| COASTAL RHODE ISLAND
Best for: Sailors, beach lovers and fans of other water sports.
Claim to fame: From 1930-1983, Newport hosted the America's Cup yacht races. Visitors can still sail on actual Cup yachts.
Don't miss: Johnny Cakes, a special cornmeal pancake, which may have originated in Rhode Island. Even if not, they're a state tradition.
Getting there: T.F. Green Airport near Providence is 18-45 miles from the coastal towns, and Amtrak serves Providence. The coast is less than a four-hour drive from New York and less than three from Boston.
Tourism information: visitrhodeisland.com
The accuracy of Newport
's nickname, "America's First Resort," is debatable. What's certain is that Newport and the surrounding Rhode Island
coastline have been a popular second-home destination for more than 150 years.
Newport was the choice for summer mansions of 19th-century robber barons, including the Vanderbilts and Astors. Vacation homes here served as the "summer White House" for John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower. The historic mansions remain and are among the most popular visitor attractions, but contemporary second-home owners have many affordable options, too.
"One attraction is that even in our most exclusive towns, you are not priced out of the second-home market like you are in a lot of resort areas," says Paul Leys, co-owner of Gustave White Sotheby's International Realty.
"Newport," he says, "is the best known outside the region because of its mansions and the America's Cup (sailing race), but the entire coastline is appealing to vacation-home owners. Watch Hill is quieter and less well-known nationally, but even more exclusive. Narragansett is more modest but has a lot of cottages where you can walk out your door onto the sand. "
The area is primarily a summer destination, although Newport is big enough to sustain visitor traffic year round. Besides its mansions, many of which have extensive art collections, other big attractions include: the city's Cliff Walk, beaches, the International Tennis Hall of Fame and all things sailing. There are several renowned sailing schools, plus charters and sightseeing trips.
The state's coastline, from the borders of Connecticut to Massachusetts, is only about 50 miles long. "The whole stretch has a lot of small beach communities," Leys says.
Newport and Watch Hill are known for their elaborate "shingle-style" architecture. Narragansett and smaller towns feature beach cottages or larger Victorian-style homes. Historically, buyers from Boston have favored Newport (an hour and 45 minutes away), while those from the New York area opt for Watch Hill (under 3 hours). The coast also attracts a large number of Floridians.
A look at three coastal Rhode Island neighborhoods
• Watch Hill. The biggest news was the June 1 reopening of the historic Ocean House hotel after a $140 million renovation. The resort has a private beach and 23 new residential units starting at $1.5 million. "We are very excited," says Newport real estate broker Paul Leys. "There's nothing like it around here, the combination of a luxury hotel and condos. Until it opened, it was impossible to appreciate the level of quality in the finishes, carpentry, materials, and it gives owners the oppor-tunity to generate income through the hotel when not in use." Watch Hill, on a small peninsula close to the Connecticut border, offers mostly single-family homes starting in the high $300,000s — and going much higher. "There are several $20 million properties here," Leys says.
• Newport. Set on Aquidneck Island, Newport is a city and a reference to the entire island, which includes the towns of Portsmouth and Middletown. "People think you can't get anything here under a million, but that could not be farther from the truth," Leys says. "There is plenty in the $300,000s, and we sell a lot of second homes in the four- to six-hundred range, even though you can spend a lot more." A number of condos on the island start at about $300,000.
• Narragansett. The appeal here is there are many more true beachfront homes, offering more bang for the buck than in Newport or Watch Hill. But prices start about the same; most properties run from $300,000 to $600,000. There are more condos than Watch Hill and fewer than Newport, though most of the market is single-family homes. The town is in the center of the coastline, port for the ferry to Block Island and offers a range of water sports.
By Jeff Riley
Gustave White Sotheby's International Realty
ON THE MARKET
High price: $2,490,000
- This is a new residence in the newly reopened Ocean House resort in Watch Hill. Ownership includes a club membership with golf course and private beach access.
- Bedrooms: 2
- Bathrooms: 2 1/2
- Size: 1,400 square feet
- Features: Gourmet kitchen with custom cabinets, granite counters and Thermador and Viking appliances, living room, dining room, fireplace, 600-square-feet terrace with Atlantic Ocean views, two parking spots in garage, access to hotel amenities, spa and services.
Midrange price: $495,000
- This 1880 Victorian in downtown Newport is in a desirable second-home location, within walking distance to the harbor, shops and restaurants.
- Bedrooms: 4
- Bathrooms: 3
- Size: 1,400 square feet
- Features: Master bedroom with ensuite bath, dining room with French doors, living room, wooden floors throughout, large front porch, back patio, glass sunroom, large fenced yard, storage shed and driveway.