"Great beaches and Victorian charm" prompted Money magazine to tap this area of southwestern Rhode Island as one of the top twelve vacation spots in North America. Beaches the area has aplenty, especially Misquamicut State Beach, the largest in Rhode Island, with seven miles of sand and surf. The Victorian charm is sometimes upstaged by fishing villages and honky-tonk that time has passed by.

Formally named Washington County but popularly called South County, the area stretches from fabled Watch Hill, a moneyed, Victorian-era resort of the old school, up to Narragansett, an early rival to Newport, and historic Wickford, an ideal seaside village in busy North Kingstown.


WESTERLY / WATCH HILL

Westerly on the Connecticut border is the area's largest city, but visitors are generally more interested in the beach communities of Watch Hill and Misquamicut.

Staid, storied Watch Hill has enjoyed better days, its faded beach hotels throwbacks to a gentler era. But the large brown shingled "cottages" remain lived in, the shops fashionable and the atmosphere clubby. Very much a seasonal resort, it occupies a point at the southwesternmost tip of Rhode Island. Sheltered Long Island Sound gives way here to Block Island Sound and the Atlantic, opening up the surf beaches for which Rhode Island's South County is known.

Except for an updated menu, Watch Hill's famed Olympia Tea Room on Bay Street looks much as it did upon opening in 1916. The still-operating Flying Horse Carousel (1867), a National Historic Landmark, is thought to be the oldest merry-go-round in the country. Beachcombers like to hike out a sandy spit to the ruins of a Spanish-American War fort at the far end of Napatree Point, a conservation area.

>> Westerly / Watch Hill Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Shelter Harbor Inn, 10 Wagner Road, Westerly. (401) 322-8883 or (800) 468-8883.

>> Westerly / Watch Hill Lodging Suggestions

Woody Hill B&B, 149 South Woody Hill Road, Westerly. (401) 322-0452.

>> Westerly / Watch Hill Dining Suggestions

The Up River Cafe, 37 Main St., Westerly. (401) 348-9700.

Venice Restaurant & Lounge, 165 Shore Road (Route 1-A), Westerly. (401) 348-8350.

>> WEEKAPAUG

>> Weekapaug Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Weekapaug Inn, 25 Spray Rock Road, Weekapaug. (401) 322-0301.

MISQUAMICUT

>> Misquamicut Lodging Suggestions