Don’t get me wrong, I love a good party destination, music festival, and anywhere it’s acceptable to have a cocktail before 5 p.m. However, we all need to take a break from the busyness sometimes. Hopping on a cross-country flight might not seem like slowing down, but this was exactly the remedy I needed to chill the f*ck out. As someone who thrives on the stress of filling my everyday schedule and social calendar to the maximum, “relaxing” isn’t exactly my forte. But to my burnout’s delight, the low-key vibes and smalltown feel of Providence, Rhode Island brought some serious zen into my life (even if just for a few days).
I had been to Providence a few times growing up because my grandparents lived there sporadically over the years. Though returning for the first time as an adult shifted my perspective of what it means to be a must-visit city. Sure, all-inclusive resorts and packed travel itineraries are great. But it’s the under-the-radar places and laidback plans that might surprise you the most.
Providence is chock-full of historic landmarks, lush public parks, and tasty eats that deliver well-deserved R&R. If you’re in the market for a calm weekend getaway, check out my guide below. I’m sharing a few of my recommendations for what to do and eat in Providence, one of New England’s oldest gems.
PART I – What To Do
Benefit Street’s Mile of History
One of my favorite parts about visiting New England is that its old brick buildings, long-lived traditions, and American monuments offer a glimpse into our country’s rocky past. Being the oldest colonial region in the United States, centuries of history can be found around every cobblestone corner. In Providence, Benefit Street is the best place to start. Here you’ll find a mile-long stretch of original colonial homes, a restored cathedral, museums, and even a historic cemetery, all of which date back to the 18th century.
The colorfully painted sidings and antique lamposts felt like they were part of a miniature model neighborhood. Picturesque and perfectly spaced in a tight row, each landmark is adorned with a plaque indicating when it was built and who its original owner was. The oldest home on the block is the Stephen Harris House, which was constructed in 1763 and belonged to a successful merchant. I couldn’t help but peer into the windows of these homes to catch a peek at the new owners’ belongings that have replaced the ghosts of early American history.
Fun fact: Providence was home to H.P. Lovecraft, a legendary writer of all things weird in horror fiction. One of his novelettes, The Shunned House, is based on an actual home on Benefit Street.
Downtown Providence Riverwalk
Nothing says relaxation like a leisurely stroll by the water. While I’m used to the oceanview walks in my home city of L.A., the Providence River made a commendable substitute. For a tranquil morning or afternoon excursion, head downtown to the Providence Riverwalk. Go for a jaunt on the gray brick pathways and stop in at one of the many cafes. If you’re in the mood for some romance, see the city from down below by taking a gondola ride through the river. I was visiting with my brother who refused to take a ride with me. But the couple we saw floating in their dreamy Venetian boat, paddled by a man in a striped shirt and gondolier hat, looked like they were having a whimsical time.
While promenading the riverside paths, you’ll come upon Memorial Park. Directly across from the Providence County Courthouse, the public square houses the Providence World War I Memorial, a Holocaust Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial of Rhode Island. These stand as just another reminder of our nation’s turbulent history.
The one thing Providence is most recognized for is probably Brown University. My grandpa was a creative writing professor here, which is how I ended up touring this little city in the first place. It wasn’t until my teen years when the school became part of a storyline on Gossip Girl that I realized how cool he really was. Although I didn’t get his ivy league genes, I still enjoyed perusing the campus on my visit. The majestic old-school architecture, art sculptures sprinkled throughout the quad, and herds of hopeful young dreamers touring the grounds make Brown an idyllic, centrally located resting spot between activities. Founded in 1764, Brown is also brimming with historical significance.
For a dose of creative inspiration, head to the neighboring college of Rhode Island School of Design. The RISD Museum of Art houses more than 100,000 works of art and design dating from ancient times to today — it currently displays approximately 2,300 of these pieces. From ancient Greek and Roman galleries to contemporary ceramics, RISD Museum’s eclectic exhibits take you on an artistic journey through time.
The John Brown House Museum
The American history marathon continues at The John Brown House Museum. John Brown was a leading merchant and businessman who secured much of his fortune through corruption, such as his involvement in the slave trade and human trafficking. The museum sheds a light on the dark realities of how many of Rhode Island’s developments came to fruition. It also gives a first-hand look into what life was truly like for predominate families, as it’s the actual home (or should I say mansion) where the Brown family lived back in the day. Each room in the residence felt like a scene from an Americanized Bridgerton, complete with handpainted portraits and exquisite porcelain china.
The Brown family was influential enough at the time to have connections to President George Washington. In fact, the museum showcases John Brown’s chariot that is believed to be the oldest American-made vehicle in existence today. It’s known as the “Washington Chariot” because Washington himself is said to have ridden in it while visiting Rhode Island.
PART II – Where to Eat
Sushi lovers, rejoice! Haruki East‘s extensive list of Japanese and Asian fusion favorites will have something for every taste palate. Make a reservation for an elegant sit-down dinner or sushi bar experience. The restaurant serves up mouth-watering appetizers (order the softshell crab, trust me), fresh sashimi that basically melts in your mouth, and specialty rolls that will have you calling the waiter back for more. The menu also features a collection of Japanese beers to complement every bite of your meal.
Maybe I’m biased because my name is Chloe, but By CHLOE. is the ultimate spot for a quick and easy afternoon meal. Right off the Brown University campus, it’s a 100 percent vegan menu of American favorites like burgers and fries, mac and cheese, hearty salads, and “chicken” strips. If you’re a meat-lover then you’re probably doubting this pick, but my carnivorous brother even agreed that By CHLOE.’s options were (almost) as good as the real deal.
The casual, grab-and-go style restaurant is on Thayer Street, which is always bustling with both students and locals. The vibrant area in the College Hill neighborhood is home to more than 70 unique businesses including quirky boutiques, mainstream shopping, a hookah lounge, other restaurants, and even an independent art deco movie theater.
Pane e Vino
At least once throughout your chill weekend in Providence, you need to make your way into Federal Hill. This neighborhood is best known for its tight-knit Italian-American community that operates an abundance of authentic Italian restaurants and small businesses. After exploring the historic area, get a table at Pane e Vino. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but the lobster ravioli was like an edible euphoria. Awarded the best wine list in Rhode Island, you can’t finish your Italian meal without a glass (or bottle) of Italian vino.
No weekend of treating yourself is complete without dessert. Head back to Thayer Street for goodies that will warm your belly, heart, and soul. Insomnia cookies has a collection of fresh-baked signature cookies that can satisfy the strongest of sweet tooth cravings. The gooey interior of the classic chocolate chunk, the sweet and savory goodness of the salted caramel — it’s safe to say any sense of self-control I had went out the window instantaneously. But, hey, I’m not mad about it. Take the sugary pleasure up a notch by turning your order into a cookie ice cream sandwich and devour it while you window shop in College Hill.
After a few short days in Providence, I left the quaint atmosphere and scenery behind to return to my hectic everyday life in LA. But what I brought home with me is an appreciation for all places. The farfetched destinations that leave me in awe, the outdoorsy adventures on my bucket list, and, yes, the unexpected places that remind me to take a breath.