Watch Hill, Rhode Island
New England chic, $$$$
Originally built in 1868, Ocean House sits on the picturesque bluffs of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and remains to this day the quintessential grand dame New England hotel. Faithfully rebuilt in 2010 by area resident Chuck Royce, Ocean House has retained all of its old-world charm: Guests sip iced tea on the sprawling verandah overlooking the dramatic coastline, lounge in the shade at tasteful beach cabanas, and explore the area by one the hotel's exquisitely restored picnic boats.
What has changed, however, are the newly appointed guest rooms and public areas — all of which are decked out in mahogany, linen, and other local, natural finishes — as well as the addition of truly world-class culinary and spa offerings. The vibe may be New England mellow, but the experience is world-class luxe.
The stunning views include the Atlantic Ocean and East Beach below, as well as vistas that span from Block Island out to Montauk, before settling in quaint Watch Hill town, where kitschy and high-end retail options — and delicious locally made ice cream — abound. Also worth noting are all the special, authentic touches that make the hotel so singular, such as the 500 artifacts, including the lobby's central stone fireplace, which was lovingly saved and rebuilt from the hotel's original, and an incredible collection of murals, paintings, and prints by Ludwig Bemelmans, including a painting of Madeline's legendary "two straight lines."
In this Covid-weary (and wary) era, it's reassuring to see that Ocean House has thought of every detail: Masks are compulsory and the staff are all over the cleanliness standards. But if it's just a delicious lobster roll with a big side of "leave me alone" that you're after, then Ocean House offers a perfect seasonal respite.
At a Glance
The Vibe: A bright yellow castle-like hotel that stands like a beacon, overlooking the dramatic Atlantic coastline and bucolic Watch Hill harbor below.
Standout Detail: Too many to count, but among the highlights are the enormous Tower and Penthouse suites with endless ocean views and sumptuous sitting areas, and a private cocktail cruise on The Dandy, a vintage launch that's perfect for exploring Little Narragansett Bay and nearby Fisher's Island.
This Place Is Perfect For: Families, couples, sailors, naturalists, gourmands, spa junkies and anyone else looking to be cosseted in understated luxury.
Rooms: 49 spacious guest rooms, 18 signature suites, and 7 cottages. While every accommodation has its unique touches — nautical artwork, plush chairs, crisp Matouk linens in muted hues — a low-key New England aesthetic pervades, with plenty of blue and white stripes as well as decorative shells. An in-room bar has non-alcoholic drinks, Rhody-specific snacks like Anchor peanuts and saltwater taffy, and, in the suites, complimentary alcoholic beverages, including local craft beers. Many rooms have sprawling terraces and/or fireplaces. The exquisitely appointed marble bathrooms are stocked with Molton Brown amenities, and many have deep soaking tubs complete with the hotel's signature bath bombs for proper relaxation.
On Site: You won't be lacking for things to do, as Ocean House offers an extensive program of seasonal and year-round activities for all ages. These include Artist in Residence classes, cooking classes, author talks, lobster boils, and special wine dinners. Past highlights have included the Fondue Express, an in-gondola dining experience created in collaboration with Veuve Clicquot, while this year features smart, socially distanced fun, including family-style platters served in the Secret Garden and a bright red BarMobile that delivers perfect cocktails and canapes to your door.
OH! Spa is a Forbes Five-Star Award winner, with treatments inspired by the ocean and local harvest. The spa also includes the OH! Salon for hair; a Fitness Center and Movement Studio that's open 24 hours as well as a virtual fitness system. A serene indoor/outdoor lap pool and two squash courts are available, as are lessons with a local pro.
Oceanside action includes a private, pristine beach with ten reservable cabanas, surfing and paddle boarding, private yacht charters courtesy of Barton & Gray, and fishing. Other sporty activities such as croquet on the championship lawn (complete with broad-brimmed hats), shuffleboard, billiards, golf on a putting green or at a nearby private facility, tennis, yoga and personal training, and Watch Hill bike tours are all on offer as well. There's a supervised seasonal children's program and, weather permitting, a nightly fire pit.
Indoor activities include complimentary cooking classes at the Center for Wine & Culinary Arts and a screening room with movies for all ages. If you want to explore the preppy surroundings, complimentary Mercedes wheels — both sedans and convertibles — stand at the ready and can be reserved on a first come basis.
Food + Drink: This is where Ocean House, a Relais & Châteaux property, really shines, with six gourmet and casual dining options. Below Deck serves light dining al fresco in the seasonal Secret Garden, while COAST is the Forbes Five-Star restaurant featuring an Atlantic Northeast farm-to-table menu. This year's playful beach addition, the Taco Shack, offers selections made with beef barbacoa and grilled jerk chicken, along with Tito's vodka frozen cocktails. As this is the summer of low-touch, grab-and-go dining, Ocean House has thought of every picnic and private dining possibility so guests may pre-order meals to be delivered anywhere on property. (Hint: East Beach at sunset can't be beat.)
What to Do Nearby
Stroll into town, just down the hill, for a hefty dose of New England charm, complete with sailboats bobbing in the bay and the quintessential Flying Horse Carousel that dates from 1867.
Standard touristy shops line Bay Street, but there are also elevated offerings: Three Islands stocks simple cover-ups in vibrant prints, while Island Outfitters has seaside basics such as Holebrook sweaters that come in handy for evenings on the beach. For perfect house presents and decorative touches, look no further than the newly opened KLW Design, where the baskets and floral arrangements are particular highlights.
For more step-back-in-time charm, take a short walk out to the postcard-worthy Watch Hill Lighthouse — operational since 1745 — which sits on a stunning point overlooking East Beach and Napatree Point.
Make a trip to St. Clair Annex restaurant — known locally as "the Annex" — for a classic lobster roll and a seasonal black raspberry ice cream cone. And head just to edge of town to The Cooked Goose, where prepared foods, sandwiches, and Cobb salads, as well as hearty breakfasts and homemade key lime pie are the orders of the day. For something lighter, hit Sift in the center of town, where lattes and scones are perfect to take away and savor on the adjacent sea wall. For outdoor dining in the heart of town, Olympia Tea Room is the place to be — pandemic or no — as the iconic spot serves the freshest tuna sashimi in town. Finish off a stroll through town with a stop at the Candy Box on Fort Road, an old school shoppe with homemade, technicolor saltwater taffy and the Pez dispenser of yesteryear.
The nearby town of Westerly is full of history and interesting diversions as well. Book lovers will delight at Savoy Bookshop and Café, a proper, old-school bookstore where the recommendations are as plentiful as the reading nooks. You might not think of traveling to Rhode Island for pizza, but the pies and salads at The Pizza Place are not to be missed. A signature Blacksmith salad with their special vinaigrette, followed by a white pizza with shrimp and artichoke hearts is pure heaven. Outdoor enthusiasts should pop into Watch Hill Outfitters, a tiny shop full of sport fishing and kayaking gear.
Also nearby is Ocean House's sister property, The Weekapaug Inn. Set on a quiet cove, the Adirondack chairs and fire pit make for charming nighttime languishing. The Restaurant at the Inn is next level: Beautifully prepared day-boat cod; local black bass; and Narragansett lobster fricassee served with scallop dumplings, English peas, and a light lemon-butter sauce are all sublime. For a more casual lunch, grab a lobster roll or a burger by the pool or sign up for one of the Inn's Thursday night clambakes, a traditional Rhode Island feast with all of the trimmings — and all of the view.