Some of my fondest memories were formed in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, a village at the southwestern-most point of the state in the town of Westerly. I have spent many summers cruising through Little Narragansett Bay and Block Island Sound and enjoying the village’s renowned beaches. The area remains one of my favorite cruising destinations in the Northeast. With distinct New England charm and a rich history, Watch Hill is a great waypoint for any boater passing through Rhode Island this summer.
Historically a summer home for socialites during the 19th century with only a small population of year-round residents (primarily fishermen), Watch Hill has since evolved into a more family-centric community than the nearby destination of Newport. The town has a walkable downtown area with multiple public beaches, storefronts and restaurants ranging from casual to upscale.
Watch Hill sits on a peninsula jutting into Block Island Sound, and it is also composed of a smaller peninsula called Napatree Point, a 1.5-mile sandy stretch of conservation land that is open to beachgoers. At the tip of Napatree Point are the ruins of Fort Mansfield, an artillery post during the Spanish-American War that was in operation from 1901 to 1909. The ruins are accessible today, though you will need to weed through overgrown foliage to reach them.
Boaters can anchor on the bay side of Napatree and walk to the beach and downtown area. The anchorage spans nearly the entire length of the northern side of the peninsula with good sand holding and a pump-out boat available. Getting to the anchorage can be tricky, as there is a dangerous reef that runs from Watch Hill Light to the east shore of Fisher’s Island, so make sure to follow the channel markers.
Boaters can also grab a mooring at the Watch Hill Yacht Club in the protected Watch Hill Cove (available on a first-come, first-served basis) and tie their dinghy to the street-side of the yacht club’s floating docks to come ashore. There are also transient slips and a dinghy dock at the nearby Watch Hill Docks.
Watch Hill, which is open to the public for free. This three-mile-long barrier beach is adjacent to Ninigret Pond, a popular windsurfing destination, and often has better surf than Napatree Point, making it an ideal spot for surfers, swimmers and beachgoers alike. Parking options are limited, but boaters staying in Watch Hill Harbor can easily walk up Larkin Road, turn onto Bluff Avenue and access the beach from the well-marked pathway.
At the end of Bluff Avenue is the jewel of the town: the Ocean House. Perched on the bluffs overlooking its private beach and Block Island Sound on 11 acres of land, this resort offers fine dining experiences and luxury accommodations in 49 guestrooms, 18 suites and seven cottages.
The Ocean House resort originally opened in 1868. Built in the Victorian style, the hotel had 159 rooms and was a popular destination for the socialites who frequented the town. However, the 19th-century structure did not hold up well over time. In 2004, the aged building was slated for complete demolition until two summer residents, Charles and Deborah Royce, stepped in to save the local treasure. They launched a ground-up reconstruction of the resort, replicating many of the original features, including the entrance, which is flanked with columns and has a deep porch. They also saved thousands of original pieces of furniture.
Today, the Ocean House has six gourmet and casual dining options as well as a spa and many resort activities and amenities, including complimentary use of Mercedes-Benz automobiles, private beach access with 10 reservable cabanas, croquet lawn and putting green, fitness classes, private yacht charters and more.
“The Ocean House is a destination for many boaters, power and sail, coming from the north and south,” says Laurie Hobbs, group director for public relations and marketing. “It is one of only 14 Forbes Triple Five Star hotels in the world. It’s five stars for accommodations, five stars for our OH! Spa, and five stars for Coast, our fine dining experience.”
Whether anchoring for a day or enjoying an extended stay at the Ocean House, boaters who visit Watch Hill will quickly understand why this seaside destination has captured the hearts of many for two centuries. Boasting some of the most beautiful beaches on the Eastern Seaboard along with well-protected waters for cruising, there are few better places to enjoy a summer day by the sea.
This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue.