14 Beaches That Are Better in the Fall
Who says beach season ends on Labor Day? Once September hits, beach destinations around the country experience a drop in tourists and prices, even as temperatures stay balmy. Here's where to hit the beach this fall.
South Padre Island, Texas
Looking for the best fall weekend getaway? Autumn just may be the best time to explore Texas’s popular beach destination of South Padre Island. The unbearable heat of summer has cooled just slightly to temps in the 80s, still perfect for swimming and beach-going. Hotels are relaxing their prices, snowbirds have yet to descend for the winter, and the rowdy spring break crowds are long gone. Plus, visitors can’t miss October’s Sand Castle Days, an epic sand-sculpting event that highlights the beach’s power-soft white sand. The family-friendly festival features live music, art booths, and yummy food—and best of all, it’s free. Stay at the Best Western Beachside Inn for well under $100 a night.
Huntington Beach, South Carolina
This glorious stretch of coast on the Palmetto State’s Grand Strand is even lovelier in fall: less humid, clear skies, still-warm water, and low rates. Stroll along the three miles of coastline in Huntington Beach State Park, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the place all to yourself. If you’ve never experienced the pure bliss of being on a deserted beach with nothing but the sound of the waves and the birds to keep you company, head here this autumn. Then, stop by the education center to learn about the marshes of the Low Country (and even spot some alligators), or visit the ruins of the Moorish-style mansion Atalaya. Visit at the end of September to catch the Atalaya Arts & Crafts Festival. Stay nearby at The Oceanfront Litchfield Inn.
Newport, Rhode Island
The well-deserved hype about this luxe location, with its Gilded-Age mansions (including Rhode Island’s entry in the most famous house in every state, the Breakers) and swanky restaurants, make it cost-prohibitive and crowded in the summer months. But in-the-know travelers will tell you that fall is actually the better season to come to this seaside destination, even if a sweater may be required for a stroll along lovely Easton’s Beach (aka First Beach) at the start of Newport’s dramatic Cliff Walk. September also offers the Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival; October brings the Norman Bird Sanctuary Harvest Fair and the Bowen’s Wharf Seafood Festival. Although still a splurge, fall rooms at Gurney’s Newport Resort and Marina are currently going for almost a quarter below their average rate.
Lincoln City, Oregon
The miles of rugged coastline of Lincoln City are an outdoor lover’s paradise in fall, especially with migrating gray whales stopping by for a visit on their way south. The temperate climate of the Oregon coast keeps the weather comfortable through much of autumn; the sea temperature may even warm up a few degrees in September, offering great surfing—with a wet suit, of course. Explore the tide pools, comb the beach for natural treasures, and cuddle up in front of a bonfire (allowed on the beach) to watch the sunset. Then, gear up for the Fall Kite Festival in early October: The pastime is a time-honored tradition in Lincoln City, where the wide, flat beach offers perfect kite-flying conditions. Stay just steps from the sand at Pelican Shores Inn.
Siesta Key, Florida
The kids are back in school, the bugs have backed off, and Siesta Key on Florida’s Gulf coast near Sarasota becomes one of the best season travel destinations. Relax on any of the island’s beaches: Siesta Beach, Turtle Beach (aptly named as fall travelers catch turtle nesting season, which runs through October), or Crescent Beach, where the “Point of Rocks” formations offer excellent snorkeling and diving. Plus, late fall visitors get to explore the Crystal Classic in mid-November, an international sand-sculpting competition with creations molded out of the island’s famous white quartz sand. Stay close to Crescent Beach at Tropical Beach Resorts.
La Jolla, California
Warm temps make this Southern Californian community, part of San Diego, a perfect place to keep an endless summer going strong in fall. Pronounced “La Hoy-a,” it’s one of the 10 place names you’ve been pronouncing all wrong. The area has miles of beaches including La Jolla Shores, a laid-back one-mile stretch of sand with gentle waves next to San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve. La Jolla Cove, within the park, boasts clear water, a pristine underwater environment, and thriving marine life, making it a prime snorkel spot. Visitors can also kayak to sea caves, and look for sea lions and seals. Check out the La Jolla Art and Wine Festival in mid-October, and stay at the boutique Empress Hotel.
The Crystal Coast, North Carolina
The beaches of the Crystal Coast, the southernmost part of the Outer Banks, includes North Carolina’s entry in the best beach in every state, Emerald Isle. And in the fall, the area welcomes prime surf-fishing season, as migrating drum fish swim by. Pier and inshore fishing are popular in fall as well. Anglers can enjoy a number of tournaments along the coast, including the First Annual Emerald Isle Fishing Tournament in September, and the Gordie McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament, and Cape Lookout Albacore and Redfish Festival in October. Not into fishing? Visitors can also take in the Crystal Coast‘s namesake clear waters, natural beauty, and wildlife including hatching sea turtles, dolphins, and wild horses. Stay at the Beaufort Hotel in the quaint town of Beaufort, North Carolina (not to be confused with Beaufort, South Carolina).
North Fork, Long Island
North of the swanky Hamptons, the lesser-known North Fork offers more than 60 vineyards and 30 wineries in the fall harvest season, plus stroll-worthy beaches, a thriving food scene, and picturesque lighthouses that make for a cozy fall getaway. Hop on a bike and peruse the local farm stands, then take the goods to a picnic on the sand at Orient Beach State Park. Or, enjoy a fall festival, including the 30th Annual East End Maritime Festival in Greenport. Although it’s still peak season in autumn, avoid the crowds during a mid-week escape with an affordable stay at The Blue Inn at North Fork.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
As summer high season winds down, a new crispness comes to the air on Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, one of the 12 best island vacations to take without leaving the country. Although the beaches are rocky, it’s hard to beat the beauty of the natural landscape and the blue-green water. Take a sunrise kayak trip to see the autumn light reflect off the clear water, go for a walk along the coastline, and then enjoy the fall foliage in Mackinac Island State Park. And because there are no cars on Mackinac, visitors can truly unwind, traveling by foot, bike, or on horseback, with few other tourists to crowd you in autumn. The island’s Women’s Wellness Weekend in October makes a great girls’ getaway as well. Room rates at lovely inns such as the Island House Hotel also drop way down in fall.
Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May doesn’t just have some of the best beaches in the world—blissfully uncrowded in autumn—but birders will tell you it’s also one of the best places to see fall bird migrations in the world. Hawks, waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds all use the spot at a stopover before making the flight over Delaware Bay on their way south. Bird enthusiasts can check out NJ Audubon’s Fall Birding Festival in Cape May in October, and bring their binoculars to Cape May Point State Park. Not into birds? Monarch butterflies make the fall migration here as well. Stay at the boutique beachfront hotel Icona Cape May.
Kohala Coast, the Big Island, Hawaii
There’s no reason to wait until high season (December to March) to visit this tropical paradise: The weather is great, the summer crowds are gone, and the prices are low in fall. In addition, the water off the island’s many gorgeous beaches, including Hapuna Beach and the Kohala Coast on the island’s west side, remains calmer before the big waves of winter’s surfing season. Although the rainy season starts up in November, visitors early in the month can catch the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. If you want to stay at an oceanfront property, check out the savings at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. But first, find out the 11 things to know before you book that Hawaii vacation.
Orange Beach, Alabama
Gulf Shores’ more mellow cousin gets even mellower in fall once the kids have gone back to school. The steamy Southern weather isn’t quite so stifling but still remains warm for swimming—at least into October—and hotel prices drop as well. Spread out along this stunning stretch of white sand without other tourists to cramp your style, and enjoy more comfortable temps for off-beach activities such as golf, biking, or nature walks in Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. Late fall visitors can enjoy the 35th annual Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival, which welcomes aspiring musicians in mid-November. Get a great fall rate and easy beach access at the Best Western Premier Tides Hotel.
With miles upon miles of beaches, Nantucket might seem like just a summer spot. After all, this island off Cape Cod does have one of the most beautiful seaside towns in America. But getting a table at a great restaurant in peak season can be hard time to come by, and hotel prices are sky-high. Fall offers a more easygoing time to visit this in-demand destination, so you can actually enjoy it without the sticker shock. Fall Restaurant Week in late September/early October offers patrons the chance to sample scrumptious fare at reduced prices. Autumn activities on the island also include start of scallop season with “family scalloping,” a Nantucket tradition in which non-commercial harvesters with a permit can gather their own in October; and the Cranberry Festival, in which you can actually don some waders and harvest berries in the bog. Then, head to Madaket Beach to enjoy the sunset. We found slashed rates at the Brass Lantern Inn.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia is for dog lovers in the fall: The restrictions on locations and times for pets are relaxed, allowing furry friends to play on the beach off-leash and walk the boardwalk on a leash all day long. And although the summer crowds have died down, late September’s Neptune Festival keeps things going with live music, an arts and crafts show, sand sculpting, a parade, a volleyball tournament, and a regatta. In October, brew lovers can check out the Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival. Plus, visitors can get great fall rates at hotels like the Comfort Suites Beachfront.