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, shady streets bounded by tidy, flag-bedecked colonial and Victorian homes, and featuring a variety of good restaurants, pubs and interesting shops.
If you plan on visiting Bristol by water, the town offers both hourly and overnight dockage in front of the public marina, adjacent to the ferry terminal, and also maintains several rental moorings in the harbor. Payment can be made through the harbormaster’s office, which shares space with the Bristol Maritime Center. The Center features showers, laundry, WiFi, and boater resources.
It’s also possible to anchor inside the harbor, if you can find room outside the fairways, but you’ll need to check with the harbormaster first. Note that the harbor is exposed to southerly winds, which can make for a rolly stay.
There is no launch service, but you can leave your dinghy or kayak at the dinghy dock just behind the red firehouse near the the town docks. There’s also a dinghy rack next to the launch ramp at Independence Park, at the end of Thames Street.
From either place, a 5-minute walk puts 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 at Bristol Marine, on the west side of the harbor, which offers launch service to town.
Additionally, daytrippers can tie up for a maximum of 3 hours at the floats reserved for patrons of the shops and restaurants at Thames Street Landing, home to the Waterside Bar & Grill and the DeWolf 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 shoal water surrounding the island.
Upon entering the harbor, the Herreshoff Marine Museum and its pier 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.
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 commercial fishing and clamming vessels.
Adjacent to the town marina, at the end of State Street, is a single-lane launch ramp with parking adjacent, 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 tie up for up to 3 hours here. 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.
Lovely Independence Park, home to summer concerts, a boat launch and a dinghy rack, occupies the northeast end of waterfront. The double-wide ramp here is in good condition, but parking is limited, especially on weekends. The park also marks the southern end of the East Bay Bike Path, which runs all the way to East Providence, making Bristol a great spot for bike-minded boaters.
On the opposite (west) side of the harbor, along Popasquash Neck, are 2 noteworthy marine facilities: Bristol Harbor Marine and the Bristol Harbor Yacht Club. The former offers transient dockage, moorings, pump-out and repair, while the latter offers reciprocal privileges with other clubs.