How-to Act Like a Local in Rhode Island, America's Smallest State

“Little Rhodie” may be America’s smallest state, but Rhode Islanders have packed it in with more “cultuh” than you can shake a quahog at.

“Little Rhodie” may be America’s smallest state, but Rhode Islanders have packed it in with more “cultuh” than you can shake a quahog at.

With a history of piracy, corruption, social scandal and more than 400 miles of coastline, everyone from Jackie O to Taylor Swift have called Rhode Island home, but to really experience the Ocean State, you���ve got to blend in like a local.

Here’s how:

1. Places To Go

For Clam Chowder


Photo: Ed Schipul

First off, to sample Rhode Island’s signature dish, you need to figure out which way to order it: white, red or clear.

Locals opt for the clear broth, which highlights the flavor of the clams, but white is acceptable, too. Everyone has a preference and will happily tell you why yours is wrong. Every clam shack worth its salt will have it on the menu, but the best is at Duffy’s Tavern in North Kingstown. (Duffy’s Tavern, 235 Tower Hill Rd North Kingstown, RI 02852)

To Dance to the Beat

With Providence, home to the uber-arty Rhode Island School of Design, finding musical talent is easy, but local favorite, What Cheer? Brigade is what you want to seek out.


Even if you can’t dance to the beat, you’ll still enjoy this. Photo: Chattman Photography

A cross between a marching band and punk collective, the Brigade can be found busting up everything from local bars to the Newport Folk Festival. (For dates and locations visit www.whatcheerbrigade.com)

To soak in history

One of the original 13 colonies, Rhode Island has always been an oddball: It was founded on religious tolerance at a time when its neighbors to the north were, you know, burning witches.

It’s maritime connections brought a diverse group of Jewish and Portuguese settlers to state and in the 20th Century, Rhode Island was best known for its “mobstahs and lobstahs.”


Photo: Kimberly Vardeman

And while all of this is wicked cool, it’s Newport’s history as a playground for the 1% that you’ll want to explore, because mansions. There are plenty of tours of these “summer cottages,” but you can peek into everyone’s backyard by walking along the aptly named Cliff Walk. (More info at www.cliffwalk.com)

2. Dress Like This

Paw Sox Cap

Everyone’s a Sox fan in Rhode Island, but it’s the Pawtucket Red Sox, not their big brothers to the north that earn the most love. Ask a local about the longest baseball game in history; you won’t regret it.


Watch him whip. Now watch him nae nae. Photo: Eric Kilby

RISD Fashion

Most Rhode Islanders pride themselves on dressing to basics, but a stroll through Providence’s many boutique shops will give you the chance to grab designs from the future fashion designers of tomorrow, today.

3. Say This

“I’ll have a kawfee cabinet.”

You might have heard about coffee milk, the state drink that tastes like melted coffee ice cream, but even fellow New Englanders are mystified by “coffee cabinets”, which are a blended drink made of coffee ice cream, coffee syrup and milk.


Photo: Kenny Louie

I know what you’re thinking, but order a “coffee milkshake” and expect to get asked “Do you mean a milkshake, frappe or cabinet?,” because in Rhode Island, milkshakes don’t include ice cream.

Other key phrases:

Stuffie - Stuffed clams

Packy - A liquor store, which are called package stores here, for reasons.

Downcity - The Arts & Entertainment District of Providence

4. How to blow your cover

Talk about how much you love Massachusetts.

5. Why You’ll Want to Stay

Beyond the gorgeous beaches, amazing seafood and surprisingly cosmopolitan scene, it’s the people of Rhode Island, who treat just about everyone they meet like family that give this tiny state such a big ‘haht.’