Tycoon Alley

Shop, dine and play in Newport, the historic stomping grounds of the Gilded Age.

The ascending road across the Pell Bridge suggested there was water everywhere, but all we could see was fog as thick as the clam chowder famous in these parts. It was an eerie entry into the resort town of Newport, R.I., one that gave no hint of the vast coastal playground that has long been the summer home of the rich and famous. JFK married Jackie here, President Eisenhower vacationed here and Gilded Age tycoons like the Vanderbilts and Astors spent summers in The Breakers and Beechwood Mansion, their palatial “cottages” along Bellevue Avenue. Neither rich, nor famous, we set out in this city by the sea and discovered its rich history, easy-going lifestyle and acclaimed golf courses.

We downed succulent lobster rolls and giant Portuguese stuffies–clamshells filled with a spicy blend of chorizo, breadcrumbs and clams. And we strolled along charming cobblestone wharves lined with galleries, boutiques and antique stores. In the historic harbor, filled with some 2,000 boats and a history dating back to the Revolutionary War, we had the option of a sightseeing cruise on a former rum-runner, an excursion on an America’s Cup yacht or leaving Narragansett Bay on a sport-fishing trip in search of tuna and marlin. Back on land, we traversed the famous Cliff Walk, which leads visitors between the pounding waves of the Atlantic and the back lawns of the august mansions.

No trip to Newport, however, would be complete without a stop in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Tucked in a strip shopping center, it hardly looks like “the cradle of American tennis,” but behind the Victorian shingle-style entrance is a six-acre complex that chronicles the entire history of the sport, from the 13th century to the present. With wine glasses in hand, we strode out onto the soft field with dozens of other spectators for the traditional stomping of the divots.

There are also five golf courses in the immediate area, the most famous of which is the historical, ultra-private, Newport Country Club, which hosted the first-ever U.S. Open in 1895 and the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open. You’ll have a much better chance getting on Newport National Golf Club, Rhode Island’s top-rated public-access course. Designed by Arthur Hills and opened in 2002, the Orchard Course spans 7,244 yards and offers panoramic views of the Sakonnet Passage, Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Like most seaside courses, it’s relatively flat, but a missed tee shot can land you in inescapable fescue.

For lodging and pure relaxation, we chose the historic Castle Hill Inn and Resort for its award-winning food and the best views in town. On its great lawn sloping toward the bay, we sipped champagne and Bellinis from Adirondack chairs as we watched sailboats and schooners breeze up and down the bay. It was careless fun in atown that offers plenty for everyone.