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Of course, there’s nothing like a country drive through gorgeous fall foliage, but urban areas have their own autumnal charm. Imagine leaf kicking through Central Park, or sipping bourbon with a chill in the air in Louisville.
While the end of summer can often seem bittersweet, the fun doesn’t come to a screeching halt in most cities. As the temperatures begin to drop and the trees turn shades of bright yellow, burnt orange, and brilliant red, you’ll want to spend as much time as you can outside before hunkering down for winter. There's still music festivals and tailgating galore, plus Oktoberfest for city-dwellers in need of a pint.
From Halloween ghost tours in Savannah to chile harvest season in Santa Fe, here are the best American cities to visit in the fall.
The leaves start turning early in the resort towns outside Denver, but the city’s foliage takes center stage during October, when you can see it nicely from the Cherry Creek Regional Trail, or along the High Line Canal, lined with brilliant yellow cottonwood trees. Beer fans, however, might be forgiven for never noticing any trees. Fall here brings a chockablock lineup of sudsfests, including the Denver Oktoberfest and the Great American Beer Festival, featuring more than 2,000 different beers from 500 brewers.
Music City lives up to its nickname particularly well in fall, when it hosts events like September Sundown and Americanafest. Indeed, the biggest parties in Nashville increasingly reflect the city’s love affair with music and the outdoors. At the Bluebird on the Mountain Concert Series, guests are invited to one of the tallest hills in Nashville for live music and star gazing through the Dyer Observatory telescope under the fall night sky. And, as a reminder that not every lyrical turn of phrase in this town is belted out, the over 30-year-old Southern Festival of Books happens in October.
To see the best local foliage, hike up Bradbury Mountain, just outside town, or pedal your way around. After all, some exercise amid the changing leaves is a convenient way to rationalize all of the good eating to be done in this lobster-filled city. Dig in at October’s acclaimed foodie-palooza Harvest on the Harbor. Highlights include the tastings at Meet Your Maker featuring Maine Distillers Guild’s best, and the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition — where, happily, audience members get to taste and vote alongside professional judges.
For just one version of pastoral bliss in Central Park, head to the meadow by Belvedere Castle, which gets covered with red leaves from the black tupelo trees — or book a Central Park-facing room at the Mandarin Oriental New York. Heading downtown, explore a stretch of the High Line — the park space created out of old elevated rail tracks — between 30th and 34th Streets. Well into October, you can enjoy Colombian-style empanadas from Palenque or grab a latte from Hungry Ghost.
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It’s long been called the American Riviera, and, like its French cousin, this southern California enclave enjoys a tony summer season. But come fall, hotel prices plummet, with September typically having the cheapest rates. And you often get better weather in fall than summer anyway (which can be prey to foggy June Gloom). Given its proximity to the Santa Ynez Valley wineries, Santa Barbara also has an increasing number of grape-harvest-friendly tasting rooms. Check out Conway Family Wines, which sits on Stearns Wharf, right over the water.
A third of the world’s bourbon whiskey comes from this Kentucky city, and locals toast their output during September’s National Bourbon Heritage Month. You can celebrate all fall, however, along Louisville’s nearly 50-stop Urban Bourbon Trail. One stop is the Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant (open again as of October 2022), which serves over 160 bourbons. For a non-alcoholic stroll, check out the foliage in Iroquois Park (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for NYC’s Central Park), and stay until after dark during October, when the annual Jack -O’-Lantern Spectacular features 5,000 carved pumpkins.
The autumn months generally mean the lowest prices, thin crowds, and the chance to see bright foliage while hiking or driving along Big or Little Cottonwood canyons. The Utah State Fair happens in SLC in September — with its own rodeo — and the lederhosen-filled Oktoberfest lasts two months at Snowbird. And some years, there’s enough snow to ski here by Halloween.
There’s less humidity and fewer crowds in the Crescent City during fall, when the ever-festive vibe is channeled into such parties as September’s New Orleans Burlesque Festival, the Krewe of Boo Halloween parade in October, and the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival in November. Fall also means the return of the near-religious fervor for Saints football: before home games, you can join black-and-gold-festooned locals at Champions Square, a public space right next to the Superdome, for live music, tailgating cuisine, and friendly Who Dat revelry.
While plenty of locals happily pedal around town during the depths of winter, for most people, fall is the last hurrah for bicycling and jogging around the lakes. After, enjoy one of the various Twin Cities festivals that happen through the autumnal season. There’s the Minneapolis Monarch Festival celebrating butterfly migration in September, and the Twin Cities Book Festival and Twin Cities Film Fest in October. To prove that you’re as hardy as the locals, go watch the Minnesota Vikings play at U.S. Bank Stadium.
A certain back-to-school excitement fills the air in Boston, even if you’re not signed up for American Lit this fall. Beloved bookstores like Brookline Booksmith and Harvard Book Store have an uptick in readings and events. To catch the best of the local foliage in the early fall, walk through Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, in Jamaica Plain.
If you want to bring your preschoolers to the theme parks — or just ride Space Mountain over and over, without any kids in tow — the beginning of the school year is the prime time to come to Orlando, when prices dwindle just like the lines. The city is more than just turnstiles, however. Check out the ever-expanding dining scene in downtown and Winter Park. You’ll find artisanal pies and Lowcountry shrimp-and-grits at The Coop (opened by the chef behind local favorite 4 Rivers Smokehouse) and Creole-style pimento cheese grits at Boca.
If the Windy City has a sweet spot for weather, it’s during the early autumn months, when the cool air clearly makes people feel like dancing. September kicks things off with the World Music Festival, the punk-powered Riot Fest, and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. For an eclectic experience, try the North Coast Music Festival which features various electronic music genres alongside art installations and food.
This is the time of year to take a “summer vacation” to the Bay Area. While the actual summer months are chilly and foggy, fall tends to be warm and sunny. That makes it all the better for enjoying the diverse mix of events, from the irresistible Ghiradelli Chocolate Festival to the races at the San Francisco Dragon Boat Championships. The only possible pitfall during autumn: rates (especially at business hotels) can be higher, since it’s peak season for conferences.
By fall, temperatures have finally drifted out of the triple-digit range, and the locals are ready to whoop it up outside: The party lineup includes Oktoberfest, the post-Halloween Day of the Dead, and the Tasting Texas Wine and Food Festival. Thanks to the River Walk’s Mission Reach portion, you can also hike, rent bicycles, or kayak along the San Antonio River. It’s a convenient way to burn calories if you come for November’s Wurstfest, a 10-day celebration of all things sausage in nearby New Braunfels.
Sure, the midnight sun has set — but so have the highest prices, and most of the cruise-ship-layover tourists. Unlike many small Alaska towns, Anchorage doesn’t close up shop just because summer is over. Early fall usually means there are still berries to be picked on the city’s Flattop Mountain, or you can take the Alaska Railroad up to Talkeetna to see the foliage (and perhaps better views of Denali). As leaves fall, it’s also easier to spot moose and Dall sheep that may have been playing coy behind the branches. And by night, you can start seeing the northern lights.
After its boisterous boardwalk party (the Neptune Festival) ends in late September, this resort city with 38 miles of shoreline quiets down. Unless, that is, you’re a bird or a striped bass. The big fish are biting in droves in the Chesapeake Bay during the fall, and the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers a perch for watching migrating ducks and snow geese — thousands of them. Another perk of the off-season: you can saddle up with Virginia Beach Horseback for riding tours on the sand.
Come fall, the Rhode Island capital turns on the perfect mix of pastoral and urbane charms. While blazing foliage lights up the daytime, WaterFire — the bonfires that line the city’s rivers — illuminates the evenings through early November. Autumn also brings some quirky entertainment: Providence hosts the Vortex Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Film Festival, and Steel Yard does an “Iron Pour” around Halloween, turning steel working into live performance art.
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Against a pretty backdrop of leaves, the spooky sights of this infamously haunted city swing into high gear during fall. Take your pick from Blue Orb’s City of the Dead Tour, sips at Moon River Brewing Company, known as the most haunted place in town, and the mysterious knocks and thumps inside haunted hotels like 17Hundred90 Inn, supposedly inhabited by the spirit of a jilted servant. Nervous Nellies might prefer to focus on Savannah’s mix of culinary festivals, like the Blues, Brews, BBQ, and Bourbon festival in late October.
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Fall is good news for Portland’s locavore menus: Plenty of salmon are swimming in the Columbia River, and butternut squash and heirloom tomatoes are falling off the vines. Try one of the remixed Singaporean and Malaysian street food dishes at Oma’s Hideaway from husband-wife team Thomas and Mariah Pisha-Duffly. It’s also fresh hop season for beer, when brewers use newly harvested hops, which taste distinctly different than the dried hops employed the rest of the year. You can sample some excellent results at Hopworks.
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Plenty of surfers insist that autumn is the best time to catch a wave in San Diego, when south swells mix with the season’s warm Santa Ana winds. In November, the Del Mar Racetrack — where the turf meets the surf, as Bing Crosby used to sing — opens its annual horse-racing season. That same month, you can sample acclaimed local craft brews at San Diego Beer Week.
You know it’s chile harvest season in this southwestern city by the smell of roasted peppers emanating from roadside stands. One great place to try them, in a non-taco format: gastropub Fire & Hops, which tops its poutine with bacon, green chile, and white gravy. In early October, it’s a quick drive to hike the foliage-lined Aspen Vista trail, about 14 miles from downtown, or take in the “hot air” at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.