It's no secret Rhode Island has some of the best beaches in the US – its nickname is the Ocean State, after all, and thanks to 40-plus miles of stunning coastline, it's absolutely filled with saltwater gems.

The best part? Despite its incredibly gorgeous scenery and authentic local vibe, Rhode Island has remained relatively out of the limelight, with many visitors choosing the classic shores of the Cape or the glitzier sands of the Hamptons for their beach vacations instead. That means the state has managed to maintain its distinctive “Little Rhody” energy, which will satisfy your inner beach bum – and leave you feeling like you stumbled upon a well-kept travel secret at the same time. 

The only question is which beach to hit first – for the smallest state in the country, Rhode Island (which is not actually an island, by the way!) has an overwhelming number of options. Some are best for surfers, others for sunset seekers and still others for those who want nothing more than a cold, dripping ice-cream cone after they’ve taken their last dip. Read on for the best places to enjoy the ocean in the Ocean State

Watch Hill Beach
At Watch Hill Beach, the sand is wide and soft, the crowd is fun and the waves are mild © Jared DiPietro / Getty Images

Watch Hill Beach – Westerly

Best beach for après-beach fans

Make no mistake, Watch Hill Beach is an incredible stretch of coastline. The sand is wide and soft, the crowd is fun and the waves are mild – all perfect qualities for pure relaxation. But the thing about Watch Hill is that it’s not just about the beach, it’s about the town itself.

This is what comes to mind when people think of charming New England: white-picket fences, cute seaside shops with shell mobiles hanging in the windows and old-school restaurants that serve your food through a sliding screen door. (Be sure to get some ice cream at St Clair Annex, which has been open since 1887.) The area is so quaint and picturesque, it even captured the heart of Taylor Swift, who bought a house here in 2013 that remains the most expensive private home in Rhode Island today. 

Your move? Get to Watch Hill early (the beach parking lot fills up pretty quickly), spend the morning and early afternoon getting your saltwater fix, then head out for a golden-hour stroll through town, followed by a round of sunset cocktails at the Olympia Tea Room.  

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Surfer on middle wave in a set at Goosewing Beach Rhode Island
Goosewing Beach is one of the most treasured eco-friendly spots in Rhode Island © danlogan / Getty Images

Goosewing Beach – Little Compton

Best beach for nature lovers

As part of Goosewing Beach Preserve, a 75-acre historic landmark filled with unspoiled ponds, dunes and sand, Goosewing Beach is one of the most treasured eco-friendly spots in Rhode Island. Getting there requires a bit of effort, as there isn’t a direct entrance, but that’s part of its appeal.

Visitors must park in the lot for South Shore Beach, a rocky strand that tends to get quite crowded, and walk to the end of South Shore (about 10 minutes or so) before crossing a small stream that leads to Goosewing. The payoff is worth it: Goosewing feels more remote than South Shore, with wider, softer stretches of sand and heaps of beachgrass swaying in the wind. 

The beach preserve is also home to two rare seabirds, the piping plover and the least tern. Those who want to learn more about the surrounding wildlife can head over to the beach’s Benjamin Family Environmental Center for a guided nature walk. 

Narragansett Town Beach – Narragansett

Best beach for surfers

In-the-know surfers usually get to Narragansett Town Beach early in the morning, so they can enjoy the water before the crowds arrive. And there are definitely crowds: this beach is one of the most popular in all of New England, let alone Rhode Island.

The waves here can get pretty tall, up to 4ft on a good day, which is perfect for people who want to learn the sport. Two local surf shops, Narragansett Surf & Skate and Warm Winds, even offer lessons and rentals. That said, if you’re not a surfer, this is still a great spot for a beach day. The surfers tend to stick to the south end of the beach anyway, leaving the rest of the area to families and beach bums. 

The beach is located right next to the heart of town, so it’s easy to pop out and grab a bite and a drink. There's a variety of beachy burger and seafood joints, and the rooftop at the Coast Guard House is an especially popular spot for golden-hour cocktails. The beach pavilion has changing rooms and bathrooms too, so you can get out of your wet bathing suit and transition into evening mode. 

Southeast Lighthouse, Block Island, Rhode Island. ©Bill Kennedy/Shutterstock
The tall clay cliffs of Mohegan Bluffs are just past Block Island's Southeast Lighthouse © Bill Kennedy / Shutterstock

Mohegan Bluffs – Block Island

Best beach for adventurers

Admittedly, this is not the best spot for classically trained beach bums who want nothing more than soft sand, clear water and a spot to put their cooler. But for ocean lovers with a wild side, those who might appreciate a bit more rugged vibe, this one’s for you.

Mohegan Bluffs is a patch of sea cliffs that sits just past the Southeast Light on the southern tip of Block Island, which is only accessible by ferry (departing from either Point Judith, Rhode Island, or New London, Connecticut). At about 150ft tall, the clay cliffs are reminiscent of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, and the view from the top is stunning – you can even see Long Island (specifically, Montauk in the Hamptons) across the Atlantic.

The beach that sits at the base of the bluffs is one of Rhode Island’s most scenic as well. To get there, just take the 141-step staircase that leads to the bottom...and try not to think about the fact that you’ll have to walk back up on the return trip. The sand is a bit rocky, but it’s great for no-frills chilling out; most people don’t want to drag a bunch of beach gear down the stairs, so sitting on a towel with a book and a beer is definitely the move. Be sure to snap some photos – the sea cliffs make quite the stunning backdrop! 

Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly, Rhode Island, as seen on August 10, 2013. It is a 3-mile length of beach that extends westward from Weekapaug to Watch Hill.
Misquamicut State Beach is a perennial family favorite in Rhode Island © Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock

Misquamicut Beach – Westerly

Best beach for families

When trying to find a good beach for kids, there are a lot of factors to consider. Is the water calm? Are there good bathrooms? Are there lifeguards? Are there other things to do in the area? Misquamicut State Beach checks all of those boxes, making it a perennial family favorite in Rhode Island.

There are bathrooms, changing areas, food stands and a big pavilion, not to mention plenty of shaded areas for cooling off. Plus, the beach itself is gorgeous, with 3 miles of wide sand and fairly calm water. 

For a break from the shore, nearby Atlantic Beach Park offers all sorts of kid-friendly entertainment, from a carousel to an arcade to a snack bar. Finish it off with a bite and a beer at the park’s Windjammer Surf Bar, which also hosts live music on the patio most nights and a kids’ movie night on the beach on Tuesdays. 

Beach Polo, Easton's Beach, Newport, Rhode Island.
First Beach is packed with amusements, including a boardwalk, a vintage carousel and summer carnivals and concerts © Corbis via Getty Images

Easton (First) Beach – Newport

Best beach for fun seekers

The area around Newport (including Middletown, right next door) has three main beaches that are colloquially referred to as First, Second and Third Beaches.

All of them are great, but while Second and Third are both pretty chill – Second is located by the Norman Bird Sanctuary; Third has virtually zero waves – First Beach is packed with amusements, from summer carnivals and concerts to a boardwalk, a vintage carousel and a skateboard park. And if you don’t want to BYOG (bring your own gear), rentals are available for beach chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards. 

There are also lots of great activities nearby for those bored with the sunbathing life. First Beach sits right by the entrance of Newport's famous Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile route along the cliffs with views of crashing waves on one side and Newport’s famous mansions on the other. Visitors can also check out the nearby Save the Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium to learn about Rhode Island’s native ocean life.

You might also like:
Hidden Rhode Island: secrets of the Ocean State
Best vegan restaurants in Providence, Rhode Island
See New England's highlights on this budget-friendly road trip

This article was first published April 2021 and updated May 2022

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