Scarlet-colored leaves, strolls down shady lanes, a brisk breeze—autumn has only just arrived and it’s already flaunting its best moves. In addition to scouring your local apple-picking farm, October and November are the perfect months to take a long weekend getaway. With the summer crowds gone, you can treat yourself to a cider doughnut or two, hop on a hayride, or wander off the beaten path in absolute peace and quiet. In these eight idyllic towns, the off-season is the main event.
Quebec City, Canada
Old Quebec is a living history lesson with a remarkable mix of architecture, heritage, art, and culture. Plus, it’s historically been voted as one of the best places to visit during the holiday season, as the city transforms into a winter wonderland in mid-November.
Where to stay: The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, a 611-room hotel located inside the walls of Old Quebec, underwent a major remodel five years ago to restore its regal interiors. On-site food options include a farm-to-table buffet, a wine and cheese bar, and a French bistro dishing up old rum foie gras.
What to do: Take a ride on a toboggan slide that runs along Terrasse Dufferin, visit the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency’s waterfalls (taller than those at Niagara Falls!), and shop the Petit-Champlain district’s narrow cobblestone streets lined with bistros.
Tucked away along the southern coast of the state, this quintessential New England town is best known for its rocky beaches, fresh seafood, and antiques shops. While a popular destination during the warmer months, the seaside outpost comes alive after the first snowfall.
Where to stay: The Cape Arundel Resort, whose main house was built in 1895 as a summer cottage, is situated in a quiet neighborhood right on the water, near the grand and stately mansions on Ocean and Old Fort Avenues.
What to do: Order wood-fired pizzas and handmade pasta at Earth at Hidden Pond and forage for fresh flowers at Snug Harbor Farm. Take a trip up to Cape Elizabeth and Portland, stopping to check out the lighthouses, then pop over to the L.L. Bean flagship in nearby Freeport. For dinner, book a table at On the Marsh restaurant.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
There’s nothing like a classic college town, such as the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor, in back-to-school season, with its weekend tailgates and local apple orchards aplenty.
Where to stay: Graduate Ann Arbor, located across the street from the college campus, sits amid the hustle of the town’s best restaurants, shops, and game-day buzz. The lobby doubles as a cozy club, featuring hand-painted mosaic patterns on the wood floors, leather-clad columns, and a grand staircase patchworked in Persian rugs.
What to do: Get your pumpkin-picking fix at Wiard’s Cider Mill and Apple Orchard (the property is 100 acres of apples, pumpkins, and corn mazes), cheer on the Wolverines at The Big House, and visit the Ann Arbor Distilling Company to try a few locally sourced spirits.
Big Bear, California
There are only a few places in California where you can truly experience the changing hues of autumn, and Big Bear Lake is one of them. Schedule your hike when the leaves are their most amber and goldenrod by keeping an eye on the California Fall Color site.
Where to stay: Built in the 1950s along Mallard Bay, Noon Lodge stays true to its old-school camp vibes with tangerine cabin doors, communal cornhole, and a bocce court. Explore the nearby walking trails by day and curl up for s’mores by the firepit at night.
What to do: Soak in the red maples on a walk through the local village, meander the forest on horseback with Baldwin Lake Stables, and swing by Oktoberfest (it runs through Halloween) for pretzels and beer.
The state’s peak time for fall foliage is around mid-October, and there’s no better place to catch the golden-yellow Aspen trees than the village that’s named for them. Tourism really slows down between Labor Day and the winter months, so you can soak it all in for a fraction of what it costs during the high season.
Where to stay: The Little Nell boasts Aspen’s best address (it’s the only ski-in, ski-out hotel in town, making it a covetable destination for celebrities and CEOs during the wintertime). Take advantage of five-star cuisine, marble bathtubs, and unparalleled mountain views.
What to do: Pick out fresh veggies at the laid-back Saturday market downtown, go fly-fishing in the Fork River (The Little Nell has adventure guides who can take you on an expedition), or indulge your inner ghost hunter at one of the many deserted mining towns outside of the city.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
So long, scorching heat. The best time to pay a visit to this thriving arts town is between September and November, when the temperatures are cooler, the sun is still shining, and the flea market pickings are gold.
Where to stay: The terracotta tones and tiled hallways of the adobe casitas at La Posada, a new 157-room hotel, are the ultimate autumnal palette inspiration.
What to do: Start your day with a healthy breakfast at Bodega Prime (its house-made condiments include peach ketchup served in reusable jars), then head over to Cupcake Clothing downtown for funky jewelry finds. Wind down after a busy day at Ten Thousand Waves Spa, a Japanese-inspired resort with outdoor hot tubs, sea salt massages, and plenty of sake to go around.
Asheville, North Carolina
Residents here are avid lovers of the outdoors and they celebrate with a myriad of fall harvest festivals (chili, cider, music, art—they do it all).
Where to stay: The stately Omni Grove Park Inn, housed in an old Arts and Crafts building, is the feeling of cozy come to life. To give you an idea: The stone-clad lobby features fireplaces that are so big you could sleep in them.
What to do: When you’re not wandering around town taking advantage of its famous food scene (Gan Shan Station is beloved for its homemade dumplings and Korean bulgogi), head out to one of the hundreds of waterfalls in the area or the expansive grounds of the Biltmore Estate.
For an all-American getaway, look no further than the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Stone cottages and wood cabins dot eastern Tennessee’s sweeping, rugged, and refined landscape.
Where to stay: Blackberry Farm, a world-class resort on 4,200 acres of pastoral land outside Knoxville dotted with giant stone chimneys, makes it easy to disconnect.
What to do: Switch your phone to silent and head over to the farm for a tasting tour or an herb gardening lesson, take a stab at archery in the secluded wooded hilltops, or ride through the countryside in a horse-drawn carriage.
One-up that pumpkin spice latte with a real taste of autumn this year.
This story was originally published on September 23, 2016. It has been updated with new information.
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