once. Another great diving spot is off of Beavertail Point, the southernmost tip of Jamestown, [just across the bay from Newport.]

My Dad John, a music and baseball enthusiast who once rode his bike across the Newport and Jamestown Bridges to see Bruce Springsteen in concert: Where Bob Dylan went electricHome of Bishop BerkeleyHome of The CowsillsCardines FieldNewport Music FestivalEaston’s BeachCliff WalkFlo’s Clam Shack

My Stepmom Jennifer, a nature walk enthusiast and hobby ornithologist, who has a soft spot for historic architecture: Sachuest Point [National Wildlife Refuge], Ocean Drive, Second Beach, The historic colonial era houses in Newport, Norman Bird Sanctuary, Cliff Walk, Chandler Hotel in the summer, Newport Jazz Festival, Christmas in Newport, Newport Creamery

My (Step) Aunt Lauren, a California transplant with a  New England heart: “I love Sachuest Point, it’s absolutely beautiful any time of year!”

My Godmother Lark, a local artist devoted to land preservation: “I love Sachuest Point best on the island.”

My Aunt Mary whose sailboat adventures never revealed a port of call better than the one she called home: “Being surrounded by water is the best.”

My Aunt Susie who commutes from one end of the island to the other every weekday: “I’d say some of the best things about the island are the beautiful beaches, Cliff Walk, and the mansions on Bellevue Avenue.”

My Aunt Margaret who moved out of state years ago but comes back every chance she gets: “I think the best thing is the beaches — being so close to so many beaches that you can go to at any time and look out into the sea. Also, the mansions in Newport are so majestic and fun to see.”

My Aunt Laurie, an adventurous Navy wife who cherishes her visits home:The Glen — childhood memories of nature walks and playing in a big field with a view of the Sakonnet River. The Glen Manor House can still be rented out for weddings, and I noticed people horseback riding there. The Portsmouth Abbey and St. Philomena’s (Blue Ribbon School) also have the field with bay views. Schultzy’s Snack Shack, eating clam cakes, on the wall, Island Park… my girls love the Green Grocer and Anna D’s and Corner Consignment. Green Animals… never did go to Newport Polo but it must be included, it’s so unique. And that’s all Portsmouth. In Middletown — we LOVE going to Sweet Berry Farm, they have a farm market with upscale food and a gift shop. Also, Kempenaar’s Clambakes. Newport — Ocean Drive, climbing on the rocks. Ft. Adams; 40 steps, Cliff Walk; St. Mary’s — Kennedy’s wedding; Second Beach!!!; Del’s lemonade; stuffed quahogs (or anything) from Anthony’s Seafood.

My Cousin Rachelle who served lobster and little necks at her Aquidneck Island wedding: Newport Mansions, Cliff Walk, Newport Beaches, Downtown Newport shopping and restaurants, Ocean Drive, Festivals:  Jazz Festival, Folk Festival, Seafood Festival, Chowder Festival, Oktoberfest, Winter Festival; Harbor Boat Tours; Seafood, seafood, seafood!!

My Cousin Sarah, a certified scuba diver with a degree in marine biology: “My favorite things are boating and digging for little necks. Really anything that involves sea water.”

My Cousin Connor, a professional fisherman who’s got the inside scoop on the local bar scene: The character of the island, mainly Newport — we have a long list of some of the oldest sites in the country — oldest baseball park, oldest synagogue, oldest tavern, oldest war college… but for me personally, this is what I love: the hidden gem bars in Newport. There are four or five awesome roof top bars very few people know about that give you a great view of the harbor. As a fisherman, I love the rocky shoreline of Newport, Middletown and parts of Portsmouth. The island is nationally recognized for having one of the best surf fishing shorelines for striped bass.

My Cousin Christina, a beauty queen tattoo artist who knows how to have fun: Being close to the beach no matter where you are, going to Sandy Point (on the side without the lifeguards), bringing a cooler, radio, and blanket and having an all day picnic. Swimming out to the buoyes since the waters never too wavy. Collecting kindling and firewood in the dunes behind the beach for a fire later in the day. Collecting seashells and sea glass. Fireworks on the boat or at Escobars Farm on 4th of July. The Folk Fest (also best by boat). The corn maze in the fall. All the restaurants in Newport, from casual to fancy. The proximity to beach, city, country, and mountains (really close to everything). I love Dels and vodka.

And there you have it. With its historic heritage, cultural attractions, and plenty of opportunities to explore oceanfront nature, Aquidneck Island is truly a gem in the midst of Narragansett Bay, and I can’t wait to go back next summer.

Did you grow up there too? Share your favorite things about the island in the comments below.

And if you missed my list of the “Best Things to do on Aquidneck Island, RI: Summer Edition,” here’s the link

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