Fall break will be here before we know it, which means you have a great opportunity to sneak away — be it near or far — for a little respite before gearing up for the holidays, which inevitably follow. The SB team has collectively done their fair share of traveling, and we bring you some of our favorite fall break destinations to help you get your travel planning started.
Liza Graves’ Picks (StyleBlueprint Cofounder)
Redwood National Park
Travel time: You need five days — one day on both sides to travel (if you are traveling from east of the Mississippi) and three days to be there.
Overview: The Redwood National Park is the best fall break trip my family has ever taken. As we live in Nashville, TN, the trip to get there is l-o-n-g. In fact, when we landed at the San Francisco airport, I started to apologize to my entire family as we still had a six-hour drive in front of us. That said, at the end of the trip, we all said that we’d happily do it again as it was that good. Nothing compares. At the time, our kids were 8, 11 and 13.
The temperatures spanned from the mid-40s to mid-60s, and activities included hiking, biking, horseback riding and sitting on a Northern California beach. On the recommendation from an article in National Geographic, we stayed at Elk Meadow Cabins, which are located directly in the middle of the park. You’ll need to bring your own groceries as eating out is not an option. (There are grocery stores on the drive in, so do not worry.) You’ll get to experience several eco-systems, just miles apart from each other, and trees so large that they will bring tears to your eyes. It was the most spiritual experience that nature has ever given me.
The most surprising adventure? Fern Canyon. The entire trip is worth it just to hike down this creek with 40-foot walls, covered in ferns from top to bottom, and take it all in. Plus, it’s walking distance from the beach, which likely will have elk roaming on it!
To find out about the entire trip, see the article I wrote about it here.
North Carolina Mountains
Travel time: You need three days if you are traveling from the east coast, Midwest or Southeast. You can drive or fly into Asheville, NC.
Overview: The Smoky Mountains offer gorgeous views year-round, but fall is pretty dramatic. The sky is a deeper blue, and the trees are just bursting with color. All of my fall-break experiences in the North Carolina mountains have taken place in Haywood or Jackson counties, in the towns of Waynesville and Sylva, which both offer several options for dining, shopping and activities, and Balsam, which is a residential community between Waynesville and Sylva. Balsam only has cabins, with no commercial business — although there is the Balsam Mountain Inn, a historic inn with a restaurant. There are plenty of cabins to rent as many families only use their cabins in the summer. We’ve been to this area with our kids since they were babies.
Activities include kayaking, golf, hiking, festivals, rodeos, concerts and more. For me, I go to the mountains for a low-key break, so we’re talking card games, long walks and books to read. We also drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and find hikes that are 2-3 hours long. We almost always take food to picnic at one of the overlooks on the Parkway, Waterrock Knob, and then do the steep hike adjacent to the picnic area afterward.
The temperatures can dip into the 30s at night and are generally in the 50s and 60s during the day, so pack extra layers. If you rent a cabin, try to get one with a fireplace as the temperature is perfect for roasting marshmallows and reading by the fire.
If you dine in Waynesville, which is in Haywood County, I suggest Church Street Depot for one of the best burgers you’ve ever had, Haywood Smokehouse for delicious barbeque options and the best green beans anywhere, Panacea for coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich (eat out back next to the creek) and then Clyde’s, a diner that has been there forever, for breakfast and a slice of coconut cream pie that is worth every calorie.
A popular place to stay in Waynesville is The Swag. And just down the road in Maggie Valley, you may want to check out Cataloochee Guest Ranch. (Read our review of Cataloochee Guest Ranch here.) For a full rundown of things to do in Jackson County, check out our article here.
New York City
Travel time: To give justice to NYC, give yourself at least three nights.
Overview: A couple of years ago we went to New York City for fall break, and it was amazing. Every meal was a “best ever” because that is what NYC delivers. We saw a show, walked the High Line, went to the One World Observatory and more. Our kids were 11, 14 and 16.
If you have more than two children, or you simply don’t want your kids sleeping in the same room as you, NYC gets extremely expensive. After looking at several Airbnb’s, but wanting to have the option of a lobby bathroom if we needed it (5 people!), we found just what we need at The Benjamin in Midtown. This hotel has suite-style accommodations, with a kitchenette, at prices that aren’t much more than a single room at most NYC hotels. We paid for an extra cot to be in the room, and it worked out nicely.
Tips: 1) Schedule a tour through Context Tours. We scheduled one on the revolutionary history of Lower Manhattan and everyone was fascinated. We ended at the One World Observatory just in time for lunch. From there, we spent time in the museum and taking in the emotions of 9/11. 2) See a show. We got our tickets last minute through TKTS, which is a walk-up booth and offers half price tickets to Broadway shows. We ended up seeing The King and I. No, it wasn’t Hamilton, but it was pretty great nonetheless! 3) Walk the High Line. It’s so worthwhile and your kids will love all the picture-taking opportunities. 3) If you have a child interested in huge war ships, see The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum at Pier 86. 4) Walk through Greenwich Village (we followed this walking tour from the New York Times), and if you have time, eat pizza at Keste Pizza & Vino. 5) If you end up on the Upper West Side, eat at RedFarm, a fresh and modern Chinese restaurant. Order lots as you’ll eat every last bite. 6) See the American Musuem of Natural History. 7) Make a point to use the bus system, the subway and whatever taxi/Lyft you want. It makes the whole adventure more fun!
Elizabeth Fox’s Picks (StyleBlueprint Cofounder)
Amelia Island’s proximity to the Jacksonville Airport makes it a prime destination for a quick weekend away for fall break. Another plus is that Southwest Airlines has tons of flights in and out of Jacksonville, decreasing your travel expenses dramatically. If you are lucky, you will find affordable rates at the Ritz Carlton/Amelia Island or the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. There are a number of other hotels in Fernandina Beach if you want a more affordable place to stay. Some suggestions are the Hampton Inn/Amelia Island or Residence Inn at Amelia Island.
Amelia Island attracts tourists from all over because of the gorgeous beaches and impressive golf courses. What’s great about staying at The Ritz is that it’s all there, from their five star restaurant Salt, to paddle boarding on the beach. Where Amelia Island is all beach, Fernandina Beach, just a 15-minute drive north, offers lots of local history, great restaurants and plenty of things to do. Once you get to town, park your car and stroll through town. Joe’s Bistro on Second Street is a local favorite. You can savor a special moment enjoying dinner by the fountain in the New Orleans-inspired courtyard. Known for their low country cooking, you will only find fresh seafood and fresh local ingredients. Another favorite is Cucina South. The owner, John May, spent enough time at The Ritz-Carlton to understand great food and wine. He then went on to open one of Fernandina Beach’s most popular restaurants. On a recent visit, I dined at Espana, a restaurant known for Old World Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. Espana prepares their paella in a traditional way, even importing their pans from Spain. If you adore fresh seafood, fresh herbs and interesting spices, you won’t go wrong at Espana.
If you want to take a deep dive into all the fun things to do in the area, go to this site, Amelia Island Tourism. There you will find information on canoeing on St. Marys River, kayaking on the saltwater marshes between Big and Little Talbot Islands, sailing off the beaches, watching dolphins swim alongside the boat and horseback riding on the beach. Have fun in one of the most beautiful places in the United States.
Until my recent visit to Austin, I didn’t get the phrase “Keep Austin Weird.” It is such a Texas concept as we all know that Texans have always secretly wanted to secede from the lower 48. What locals are saying is that they want the uniqueness of Austin to stay intact and send a message — Outsiders beware, this is our town! It’s an admirable idea and pretty hard to accomplish, but Austin is holding its own with lots of local color.
Here are some things that you can expect when you visit Austin: Incredible Tex-Mex food, a music scene that rivals anywhere in the United States, and funky, vintage neon signs galore!
Some hotels to consider are the South Congress Hotel, The Driskill or the Four Seasons/Austin. The first two, South Congress Hotel and The Driskill, are historic and truly lovely. The Four Seasons has beautiful views overlooking Lady Bird Lake.
Don’t miss the original Chuy’s in Barton Springs if you like Tex Mex. There are a number of Chuy’s around the country, but this one is as authentic as it gets. If you’ve never had good Tex Mex, then this is a place to try. Two other places to put on your short list are Scholz Garden and Threadgill’s. Scholtz Garden opened in 1866 and serves classic German cuisine. Threadgill’s serves up old time cookin’at its best. The LA Times got it right when they said, “Threadgill’s was Austin’s first theme restaurant, and it’s theme was Austin.”
For live music, we hit Saxon’s Pub with a vengeance and had a good ol’ Texas hoedown. It is like walking back in time with a mix of good ol’ boys wearing cowboy boots and hats with classic bands. Not sure they wanted us to dance, but we did anyway. The Continental Club is a dive to behold and is known for its live music, too. If you want another twist, try Shakespeares, located on Sixth Avenue in the heart of Austin. There you will find views of downtown and the Frost Bank Tower and over 45 beer selections.
Austin’s greenway along the River is one of the gems of the city. Not only does it go for miles, but unlike so many greenways, you can stop to kayak or grab a cold beer. There are some fairly steep hills, so don’t hit the cold brews too much. We headed to Barton Springs later in the day, which is simply gorgeous and provides year-round swimming at about 68-70 degrees. A fun fact is that Robert Redford learned to swim here while visiting family when he was 5 years old. If you’re not exhausted, head to the campus at University of Texas. It is literally smack dab in the middle of the action. Austin keeps on giving as one of the most unique places in America.
Ashley Haugen’s Picks (StyleBlueprint Managing Editor)
Key West, FL
A visit to Key West is ideal any time of year, and fall is no exception. You can either fly into Miami, rent a car and make the 3.5-hour drive to Key West, or you can fly directly into Key West and rent a car or take a taxi to your accommodations. Speaking of, there are plenty of options for where to stay, but I recommend renting a house that has a pool out back, which many do. You’ll have the comforts of home, including a kitchen, which is ideal to save money on dining out. Try to book one near the heart of Key West, which is Duval Street.
Lined with shops and restaurants, Duval Street is bustling all day, every day. The 1.25-mile street runs the span of Key West and offers plenty of opportunities to eat, drink, shop and watch the people and the feral chickens. For a more toned-down agenda, check out the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, where you can move among some of the most beautiful creatures — butterflies, turtles and quail — you’ll ever see. Bibliophiles will enjoy a visit to the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, where the famous author spent more than a decade writing. You can explore the grounds and mingle with the more than 40 six-toed cats that reside there. Historians will want to check out Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, which was built in the mid-1800s to guard the U.S. coastline. If you enjoy casting a line, rent poles from Key West Bait & Tackle and charter a boat or fish off the pier. When in Key West, ogling the buskers down by the pier at night is a must! Sort of like a sideshow circus, each of these performers brings a different type of talent, and they amaze audiences of all ages. And lastly, do not leave without catching a sunset from atop the La Concha Hotel & Spa. Head to the rooftop bar, grab a drink and then head outside to watch one of the most amazing views you’ll ever see.
When in Key West, a few restaurants need to be on your radar — Blue Heaven for a cerveza and a casual meal, Eaton Street Seafood Market for the best lobster roll you’ll ever taste, the James Beard award-winning Sarabeth’s for the best fried chicken ever (which is only available on Sundays, so plan accordingly!), and Nine One Five, where waiting for a balcony table that overlooks Duval Street is well worth it. And make sure you order a cone of fries — again, the best you will ever taste!
To learn more and start planning a visit to Key West, click here.
It goes without saying that a fall break in Destin is a winner. In fact, it’s the perfect time to visit this vacation hotspot. The temps are ideal, the water is still warm from the summer sun, and the crowds are considerably smaller with everyone back in school. Book a room at The Henderson Beach & Spa Resort, and you’ll enjoy not only luxurious amenities and close proximity to the beach, but you’ll also have plenty of activities to keep you busy — rent a paddleboard or kayak and take the seas. Or stay on land with a bike rental. Nearby, you can enjoy a little retail therapy at Harbor Walk Village, Silver Sands outlets, Destin Commons or Grand Boulevard Shopping. Visit the Village at Baytowne Wharf for an afternoon — there are plenty of activities, shopping and dining to keep the whole family entertained. Or book a fishing trip or dolphin-watching tour. There are several options available — Southern Star Dolphin Cruises always gets rave reviews. Do a little swimming or sunbathing on the shores of the Henderson Beach State Park, or take to the trails for a little hiking. And parasailing and jetski rentals are a guaranteed good time as well, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to sign up for either. Start your Destin planning here.
5 More Great Fall Break Destinations
There are so many other amazing options for fall break. Here are a few honorable mentions to consider:
Enjoy your fall break wherever your travels take you!
Find even more great travel destinations, tips and more in our “Travel” section. CLICK HERE!