NEW YORK CITY — Look beyond the expensive and over-trodden Long Island and Jersey Shore spots and make a quick weekend getaway to the New England coast before the summer ends. DNAinfo.com New York has deemed these classic seaside towns — all within a four-hour drive from the city — well worth the trip, as you'll be stepping into a charming postcard without spending too much cash.
Wes Anderson fans may recognize Newport and Rhode Island from his most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom. Much of the movie was filmed in the area, particularly the 17th century Trinity Episcopal Church, which played a crucial role in the movie's climax, where its distinctive pews, rooftop and spire were on display.
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Explore the Main Thoroughfare
You could easily spend a week in Newport and not run out of activities, but the center of the city, which often feels more like a small town, is walkable enough that you won't feel overwhelmed even if you just have a day or two to explore.
Part of what makes Newport so picturesque is the city's commitment to preservation. Hundreds of well-maintained colonial homes line the streets, with zoning regulations that prohibit anything garish or modern from marring views of the bay.
Hollywood often comes to town because it's so easy to transform the streetscapes and feel like you've stepped back in time. There are a few knickknack and fudge shops in the mix, but mostly you'll find quaint stores and an abundance of harbor-facing restaurants and bars that serve up fresh seafood.
Many destinations, like the Cooke House, transform from a stuffy dining room to a bumping club scene late at night. The Cooke House also opens its northern doors to the bay on summer days, creating a 1920s yacht vibe. The restaurant is located on Bowen's Wharf, a cobblestone, car-free area at the city's center brimming with little shops and al-fresco dining options in keeping with the colonial vibe.
After dinner, stroll along one of the many public piers and try to guess which gargantuan yacht belongs to which celebrity or billionaire. And though the wealthy often stop here en route to the Cayman Islands, there are more affordable pubs, bistros and seafood joints than ritzy dining rooms (though those are not hard to find.)
Swim, Picnic and Lounge at the Public Beaches
Newport's three public beaches, referred to colloquially as First, Second and Third beach, are wide and sandy. Each has its own lifeguard and charges $10 for parking on weekdays and $20 on weekends.
Third Beach is only a little farther afield, situated within a bird sanctuary, and is ideal for kids and those looking for a more secluded experience.
Babysitter Dana Staats, who was recently watching a handful of kids while their mothers took a paddle-boarding class, said the beach was very kid-friendly.
"This is where all the moms come," she said.
Third Beach is sheltered by a small harbor with a dozen or so boats. The surrounding bird sanctuary offers a quiet retreat from the hustle of downtown.
If you've squeezed your beach time up until the last daylight hours and are in search of a restaurant where you can wear your coverup, check out a string of laid-back Italian places along Memorial Boulevard, including Pasta Beach and Nikolas Pizza.
There's so much of the harbor and the shoreline that you can't see from land, so don't leave Newport without taking a spin around the bay.
There are dozens of boat companies along the main street in town, offering everything from a sailing to a guided harbor tour on a big tugboat to a boozy sunset cruise. Whichever you pick, you'll see the great estates of Newport and feel the ocean breezes. The Newport Bridge is no Golden Gate, but it echoes the angular shape of sailboats and makes a beautiful backdrop for a fiery sunset.
This tour is short and sweet and easy on the pocketbook: Amazing Grace Harbor Tour, 1 hour long, departs from the Oldport Marine and costs $15 for adults, $8.00 children.
Immerse Yourself in History
While Wes Anderson fans will find plenty to love about the area, even those who've never seen the director's newest film "Moonrise Kingdom," which is set here, will love Newport's famed mansions and the magnificent Trinity Episcopal Church.
The interior of the church, founded in 1698, will stun you with its gold chandeliers and massive pulpit. Free tours are available during the week. Guides will show you where George Washington and Queen Elizabeth sat together, the Tiffany windows in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt and other gems from early American history.
Ian and Angelina, visiting from Huntington, Long Island, said Newport was like a "living museum" and "took preservation seriously."
You can see Newport's famed mansions from the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile path with the bay on one side and the exquisite grounds of the historic mansions on the other. Fragrant rose hips dot this paved walkway that offers sweeping views and is accessible to both children and older adults. If you have the time and the inclination, there are tours of the mansions, where the décor and furnishings are maintained. The visits will transport you to the Gilded Age, when wealth was lavishly displayed.
Jennifer and Cody, a young couple visiting from Texas, had taken a schooner ride and were about to head into Trinity Church.
"We love the history, and everyone's friendly here," said Cody.
"The mansions are a can't-miss," added Jennifer.
A trolley will take you from downtown Newport to the mansions, which sit along Bellevue Avenue. Or you can rent a bicycle and pop from mansion to mansion.
Indulge Your Preppy Side
Glen Farm in Portsmouth, R.I., just a short drive away, offering polo matches every Saturday night through the summer.
Visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame, housed in the historic Newport Casino and open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., where you'll see families clad in tennis whites playing on pristine grass courts and find troves of tennis history and trivia.
NARRAGANSETT, RHODE ISLAND
If you're after the all-American beach experience, where families load up carts with beach chairs, blankets, balls, toys, boards, coolers, umbrellas and the like for an all-day affair, head to Narragansett, which offers big beaches that are nearly seaweed free.
Narragansett's town beach offers snack shops selling every food you associate with summer, fried to order, and Italian ice carts. Plus, there are large changing rooms, baths and outdoor showers that come with beach admission, which is $6 per day and free for kids under 11.
But the best features of the beach and the town are its steady rolling waves whose perfect size, shape and force make for the best boogie boarding on the East Coast outside of the Outer Banks. Rent or buy a board — you won't regret it.
Cap off the perfect beach day with an ice-cold beer at The Coast Guard House, right next to Narragansett Towers, a local landmark. The Coast Guard has an open rooftop bar looking out onto the ocean and plays tunes late into the night on weekends. But why wait until then? As long as you have shoes, a shirt and shorts, you can take a break from the beach and grab a bite or a drink here anytime.
Less than 10 minutes away from the town beach is Point Judith, home to the Block Island Ferry terminal. A high-speed ferry will get you there in half an hour.
BLOCK ISLAND, RHODE ISLAND
Block Island competes with Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard for visitors but has a more approachable feel. The island boasts 17 miles of beaches, 365 ponds, 30 miles of groomed nature trails, and 43 percent preserved open space. Adorable bed and breakfasts abound, and a car is unnecessary if you stay near the ferry or rent bikes.
Many know Mystic as the setting of "Mystic Pizza," the 1988 Julia Roberts film that also starred a young Matt Damon. It's worth taking the three-hour scenic Amtrak trip if only for a "Slice of Heaven," as the slogan proclaims, but pizza lovers will also be delighted by the restaurant's surroundings.
The village, which is within walking distance of the Amtrak station, is organized around the Mystic River. Boats and restaurants line the edges of the river, as well as a broad boardwalk with cute benches on which to enjoy an ice cream cone or two.
Mystic has two competing ice cream stores, literally across the street from each other, which both whip up homemade ice cream and have invented their own flavors.
Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, named after the working drawbridge at the center of the village, makes a mean "Mystic Mud," a combination of chocolate ice cream, chocolate chunks, brownie, fudge and candy pieces.
Somehow, even with this explosion of chocolate, the ice cream hits just the right level of sweetness. With one scoop, by the time you get across the drawbridge, it will be gone. But Mystic resident Brie believes the Mystic Ice Cream and Sweet Shop's "Mud Pie" is better, combining coffee ice cream and a swirl of fudge.
If you're not into junk food, the S&P Oyster House is right on the river and sitting on the outdoor patio feels like dining on a friend's elegant deck. If you decide to stay the night, the well-furnished Whaler's Inn is across the street, or you could sleep on the water at the Steamboat Inn.
Beaches are a 20-minute drive away, but kayaks and boats are for rent right in the village.
If you're looking for another activity besides eating, shopping and just staring blissfully at the slowly moving river, head to Mystic Seaport.
The Seaport describes itself as "a living history museum consisting of a village, ships and 17 acres of exhibits depicting coastal life in New England in the 19th century."
Want even more "living history"? Make the hour drive from Mystic to Coggeshall Farm in Bristol, Rhode Island, a 40-acre farm features tours that give you a taste of 18th century farm life.
Really aim for that A in history class and head all the way to another beautiful historic coastal town for even more early American history: Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., is where the Pilgrims first landed. The family can even board the historic Mayflower.
Or make life easier and take a historic harbor tour, a "narrated 30 minute tour on the calm waters of the Mystic River," that departs from the dock next to S&P Oyster throughout the day. The evening ride is especially pretty and relaxing.