Famous among yachtsmen as the “Home of Herreshoff”, Bristol is often considered the yachtiest spot in Narragansett Bay north of Newport. However, a closer look reveals a welcoming, patriotic town with an eclectic cultural makeup and much to offer boaters of all means and tastes. The village center, on the east side of the harbor, is laced by narrow, shaded streets bounded by tidy, flag-bedecked colonial and Victorian homes, and featuring a variety of good restaurants, pubs and interesting shops.
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If you plan on visiting Bristol by boat, note that there is no overnight dockage near town (unless you know someone at the Stone Harbor condos). However, the town maintains 8 moorings that rent for $35 per night, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. It is also possible to anchor inside the harbor (if you can find room) and dinghy over
to the tie-up area and dinghy rack next to the launch ramp at Independence Park, at the end of Thames Street. From there a 5-minute walk will put you on Hope Street (Rte. 114) and the heart of Bristol, home of the oldest Fourth of July parade in America. (Note: Do not attempt to drive through or even close to Bristol during Independence Day weekend. You’re better off arriving by boat.) Boaters can also rent a mooring via Bristol Marine, on the west side of the harbor. Daytrippers can tie up for a maximum of 3 hours at the docks reserved for patrons of the shops and restaurants of Thames Street Landing, home to the Waterside Bar & Grill and the DeWolfe Tavern, along with several shops and boutiques.
Bristol Harbor is bounded by Popasquash Neck on the west and Bristol Neck on the east, with Hog Island guarding its mouth. You can reach the harbor via the deep channels on either side of Hog Island, but beware the shoals that surround the island. Upon entering the harbor, the Herreshoff Marine Museum and dock will be visible to starboard, on the southern outskirts of the village. The museum offers transient dockage and moorings, and a short walk to town, but be sure to call ahead.
Independence Park marks the southern end of the East Bay Bike Path, which runs all the way to East Providence.
Just south of the museum is the Lobster Pot, a large restaurant with dockage for patrons. North of the Herreshoff Museum is the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Station headquarters and docks, followed by the Bristol County Elks Club dock and the large, brick Robin Rug headquarters and retail store (Robin Rug makes braided rugs). After that is Firefighters Memorial Park and the town pier and marina, home of the Harbormaster’s Office, the Prudence Island ferry and several fishing and clamming vessels.
Adjacent to the town marina, at the end of State Street, is a town-managed, single-lane launch ramp (town-sticker only), followed by the Thames Street Landing, home to several shops, 2 restaurants, a bike-rental shop and the Bristol Harbor Inn. As mentioned, Landing patrons can dock for up to 3 hours, but boaters must check in with the attendant. After that is the sprawling Stone Harbour condo complex, which occupies several former mill buildings. A public boardwalk winds along the waterfront here and separates the private docks from the condos. Next to the condos is Quitos restaurant, a great place to grab a lobster roll, a bowl of chowder or a stuffed quahog in the rough.
Next to Quitos is lovely Independence Park and the state launch ramp and dinghy storage area. The ramp has been recently upgraded, but parking is limited on summer weekends. Independence Park also marks the southern end of the East Bay Bike Path, which runs all the way to East Providence.
On the opposite (west) side of the harbor, along Popasquash Neck, are 2 marine facilities: Bristol Harbor Marine and the Bristol Harbor Yacht Club. The former offers transient dockage, moorings, pumpout and repair, while the latter offers reciprocal privileges with other clubs.
While the Herreshoffs may be the best-known name in Bristol boatbuilding, the town is home to several current builders, including the Bristol Boat Company and C&C Marine (builder of NorthCoast and Albin), as well as a host of support services.