Providence, Rhode Island is one of the most amazing places in the country (we weren’t named GQ’s coolest city for nothing). During the academic year, students from the eight universities located in Providence bustle about their campuses and the city.
But when the temperature creeps up and students flock home for summer, the city is a remarkably different place. Sunny skies encourage locals and summer students to attend exciting summer festivals around the state; good weather makes it easy to appreciate nature’s beauty in parks or on the coast.
The city is more inviting, more exciting, and more invigorating. Anyone staying in or passing through Providence this summer should travel far and dig deep. There is so much to do and so many things to eat (this is Spoon U, after all).
Here is a day’s worth of exploration and eats, all in the spirit of enjoying summer in the Ocean State:
9 am: Dave’s Coffee
Start your morning bright and early at Dave’s Coffee, located close to campus on South Main Street. The cozy, inviting shop is a favorite for locals and visitors alike —and in Providence (which boasts the most coffee shops per capita in the United States) that’s saying something.
With plenty of different seating options (A barstool at the window? No problem. A cozy booth near the back? Sure. A spot at a table? You got it.), a fun wall filled with coffee syrup, and inviting puns penned the sandwich board outside, Dave’s is the place to spend a morning working, writing, or relaxing.
Not only are the drinks delicious, but they have strong origins and integrity. A family-owned business that is part of Farm Fresh RI, Dave’s offers organic coffee roasted by hand in small batches, and the baked goods are made with locally-sourced ingredients — hungry or not, grab one.
My favorite combination is a simple drip coffee and a vegan breakfast cookie to get me through answering endless emails and knocking out work. Look out the glass storefront at South Main Street to people-watch, or take your drink to go and find a spot to sit along the water.
11 am: Downtown Providence destinations and Pinkberry
Now that you’ve gotten your caffeine fix, it’s time to stretch your legs. Head one block west from Dave’s, and you’ll find yourself right on the Providence River. One of the best things about Providence is that the big city vibes come without the big city walking distances. So explore.
On Weybosset Street is the Arcade Providence, the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall. While the upper levels are now private micro-lofts, the first floor is home to a variety of restaurants and shops. My favorite is Carmen & Ginger, an antique store/vintage boutique with plenty of pretty things for home decor or gifting.
Then head north and take a few minutes to relax on one of the benches along the Waterplace Park Basin, home to Providence’s famous WaterFire, put on by a non-profit organization aiming to inspire and revitalize Rhode Island’s urban experience. On summer Saturdays, live music plays as over eighty bonfires burn in the Waterplace Park Basin.
And head up the stairs to the Providence Place Mall, a giant indoor shopping center with a whopping 15 floors to watch a movie at the IMAX-equipped movie theater, play some games at Dave & Buster’s, and window shop.
For something refreshing to tide you over until lunch, grab some frozen yogurt from Pinkberry (East and West Coasters, I realize Pinkberry is probably a pretty boring, lackluster frozen yogurt chain. But being from Pinkberry-less Midwest, I may or may not have factored this fun time into my college decision.)
Finally, cross the Waterplace Park Basin bridge to stop by the Rhode Island State House. The State House is a behemoth of a building that is a beautiful part of the Providence skyline when viewed from College Hill. If you’d like to poke around inside, there are free guided tours given on weekdays. Plan on getting there with enough time to make it through security.
1 pm: Teriyaki & Korean House and a hike
Now that you’ve wandered up an appetite, head back to the southern end of downtown and find a table at Teriyaki & Korean House on Westminster Street. Owned by a local South Korean family, the restaurant offers both Japanese fusion and traditional Korean dishes.
Lunch specials are served on weekdays from 11:30 pm-3 pm; people who work in the area love the tasty meal and quick service you get with any of the bento boxes offered. Choose from a variety of main dishes like teriyaki, bulgogi, or katsu, and enjoy it with rice, salad, the chef’s daily sides, and miso soup.
If you still have room after lunch, Teriyaki & Korean House also has a tea house within the restaurant. Quench your thirst with hot tea or coffee, bubble tea, or smoothies, and their signature dessert — the “Moffle,” a Belgian waffle and mochi hybrid.
Now that you’ve satisfied your sweet tooth, it’s time to make the trek up to College Hill.
College Hill and Providence’s East Side are some of the coolest places to explore. On your way up to Brown’s campus, stop by the Providence Athanaeum on Benefit Street, an independent library and cultural center. Inside, you’ll find an amazing little reading haven, complete with book stacks on balconies, rolling ladders, and an old-style card catalogue.
Also on Benefit Street is the RISD Museum, an art museum associated with the Rhode Island School of Design. If you’re into art, be sure to check out the museum and the RISD campus. There are plenty of outdoor sculptures and statues to admire, and the Nature Lab is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been.
Next, head up College Street to Brown University’s Van Wickle Gates. You can lounge under one of the big trees on the Main Green, cool off at a table in the air-conditioned Blue Room Cafe, or look around the John Hay Library’s stunning reading room.
If you want something a little bit more upbeat, take a walk to Thayer Street, which is always buzzing with students and locals alike. Check out all the little shops and browse the restaurant menus, or take a break in the flowery sitting area right outside the Brown Bookstore.
6:00 pm: Skewers for Supper
For a real Brown University dining experience, hit Thayer Street, which is filled with convenient places for college students to quickly grab food. Tonight’s restaurant of choice is Skewers, a new restaurant that serves Lebanese-style salads, sandwiches, and entrees. The pristine glass windows with a view of all the action outside isn’t bad, either.
Choose a protein (chicken, gyro, lamb, shrimp, vegetarian falafel, and more) and a method of preparation. Platters also come with a rice and lentil mix, tabbouleh, salad, roasted vegetables, tzatziki, hummus, a pita wrap and pita chips.
Unfortunately the restaurant doesn’t offer free tap water (really? Who doesn’t have free tap water?), so use it as an excuse to try one of the numerous Nantucket Nectars flavors in the beverage case (bonus: the brand was started by Brown alumni).
Although the baklava looks tasty, try and resist for now–we’ve got a tasty dessert course coming.
7:30 pm: Meeting Street for Sweets
For a sweet after-dinner treat, head to Meeting Street Cafe. Meeting Street Cafe cookies are an integral part of the Brown experience. In fact, lots of the student organizations will use them to lure people to meetings.
Flavors include chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate chip, ginger spice, oatmeal raisin, double chocolate… you get the idea. You can order a full cookie or a half cookie if you’re not too hungry (or want to try multiple flavors). Since the restaurant is open until 11 pm, take the time to indulge and unwind after a long, successful day in the city.
And with that, our day trip around Providence comes to a close. Although that covers a lot, there are plenty more things to explore (that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come to school in Providence, after all). Enjoy the sunny weather and may your heart and your stomach be full.
Looking for more Providence eats? Check out these articles: