Travel

6 Boston-Area Beach Towns That Are Actually Better in the Fall

Seaside vistas and seafood feasts-all with no tourists in sight.

Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock
Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock
Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock

Don’t get us wrong, Boston’s nearby beaches are great and all, but the sandy shores are not exactly a peaceful respite during the bustling summer months. There’s the traffic, the long lines, the tourists, and the stressed-out service industry folks. Fall, however, is really where it’s at. The ocean temps peak in September, the air is temperate, hotels start introducing cheaper rates, and crowds have thinned to manageable levels. Plus, you have more of an excuse to check out all those indoor attractions you avoid when the sun is out!

From cozy getaways on the coast of Maine to other escapes all around New England, don’t forget about our nearby beach towns when dreaming about fall travel. We’ve rounded up six seaside getaways that get even better as fall rolls around, so you can take advantage of gorgeous views and the freshest seafood-no tourists in sight.

Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock
Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock
Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock

Kennebunkport, Maine

There’s a reason Kennebunkport calls itself “the place to be all year”-but fall is really the region’s time to shine. Let’s start with the beaches. The waves are higher and the crowds scarcer, but the water is about as warm as it gets all year during the early months of fall. Hit up Goose Rocks Beach for the full photogenic experience, then head to The Tides Inn for a garden cocktail. If you crave more sand, head over to Gooch’s Beach for the dog walkers (dogs are allowed on the beaches all day long in the off-season), or the smaller Mother’s Beach to join the evening swimmers. And you can pick up your autumnal mums and decorative gourds at either Wallingford Farm or Snug Harbor Farm.

What to eat: On top of seasonal classics like The Clam Shack, Mabel’s Claw, Nunan’s, and Arundel Wharf (all open through mid-October), you can now make your leisurely way through new four-season gems like Wandby Landing and Via Sophia by the Sea-and Earth at Hidden Pond is now open year-round as well. Be sure to save drinking room for a cocktail or two at the new Rabbit Hole, which boasts the latest hours in town (open until midnight!).

Where to stay: The Wanderer is the area’s newest hotel offering and is, in a word, divine: 17 freestanding cottages decked out in surf-inspired decor with a pool, a fire pit, and bocce on the grounds-and they’re having a great fall sale (did we mention the property is adults-only?). For indoor folks, there are newer spots like the Kennebunkport Captain’s Collection and AWOL KPT, plus the brand-new White Sails Inn. And here’s a little secret: Just a few miles away from downtown KPT, Lincoln Hotel is a gorgeous new boutique hotel one town over in Biddeford, which is fast becoming a hot dining destination (and Biddeford Pool Beach is a hidden gem).

Danita Delimont/Shutterstock
Danita Delimont/Shutterstock
Danita Delimont/Shutterstock

Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Fall means no more beach-sticker agony-you’re free to park anywhere you wish. Dip a toe in one of the kettle ponds or go full bore at Cahoon Hollow Beach (insert requisite shark warning here). Once the crowds are at bay for the season, the region hosts its marquee event: What is perhaps the area’s marquee event: Oysterfest. It’s back from October 15-16 in its full, glorious form this year for the first time since the pandemic. Nearby Truro Vineyards stays open year-round for tastings and is hosting its annual Vinegrass Festival on October 2. And the drive-in may be closed, but the flea market goes strong through Indigenous Peoples Day. End a day with the essential walk across Uncle Tim’s Bridge to take a foliage hike in Hamblen Park.

Where to eat: While some beloved dining institutions close right after Labor Day (sniff, Beachcomber, sniff), Mac’s Shack stays open through the end of October, prix-fixe gem Ceraldi seats diners through October 15, and spots like The Bookstore and Restaurant and Winslow’s Tavern are open year-round.

Where to stay: The Wagner at Duck Creek is a refreshed boutique hotel that combines classic Cape comforts with some higher-end touches. The Holden Inn, a no-frills but charming throwback in the middle of town, is open until mid-October.

solepsizm/Shutterstock
solepsizm/Shutterstock
solepsizm/Shutterstock

Newport, Rhode Island

After your umpteenth shuffle along the Cliff Walk or two-hour crawl down Bellevue Avenue, you tend to get a little tired of Newport’s summer masses. But when said masses dissipate, the whole area suddenly feels accessible. You can take your time at The Tennis Hall of Fame or iconic mansions like The Breakers and Marble House. Take a schooner cruise of the harbour (there’s no better way to enjoy the changing leaves than from the ocean), or get fully immersed in the water with a last dip at Easton’s Beach. If you’re feeling peppy, take some surfing lessons in nearby Narragansett with Warm Wind-they provide wetsuits once the temps drop.

Where to eat: For starters, fried clams at Flo’s are a must. If you want the full Bowen’s Wharf experience, get drinks at Wharf Pub before dinner at Fluke. Or head to the patio at The Reef, which is equipped with fire pits and breathtaking sunset views. If you wait until Restaurant Week, which runs from November 4-13, you can check out as many spots as possible for a lesser price.

Where to stay: Now’s the time to check into the newly opened Chart House Inn-the seven-room inn will inevitably sell out in summer. For a party and epic sunsets, book a room at Gurney’s and be sure to pet the goats. Or go completely nuts and splurge for a night at Castle Hill Inn-after all, it’s where the Real Housewives stayed! Oh, and they also have cozy fire pits for s’mores on the lawn.

mchipokas/Shutterstock
mchipokas/Shutterstock
mchipokas/Shutterstock

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Post-Labor Day, the island resets to its original pleasures, like bucolic beaches and accessible, first-rate restaurants. And of course, scallop season begins October 1. Bike to Siasconset Beach without fear of a rental Jeep plowing you down, then do the indoor things you’d never bother with in summer, like visits to the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum and Whaling Museum. Luxuriate at an actual table at Cisco Brewers. New this year is the Nantucket Harvest Fair from October 1-2, a marriage of the Cranberry Fest and the Island Fair.

Where to eat: Call for reservations at Straight Wharf or Topper’s without fear of being laughed at. Or, The Whale lets dogs into its dining room and has the perfect Sunday brunch menu-and patio views. Sister Ship, a relative newcomer, sources the bulk of its ingredients from New England farmers and purveyors. And Brotherhood of Thieves is now a four-concept destination spot, with a beer garden, a whiskey bar, the original restaurant, and a surfer bar (think sushi and tacos).

Where to stay: Faraway, one of the newest boutique offerings, charms with nautical decor and a stunning courtyard. The spiffed-up Nantucket Hotel & Resort-topic of the latest Elin Hilderbrand novel-is a rare year-round resort that fully embraces the season with fire pit fondue, a hot cocktail hour, and an inviting hot tub.

FotoKina/Shutterstock
FotoKina/Shutterstock
FotoKina/Shutterstock

Provincetown, Massachusetts

P-town is the prime off-peak destination: The restaurants and bars are accessible, the shop owners can stop and chat, and the dunes are gorgeous in the autumn light. Check out the fall lineup at the Provincetown Theater. Clear your home so that you can refurnish it at the Monumental Yard Sale (October 8-10). Start sewing your costume for the epic Halloween weekend and the annual Black and Gold Ball. And prepare to do some serious shopping: prices start dropping in all your favourite Commercial Street boutiques this month, which usually go into fire-sale mode in October.

Where to eat: Plan a visit around Cape Cod Restaurant Week (October 8-14), or just book a last-minute table at Jimmy’s Hideaway. There’s never a bad time to visit The Canteen, but in the fall you’ll actually get an outside seat. Same goes for the Red Inn-no guilt as you lounge in one of your adirondacks facing the ocean, enjoying the famous raw bar happy hour.

Where to stay: The new Mercury Hotel is funky and cozy at the same time. Now’s the time to rent that waterside cottage you can’t even pretend to swing in July (we’re always suckers for Captain Jack’s Wharf, open until October 10). AWOL gives you those stunning water views and the serenity that comes with the West End.

Firefly_NewEngland/Shutterstock
Firefly_NewEngland/Shutterstock
Firefly_NewEngland/Shutterstock

Ogunquit, Maine

The crowds were out of control in Ogunquit this summer, but sanity lies ahead. Book your plans now for Ogunquifest Weekend (October 21-23). The Ogunquit Museum is the most beautiful gallery you don’t hear enough about; the sculpture garden overlooking the ocean is alone worth a visit. At the famed Footbridge Bridge, savour the autumn colours reflecting off the water surface. And Marginal Way is a lot more enjoyable when the crowds have thinned and you can take in unencumbered views.

Where to eat: The best restaurant in town, MC Perkins Cove, is open for bookings through the end of October. Northern Union is the wine bar of your dreams and stays open year-round. Barnacle Billy’s is the perennial favourite for lobster and calms down a bit come fall (it’s open until the end of October). And while there’s almost always a line at Flo’s Hot Dogs, it gets more manageable once the temperatures drop.

Where to stay: The Cliff House is your splurge. Think s’mores at the firepits, lobstering trips, seasonally inspired meals at The Tiller, treatments at the 9,000-square-foot spa on rainy days, and the indulgence of a suite that hangs over the Atlantic and includes a soaking tub and multiple terraces. Beyond that, the Meadowmere Resort places you just a few blocks away from the water and offers some great fall specials.

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Meaghan Agnew is a Thrillist contributor.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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