Hey, everyone! I’m Lori, mom of Lane and Lauren (@laneandlauren). As a longtime Mommy Shorts fan, I’m super pumped to be contributing to her travel series! We live in Massachusetts in a town that’s pretty much equidistant to Boston and Providence, so I consider us lucky to have two amazing cities to explore that are just a quick drive away.
If your family is planning a trip to New England, Providence, RI is a city not to be missed! Home to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence is a thriving city that packs lots of beauty, culture, and memorable experiences for the whole family into its tiny city. In fact, the entire state of Rhode Island can be traveled by car in just a few hours (it’s only 48 miles North to South, and 37 miles East to West), which makes it a totally manageable road trip with the kids.
There’s lots to explore, from museums to public art exhibits, beautiful beaches to amazing restaurants, but here are a few of our favorite destinations:
1) Things to do
It’s true that Lane and Lauren have never met a children’s museum they didn’t like, but they especially love The Providence Children’s Museum for its wide variety of hands-on activities that are actually learning opportunities disguised as fun. Learning through play is what kids are supposed to do, so I love giving them time to roam as they wish from exhibit to exhibit, for a morning (or afternoon) of exploring science, pretend play, physical activity, art, and even history.
The entrance is marked by a dragon tail hanging off the roof near the entrance, which never gets old and delights the girls every time. The museum was designed for children aged 1-11, so it’s fantastic that there are age-appropriate and engaging activities for both my girls, who are 7 and 4.
Lane’s favorite exhibit, which coincidentally is Lauren’s least favorite, is Water Ways, which explores water, ice, and mist in a fun, wet play area. The kids grab a raincoat on the way in, which I think is part of the appeal for Lane (any type of costume or prop makes her feel very official), and part of Lauren’s distaste (she’s fashion-forward and a blue raincoat is NOT fancy, according to her), and head in to investigate water in its many forms through splashing, underwater mazes, and problem-solving.
While 7-year-old Lane is fascinated by science, Lauren’s interests lean more toward art, design, and color. This life-sized Lite-Brite display is right up her alley, and she could spend hours playing with it.
There are also stations set up with colorful, metal beads, which kids can arrange onto magnetic surfaces, which is another favorite activity for Lauren.
There are also plenty of opportunities for the girls to play together. The second level of the museum is filled with different themed play areas— from a replica ship that voyaged from the Cape Verdean Islands (part of the museum’s new Coming to Rhode Island exhibit) to a farm stand set-up, where the girls pretend to shop for ingredients and then cook in the pretend kitchen. They’ve spent a good amount of time in there rehearsing their imaginary cooking show.
There is always something new at this museum each time we go and it conveniently offers free off-street parking, which is huge, especially in the winter months. You won’t regret spending a few hours here with the kids.
Providence is home to the amazing Roger Williams Park, which includes the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, a charming carousel village, and our fave – Roger Williams Park Zoo.
This clean, well-kept zoo not only offers many opportunities to observe, but also features animal encounters, which allow you to feed animals, as well as camel and train rides during the warmer months.
The zoo is decent-sized without being overwhelming, and offers lots of interesting exhibits, including the new Faces of the Rainforest experience, which welcomes you into a true rainforest atmosphere – complete with warm humidity and a free-flight aviary. The girls had fun using the maps to locate and identify the tropical animals— howler monkeys, toucans, anaconda snakes (yikes), tropical fish and more.
Learning opportunities are everywhere at this zoo, as informational displays accompany most exhibits. I found that both girls enjoyed stopping to read the fun facts as we made our way to check out each animal’s environment. There are also messages of social responsibility throughout the zoo, which resonates with all of us. Information on ways we can help protect the planet and how we can respect animals and their habitats will definitely add to the conversations you have with your kids as you wander around.
Although the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium and carousel are separate from the zoo, they are located in the same park, so you can definitely spend a full day here.
2) Our Favorite Places to Eat
As a Native New Englander, I can attest to the fact that a daily coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts is a lifestyle, but leisurely weekend mornings sometimes call for something more indulgent. Enter PVDonuts, the city’s first specialty donut shop.
While PVDonuts does offer traditional doughnuts for the less adventurous, they are famed for their over-the-top monthly specials, which feature insanely decadent creations such as Hershey’s Chocolate Milk (Lauren’s pick!), Maple Bacon, the Everything Bagel Donut (YUM?!) and Brown Sugar Pop-Tart.
All PVDonuts’s creations are hand-made (no machines!) using fresh, local ingredients, and they offer vegan and flourless options too. My favorite is the ridiculously filling Cosmic Brownie, though I have never actually finished one.
The shop itself is pretty cool, too, with its fun neon sign (catch the Drake reference?) and wall of affirmations reminding me that it’s OK to live a little and that having one tiny (OK, huge?) donut won’t entirely throw off my attempts at clean eating.
So, when in Providence, be sure to “Treat Yo’Self” to PVDonuts. The girls’ only issue with the place? In Lane’s words, “Can’t we just eat our donuts without having a photo shoot first?!” Ummm, no. They’re too Instagrammable!
Smack-dab in the middle of Federal Hill, Caserta Pizzeria is a legendary favorite amongst locals for its Sicilian style, rectangular pizza. Lauren’s favorite food is pizza, and Caserta meets her approval, so you should definitely take this recommendation seriously. She’s a pretty brutal critic.
The space is an old school neighborhood joint and quite frankly, not much to look at… but it’s reasonably priced and offers the cheesiest, doughiest pizza imaginable.
There is certainly no shortage of pizza in Providence, but if you want to eat like a true Rhode Islander, Caserta is the pizza joint to try.
If you follow us on Instagram, you know that Lauren can’t resist an opportunity to be fancy. So when we discovered that Providence was home to a tearoom and creperie (Ooh, la la!) that fancies itself a “snuggery,” we knew we had to check it out. The restaurant’s website is adorable and defines a snuggery as a cozy, comfortable place. I don’t know about you, but I’m comfortable anywhere that deliciously decadent cupcakes are on display.
Sweets aren’t all that’s on the menu. The Duck and Bunny offers an interesting and eclectic selection of salads, sandwiches (the Brie, Granny Smith apple, and fig spread on multigrain is amazing), and a variety of crepes (there’s even one named after Ilana’s daughter, Mazzy!) with several gluten-free and vegan options.
Note: The normal location at 312 Wickendon Street, Providence is currently under renovations and will be reopening in the fall. The temporary Sweetery location is currently at 1005 Main St, Suite 8208, Pawtucket, where you can still get a taste of their celebrated treats, as well as enjoy a limited lunch menu.
Come fall, the girls and I will definitely be making a trip to the newly renovated restaurant to enjoy the expanded garden seating (so quaint!), and I may have to come back with my mama friends for a little champagne brunch!
3) Seasonal Attractions
While New England is widely celebrated for its gorgeous fall foliage and breezy Atlantic coastline, Providence offers some unique experiences that can be enjoyed seasonally all throughout the year.
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Providence lives the largest tulip farm in New England. They call it the “Happiest Place in Rhode Island.” If you’re planning a spring trip to the area, Wicked Tulips is a seasonal destination that you must add to your agenda. The farm’s “You Pick” event runs from late April through mid-May, when about 600,000 tulips are in full bloom, decorating about 5 acres with rows and rows of gorgeousness.
The girls and I have so much fun strolling through the colorful blooms and carefully selecting the perfect stems to add to our bouquets, which we can bring home for $1 per blossom.
Who wouldn’t want to frolic through fields of flowers with varieties like “Pretty Princesses?”
Advance tickets are required, and do sell out quickly, so be sure to visit the Wicked Tulips website early in the season to guarantee you won’t miss out. And bring your camera – this is one of the most Insta-worthy locations I’ve ever seen!
If winter travels bring you to Providence, you’ll definitely have some fun with the Ice Bumper Cars at the Alex and Ani Center in downtown Providence. Providence is one of only three locations in the country (and the only in New England) to offer this unique attraction, and we had a blast with it. These bumper “cars” are actually more like rafts on wheels and glide on ice in every direction.
Lane was big enough to drive her own car, while Lauren sat on my lap. But make no mistake, Lauren did all the driving. These things move along pretty quickly, and Lauren found it hilarious to make our car spin 360 degrees at a dizzying speed!
The bumper car rides are $12 per 20 minutes, but the rink also offers skate rentals so you can extend your ice time once your ride time is up. Please note that the bumper cars sell out super quickly, especially on the weekends, so it’s best to purchase tickets online in advance.
Summer brings even more opportunities for relaxation, exploration, and fun in Providence. The city’s famed WaterFire installation opens for the season in late May, which includes over eighty sparkling bonfires and torch lit vessels traveling down the river at night.
Providence is a family-friendly, mostly hassle-free destination for families and a great place to spend a long weekend! And since nothing in Rhode Island is ever more than an hour away, the warm summer months are also the perfect time to enjoy our gorgeous beaches and lighthouse tours. There are tons all along the Ocean State’s coastline.
This post was written by Lori Rosa. Lori lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, Lane and Lauren. Lori has worked in entertainment, marketing, and music publishing, and is currently a sixth grade English teacher and wannabe blogger. She is an advocate for the arts, a party planning enthusiast, and a lover of the outdoors. You can read her blog over at www.laneandlauren.com and follow along on Instagram at @laneandlauren.