Fun & Frugal Winter Break
Rhode Island is bursting with fun winter activities for kids and affordable hotel deals for parents!
We all look forward to those epic family vacations, but time and budget realities mean the big trips only happen occasionally. If you need a school vacation week trip to break up the midwinter monotony, but only have a few days and a few dollars to do it, Rhode Island is an easy drive via I-95 for families throughout New England and the New York metropolitan area. With great deals on winter stays, a weekend getaway to the Ocean State includes an abundance of fun family activities whether you’re looking to play in the snow or escape the chill to get active, do some shopping, or immerse yourself in the state’s rich cultural experiences.
There’s a reason Rhode Island’s airport is located in Warwick, not Providence: this seaside community on the state’s West Bay is centrally located no matter where in the state you want to explore. Many of the state’s most family-friendly hotels are close to T.F. Green Airport, offering an ideal mix of affordable rates, comfortable accommodations, free parking, kid-pleasing indoor pools, and — in some cases — hot breakfast included in the price of your stay.
Take a few minutes to settle in at Warwick’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Hyatt Place Warwick Providence Airport, or the Hampton Inn Providence/Warwick Airport after your drive to Rhode Island, but make sure to save your appetite for lunch at one of Warwick’s kid-pleasing eateries nearby. Iggy's is a summer hotspot with its outdoor window serving fresh seafood and piping hot “doughboys” covered in powdered sugar, but even in the dead of winter, you can channel some midsummer fun at this Oakland Beach restaurant, a local favorite for generations.
Weather permitting, Warwick’s City Park is a great destination for a winter walk along the shore of Narragansett Bay. The park’s paved walking trail snakes through the woods to the beach: a 2.9-mile loop, it’s just long enough to warm your core without wearing anybody out. Winter is also a great time to visit Roger Williams Park, where the acclaimed Roger Williams Park Zoo stays open year-round and has both outdoor animal enclosures and indoor activities like the new Faces of the Rainforest exhibit. The park also has a natural history museum, planetarium, botanical center, and a carousel village open on winter weekends.
Alternatively, Launch is an indoor trampoline park that also has a dodgeball court and laser tag, a battle pit for one-on-one duels, an arcade, and a rock-climbing wall. Like many of Rhode Island’s craft breweries, Warwick’s Proclamation Ale Company welcomes families; the beer tastings may be limited to the adults, but kids can play the free arcade games in the taproom, and food trucks are usually parked outside if you need a snack.
If the kids are screaming for ice cream, Rhode Island’s own Newport Creamery for burgers and Awful Awful milkshakes. For something a little less casual but still perfectly welcoming, the nearby Tree House Tavern is a cozy spot for dinner (or lunch or brunch) with ever-changing seasonal menus and a fairytale atmosphere.
Providence, Rhode Island’s cultural capital as well as the state’s capital city, is a mere 15 minutes by car from Warwick. First, though, breakfast. If your hotel includes a lobby buffet, by all means, indulge. If not, take the short drive to Alice’s Restaurant on West Shore Road, a no-nonsense local breakfast spot where you can dive into a reasonably priced omelet (try it with Portuguese linguica sausage for some local flavor), pancakes, or a breakfast sandwich.
On a sunny winter day, Providence is perfectly proportioned for walking: active families will love strolling from the shop-lined streets of Downcity to the traditional Italian neighborhood of Federal Hill. The Providence Children’s Museum has hands-on fun for little ones in the Jewelry District, and the RISD Museum on the East Side has a diverse collection that includes everything from ancient Greek and Roman statuary to works of decorative art, oil paintings, textiles, and modern art (and admission is free on Sundays).
For lunch or a snack, UMelt on Weybosset Street downtown serves more than a dozen different takes on the classic grilled cheese, while Frisky Fries on Washington Street gets similarly creative with French fries: order them plain and crispy or smothered in brown gravy, poutine style, or as a sweet-and-savory treat topped with cinnamon sugar and whipped cream.
Also in the heart of downtown Providence, you’ll find Kennedy Plaza and the Providence Rink, where you can skate outdoors with the city skyline as a backdrop or rent bumper boats for some good-natured bouncing and sliding across the ice. The rink is close to the Providence Place Mall, which not only is a good place to park your car but also an attraction in its own right, with a collection of upscale retailers (including an Apple Store and the new Boscov’s department store) and a top-floor entertainment complex that includes a cinema, IMAX theater, and a Dave & Busters arcade/restaurant. Or, check the schedule at the Providence Performing Arts Center and The Veterans Memorial Auditorium, two historic downtown performance spaces that frequently present family-friendly shows.
For a Rhode Island-style family dinner of “pasta and gravy,” head up to Federal Hill and Angelo’s restaurant, which features Italian comfort food like lasagna, braciola, chicken parmesan, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, tripe. A model railroad will keep kids entertained as it makes a continuous loop around the dining room. On Providence’s West Side, Ogie’s Trailer Park has six different takes on tater tots and other crowd-pleasers like grilled cheese and grilled PBJ sandwiches.
The Providence Bruins, the top minor-league hockey team in the Boston Bruins organization, plays home games at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center; catch a Sunday matinee game, or set off to discover some of Rhode Island’s other great family activities on the last day of your weekend staycation.
North of Providence, R1 Indoor Karting in Lincoln has a zippy indoor go-kart track plus bowling and billiards; also in the vicinity is Wright's Dairy Farm and Bakery in North Smithfield, where you can watch the cows get milked, sample Rhode Island’s unique bakery pizza, and wash down traditional “hermit” molasses cookies with farm-fresh milk.
Alternatively, set course for Rhode Island’s South County, where you can meet (and touch) the aquatic inhabitants of Narragansett Bay at the Biomes Marine Biology Center in North Kingstown, hit the ski slopes or tubing park at the Yawgoo Valley Ski Area in Exeter, or venture down to the state’s southernmost destination, Westerly, to take some turns at the outdoor skating rink and stroll the streets of this up-and-coming riverside town. Open for breakfast and lunch, Jigger’s Diner in East Greenwich is the place to go to try authentic Rhode Island jonnycakes, while the Cooked Goose is the Westerly restaurant locals love to honk about.
Finally, just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to ignore the water in the Ocean State: local conservation group Save the Bay leads seal-watching tours by boat every weekend from November to April, getting up close and personal with the harbor seals who inhabit beautiful Narragansett Bay. It’s educational, but also fun — the kind of learning that the kids won’t mind even if it is their week off from school.