It is autumn once again, that special time of year everyone says is a great time to travel. It’s true because, generally, rates are lower, crowds are smaller, and the weather is cooler. As a bonus, many areas offer spectacular scenery in the form of fall foliage turning fiery shades of yellow, orange and red (as we saw in Vermont). If “leaf peeping” holds just about as much fascination for you as watching paint dry, though, is fall travel a pointless venture?
Not at all! Fall is a great time to fly south and stretch out summer a bit longer. From sunny Southern Cal to the tropical Florida peninsula, we’ve gathered up a handful of après-summer activities across several southern states where it may be fall, but the emphasis is still on fun.
San Diego, California
If a temperate climate is your key to happiness, you’ll love San Diego year round but fall is a particularly great time to visit. The beaches clear out during the week but the sun and sand stay, which is good because there is plenty to do, from world class golf in Torrey Pines, to nightlife in the downtown Gaslight Quarter, to world class craft beer highlighted each fall during San Diego Beer Week. (San Diego has proclaimed itself the Craft Beer Capital of America, with about 90 craft breweries and pubs.) San Diego is also home to the California Surf Museum, where you can explore the art, history and danger of the sport – Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton’s shark-bitten board is on display here. While there are many fine lodging options in the area, our personal favorite is the beachfront Hotel del Coronado, which seems like summer just about all the time.
When you think of Phoenix, you probably think “hot.” During the summer, afternoon highs over 100 are common, but fall’s 80-degree days are perfect for enjoying the desert surroundings. National Geographic ranks Phoenix as one of America’s best hiking cities, so lace up your boots and hit the trails in spots like Papago Park or the Cholla Trail. It’s no secret that the Valley of the Sun also has some of the nation’s best spas, such as the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, ranked in the top of Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best 2014 Awards. Phoenix is also well known for great golf and tennis at stunning facilities like The Boulders’ two award-winning courses, and the Scottsdale Tennis Resort at the Sanctuary, which offers championship courts, daily clinics, and customized instruction.
Taking advantage of fine fall weather to make summer seem longer is one way to turn back the hands of time. Another is to travel to another time and place where lords and ladies feast and make merry while jousters joust and jesters jest. Such are the events at the Texas Renaissance Festival near Houston. The festival runs weekends in October and November, with performers and artisans, special events, themed weekends, shopping and, of course, feasting! While the festival runs over two months, the highlight for many is the closing weekend’s Celtic Christmas celebration, marking the transition from fall to the holiday season over Thanksgiving weekend. There is on-site camping as well as hotels in nearby Magnolia, Texas, though it’s only about 90 minutes from Houston.
Key West, Florida
Jimmy Buffet sang about “changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes.” Sometimes that’s exactly what you need after a long, hot summer, and the Florida Keys are happy to oblige with perfect weather (afternoon highs are around 85 degrees in October) and plenty to do without the crush of summer tourism. Key West loves to party, and some of the best events are during the fall. Every October, Jimmy Buffet fans from around the world make the pilgrimage to the Keys for the Parrot Heads in Paradise “Meeting of the Minds.” Also in October, the Bahama Village of Key West hosts the Goombay Festival, which kicks off the fall’s biggest event, Fantasy Fest, a 10 day costume ball. In November, the Key West Film Festival takes center stage, though the focus in Key West is almost always on Duval Street and those sunny, sandy beaches.
Even late in the year, there is so much to do and truly so little time. These are some of our favorite fall destinations for hanging on to summer, but we’re anxious to hear yours! If you’ve been to any of these spots, or have other favorites to share, please let us know in the Comments!