Wickford, a tiny coastal village in southern Rhode Island, is home to one of the largest concentrations of extant 18th-century homes in New England. These houses, lovingly preserved within a compact and walkable area, account for a good deal of why this former fishing, trading, and shipbuilding hub is perfect for a day trip. But there’s more to Wickford than its picturesque past. There are also dozens of stores and restaurants that fill the village’s historic commercial buildings, and – what might just be the most important attraction – countless unique details you’ll notice as you explore and remember long after you leave.
There are the plaques affixed to historic houses, printed with death’s heads or soul effigies, evocative of 18th-century gravestones. There are the gates and fences, each one decorated differently, often with flowers, promising blooming gardens within. There is the narrow pathway, paved with stepping stones, that leads through the greenery between Church Lane and Main Street. There are the colorful front doors, hung with wreaths, and the nautical accents (a mermaid here, a ship there) adorning houses. There are the tiny reminders of an erstwhile lifestyle: a grocer’s tiny door leads into the lower level of a building, like an entrance for a fairy in a children’s story. And there are moments more ephemeral than that, moments when it’s so quiet that you’re startled by church bells, and everything smells like flowers, or the sea. Moments when you reach the end of a short road and catch a glimpse of the water, or pause in front of a historic building and watch a chipmunk wriggle under an old stone step.
Wickford hosts several annual events, like garden tours in late June and an acclaimed art festival in July. But you don’t need a special excuse to visit. Just spending a few hours here, on an ordinary day, is enough to feel like a vacation.
What to See
To take yourself on a sightseeing walk featuring Wickford’s Historic Houses, all you really have to do is stroll through the village and stare. But one foolproof route is to start at the Town Dock and make your way around the little grid of streets just north of Main Street. Wander along Pleasant, Fowler, and Friend Streets, and Church Lane, where you’ll find the Old Narragansett Church, built in 1707. Then, walk up Main Street, where grand homes soon mix with independent businesses. On the way, venture down Gold, Wall, and Fountain Streets, which branch off to the south of Main. When you get to the intersection of Main and Brown Streets, you can continue straight onto West Main or turn left onto Brown Street and follow it to its end. The village is so small that you’re bound to see some stunning and historically significant buildings no matter what route you take.
For a more structured experience, follow the Wickford Walk, a self-guided walking tour created by Historic Wickford. Thirteen explanatory markers at various spots along the way – and an optional audio component – make for an educational ramble through the village’s history. The route passes some of the noteworthy houses mentioned above, as well as other local highlights including the mysterious Narragansett Rune Stone (if you like the Old Stone Mill in nearby Newport, you might like this too) and the historic Hussey Bridge.
Wherever you walk in Wickford, you’ll never be far from a water view, but make a point to check out the Wickford Town Dock, at the end of Main Street; Pleasant Street Wharf, at the end of Pleasant Street; and the small coves that seem to surround the village.
Where to Shop
Green River Silver Co. (83 Brown Street, North Kingstown, RI 02852)
Lovers of silver and stones will be drawn into this store and tempted by its shiny selection. The jewelry, made by artisans from around the country and the world, ranges from chunky turquoise statement pieces to delicate, affordable earrings and chains.
The Wickford Collection (30 West Main Street, North Kingstown, RI 02852)
With its carefully selected stock of home décor and accessories, charmingly displayed in the rooms of an old house and its surrounding garden, this gorgeous store will instantly make you want to re-do your own place in nautical/homespun/upscale/understated style.
Wickford Gourmet Factory Outlet (21 W Main Street, North Kingstown, RI 02852)
This two-story shop, a cross between a cute boutique and a no-frills warehouse, carries almost everything kitchen- and dining-related, including restaurant-style basics and beautiful, unexpected little accents. And the prices are far more “outlet” than “gourmet.”
Spring Pottery (14 Brown Street, North Kingstown, RI 02852)
It’s easy to overlook this diminutive shop, but don’t. Step inside and you’ll be surrounded by handmade pottery in lovely, earthy colors, as well as pretty gifts items like unique soaps and candles.
Binnsy Boutique (7 Main Street – Wickford, RI 02852)
Along with an aesthetically pleasing mix of trendy yet subtle (and inexpensive!) clothing and accessories, they also stock Wickford T’s and sweats that don’t scream “tourist.”
Eclectic Bungalow (1 Brown Street North Kingstown RI)
It’s very coastal New England cottage in this store: think preppy patterns, chalk paint, and bright colors. In addition to furniture, they sell clothing and fun little beach-themed gifts for home and body.
Beauty and the Bath (11 West Main Street North Kingstown, RI 02852)
If you’re dedicated to self-care, you’ll love this shop immediately; if you’re a slacker in the adorable bath products department, it will make you want to step up – or at least buy presents for lovers of bath bombs and body treatments.
Different Drummer (7 West Main Street Wickford, RI 02852)
Crammed with an array of gifts and cards ranging from cute to quirky to practical, this is the kind of store you can count on to have that one little thing you can’t find elsewhere.
Serendipity (3 Main Street, North Kingstown, RI 02852)
At first glance, it’s just another charming gift store full of jewelry, pet accessories, and the usual trinkets for your home. But this spot has a local twist: everything for sale here is crafted by makers from the region.
Therapy Boutique (5 West Main Street, North Kingstown, RI 02852)
Many of Wickford’s stores have a waterfront living vibe, and this one is no exception. From light and floaty casual tops to loose and flowing maxi dresses, its clothes are made for leisurely sidewalk strolls or drinks on the porch overlooking the sea.
Where to Eat & Drink
To get the energy for all that walking (and shopping), grab a coffee and breakfast at Shayna’s Place (45 Brown Street, North Kingstown, RI 02852) and eat inside, outside at the sidewalk tables on bustling Brown Street, or in sweet little Library Park nearby.
To end your day, stop at Gooseneck Vineyards (4 Brown St, North Kingstown, RI 02852) and relax with a glass of wine. The wines are sourced from around the world, but they’re sold in bottles with preppy labels that are pure New England.
In terms of practicalities, Wickford has what every tourist wants: centrally located free parking lots, including one behind Walgreens (63 Brown St, North Kingstown, RI 02852), and another at the end of Main Street, by the Town Dock. There’s also plenty of street parking, especially if you arrive early in the day.
There are public restrooms behind Library Park, just next to the Narragansett Rune Stone.
Shops in Wickford tend to have quirky hours, so if there’s a particular store you’re set on visiting, check with them beforehand to make sure they’ll be open when you go.
Wickford is a village in the town of North Kingstown; if a Wickford address leads your GPS astray, typing North Kingstown instead should set it straight.