Travelling during any season has its own appeal, but there’s something undeniably special about embarking on a fall getaway. Perhaps it’s the crisp, refreshing air or the laid-back atmosphere that seems to pervade this time of year. Undoubtedly, the natural beauty of the season plays a significant role as well. Coastal and mountain towns that experience a surge in tourism during the summer and winter months tend to offer a more serene experience in September, October, and November. This makes the shoulder season an ideal opportunity for exploration without the crowds. Moreover, travellers can take advantage of more budget-friendly airfare and accommodation rates, along with greater availability at hotels, restaurants, and attractions. It’s worth noting that even destinations known for their peak seasons, such as the opening of winter resorts in Aspen or the allure of Cape May’s beaches, can also offer a stunning display of colourful autumn leaves. Leaf enthusiasts can easily check online foliage trackers to pinpoint which locations will showcase a fiery foliage spectacle and when it’s at its peak.
If you’re seeking to cut costs, eager to discover a new facet of your beloved vacation destination, or simply in need of ideas for a spontaneous weekend getaway this autumn, take a closer look at these well-known U.S. destinations that truly come alive during the shoulder season.
01. Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island is known for its rich history, stunning coastal scenery, and vibrant culture, Newport truly comes to life during the quieter months when the summer crowds have dissipated. Fall, in particular, is an ideal time to explore this charming seaside town. The crisp autumn air lends itself to strolls along the historic waterfront, where visitors can admire the opulent Gilded Age mansions like The Breakers and Marble House, all while enjoying the vibrant hues of changing leaves.
One of the standout features of Newport in the shoulder season is its culinary scene. The town boasts a plethora of world-class restaurants and eateries, and during the off-peak months, you can often secure reservations at some of the most sought-after dining establishments without the long wait times. From freshly caught seafood to locally sourced ingredients, Newport’s dining scene is a culinary adventure waiting to be savoured.
Furthermore, Newport’s coastal beauty takes on a different charm in the shoulder season. The beaches may be quieter, but they are no less breathtaking. The dramatic Atlantic Ocean views and the rugged shoreline offer a serene backdrop for leisurely walks and contemplative moments.
02. Park City, Utah
Park City, Utah is best known for its world-class ski resorts, this charming mountain town transforms into a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers when the snow melts away. As summer turns into fall, Park City’s landscape undergoes a breathtaking transformation, with vibrant foliage painting the hillsides in shades of red, orange, and gold. This picturesque setting offers visitors the perfect backdrop for hiking, mountain biking, and exploring the area’s extensive trail network.
The shoulder season in Park City also brings a sense of serenity to the town. As the summer crowds dwindle and the winter rush has yet to begin, you’ll find a more peaceful and laid-back atmosphere. This is an ideal time to explore Park City’s historic Main Street, which is lined with charming boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. You can enjoy a stroll, savouring the local flavours at a relaxed pace, and taking in the town’s unique blend of Western heritage and contemporary culture.
Additionally, Park City boasts a thriving cultural scene, with numerous events and festivals taking place during the shoulder season. From film festivals to music performances, there’s always something exciting happening in town. This makes it an excellent time to immerse yourself in the local arts and culture scene.
03. Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May, New Jersey is known for its charming Victorian architecture, pristine beaches, and rich maritime history, Cape May offers a delightful experience when the summer crowds have diminished. Fall, in particular, is a magical time to visit as the weather remains pleasant, and the town takes on a more tranquil ambience.
One of the highlights of Cape May in the shoulder season is its vibrant foliage. As autumn sets in, the streets and parks are adorned with the warm colours of changing leaves, creating a picturesque backdrop for strolls or bike rides. Additionally, birdwatchers flock to Cape May in the fall, as it’s a crucial stopover point for migrating birds. The Cape May Bird Observatory provides an excellent opportunity to observe these avian travellers up close.
Moreover, Cape May’s culinary scene thrives in the shoulder season. The town is known for its seafood, and you’ll find numerous restaurants offering fresh catches of the day, often without the long wait times that can be typical during the summer months. The charming Victorian-era inns and bed-and-breakfast establishments also make for a cosy and romantic retreat during this time of year.
04. Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado is renowned for its world-class skiing in the winter and outdoor adventures in the summer, Aspen offers a unique appeal during the quieter months. Fall, in particular, is a spectacular time to visit, as the surrounding Rocky Mountains explode in a breathtaking display of autumn foliage. The vibrant hues of aspen and cottonwood trees set the stage for an idyllic backdrop for hiking, mountain biking, and simply basking in the natural beauty.
One of the standout features of Aspen in the shoulder season is its cultural scene. The town boasts a thriving arts and music community, and this comes to the forefront during this time. Visitors can enjoy a variety of performances, art exhibitions, and cultural events without the crowds that can often fill the town during peak seasons. It’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Aspen’s creative atmosphere and explore its numerous galleries, museums, and theatres.
Furthermore, the culinary scene in Aspen takes on a new charm in the shoulder season. The town is home to an array of world-class restaurants, and this is the perfect time to savour the local flavours and indulge in gourmet dining experiences without the usual wait times. The crisp mountain air and relaxed pace of life make dining al fresco a delightful experience.
05. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is known for its charming coastal towns, pristine beaches, and rich maritime heritage, Cape Cod offers a serene and authentic experience when the summer crowds have dissipated. Fall is a particularly enchanting time to visit, as the Cape’s landscapes come alive with the vibrant colours of changing leaves, creating a postcard-worthy backdrop for leisurely walks and exploration.
One of the standout features of Cape Cod in the shoulder season is its peaceful ambience. With the summer rush behind and the winter hibernation yet to begin, the Cape takes on a tranquil charm that’s perfect for those seeking a relaxed getaway. It’s an ideal time to explore the historic villages, browse quaint boutiques, and savour seafood at the local restaurants without the long lines. Additionally, Cape Cod’s iconic lighthouses, such as the Highland Light and Nauset Light, are often more accessible for visitors during this time.
Moreover, Cape Cod offers numerous opportunities for outdoor activities in the shoulder season. Whether it’s cycling along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, hiking through nature reserves, or embarking on a whale-watching tour, the mild weather and fewer crowds make these experiences even more enjoyable.
06. Scottsdale, Arizona
Scottsdale, Arizona is undoubtedly one of the best U.S. destinations with its stunning desert landscapes, world-class golf courses, and vibrant cultural scene, Scottsdale offers a delightful experience when the intense summer heat has subsided. Fall and spring are particularly attractive times to visit, as the weather becomes more temperate and pleasant, making outdoor exploration and recreational activities much more enjoyable.
One of the key draws of Scottsdale in the shoulder season is its natural beauty. The Sonoran Desert that surrounds the city comes to life with a burst of colourful wildflowers in the spring, and fall brings cooler temperatures that are perfect for hiking in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve or exploring the desert on horseback. It’s a fantastic time to appreciate the unique flora and fauna of the region without the scorching summer sun.
Furthermore, Scottsdale boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene that comes alive during the shoulder season. With fewer tourists, you can immerse yourself in the city’s galleries, museums, and theatres without the crowds. The Scottsdale Arts District offers a diverse range of art exhibitions and cultural events, while the city’s many dining establishments showcase Southwestern cuisine at its finest.
07. Montauk, New York
Montauk, New York has everything that we want from a vacation including stunning beaches, world-class fishing, and vibrant nightlife, Montauk offers a unique appeal when the summer crowds have dispersed. Fall, in particular, is an ideal time to visit, as the coastal town takes on a tranquil ambience while retaining its natural beauty. The crisp autumn air and milder temperatures make it perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, surfing, and exploring Montauk’s picturesque landscapes.
One of the highlights of Montauk in the shoulder season is its seafood scene. The town is renowned for its fresh catches, and this is the perfect time to savour the local flavours without the long waits at popular seafood shacks. From lobster rolls to clam chowder, you can indulge in the region’s culinary delights while enjoying the serene coastal views. Montauk also boasts numerous hiking trails, including those within Montauk Point State Park, offering stunning vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the historic Montauk Lighthouse.
Moreover, Montauk’s cultural and artistic community comes to life during the shoulder season. The local galleries, boutiques, and artisan markets offer a diverse range of art and handmade crafts. Additionally, the town’s calendar is filled with events like food festivals and live music performances.
08. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Renowned for its breathtaking mountain landscapes, world-class skiing in the winter, and abundant outdoor activities in the summer, Jackson Hole offers a unique and tranquil experience when the peak tourist season subsides. Fall and spring are particularly appealing times to visit, as the region’s natural beauty takes centre stage without the crowds.
One of the key draws of Jackson Hole in the shoulder season is its stunning fall foliage. As the aspen and cottonwood trees transform into vibrant shades of yellow and orange, the valley becomes a paradise for leaf-peepers and nature enthusiasts. The Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, both nearby, offer fantastic opportunities for hiking, wildlife watching, and capturing the dramatic landscapes in their autumnal splendour.
Furthermore, Jackson Hole’s cultural scene thrives during the shoulder season. The town’s galleries, museums, and cultural centres host a variety of exhibitions, concerts, and events, giving visitors a chance to explore the region’s rich history and artistic heritage. Additionally, the local cuisine shines with farm-to-table dining experiences that showcase the flavours of the Rocky Mountains.
09. Kennebunkport, Maine
Kennebunkport, Maine, is undeniably one of the enchanting destinations in the shoulder season. Known for its picturesque coastal charm, historic architecture, and fresh seafood, Kennebunkport offers a serene and authentic experience when the summer crowds have dispersed. Fall, in particular, is a magical time to visit, as the coastal town takes on a tranquil ambience while the surrounding landscapes burst into a symphony of vibrant autumn colours.
One of the standout features of Kennebunkport in the shoulder season is its seafood scene. The town’s waterfront restaurants and seafood shacks continue to serve up freshly caught lobster, clams, and other ocean delights, but without the long wait times that are often associated with the peak summer months. You can savour the flavours of Maine’s famous cuisine while enjoying the crisp ocean air and scenic views.
Furthermore, Kennebunkport offers numerous opportunities for outdoor activities during the shoulder season. Whether it’s strolling along the pristine beaches, exploring the charming downtown area, or embarking on a scenic boat tour along the coast, the mild weather and fewer tourists make these experiences even more enjoyable. The historic inns and cosy bed-and-breakfast establishments that dot the town provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere for a relaxing getaway.
10. San Diego, California
San Diego, California, stands as one of the best destinations that truly shine in the shoulder season. Known for its perfect climate, beautiful beaches, and diverse cultural attractions, San Diego offers a unique charm when the peak summer months have passed. Fall and spring are particularly appealing times to visit, as the city’s pleasant weather and lower visitor numbers create an ideal environment for exploration.
One of the key draws of San Diego in the shoulder season is its outdoor activities. With milder temperatures and smaller crowds, it’s the perfect time to explore the city’s numerous parks, beaches, and hiking trails. You can take strolls along the scenic waterfront at places like Balboa Park or La Jolla Cove, and even embark on whale-watching tours to witness the magnificent migration of grey whales.
Furthermore, San Diego boasts a vibrant cultural scene that comes to life during the shoulder season. The city is home to world-class museums, theatres, and art galleries, offering a diverse range of cultural experiences. Whether you’re interested in history, science, or contemporary art, you’ll find something to pique your interest. Additionally, the city’s culinary scene shines with farm-to-table dining options and fresh seafood, and during the shoulder season, it’s easier to secure reservations at some of the most popular restaurants.