“Autumn in New York, why does it seem so inviting?” It’s tough to argue with that sentiment, especially when it’s delivered by way of Billie Holiday’s epochal, melancholic timbre. If there’s ever a time when New York transcends its already esteemed, almost mythical status, it’s the fall. The leaves are turning and change is in the air. The haze of summer’s adventures slowly kindle into nostalgia, and exciting holidays are on the horizon. Perhaps most importantly, the weather is finally palatable—sandwiched in between summer’s oppressive sauna-like, trash pile-cooking heat; and winter’s face-stinging, filthy snow bank-accumulating cold—is about a month of near perfect temperatures. But, if like me you’ve delayed your summer travels to avoid the price gouging and hordes of school kids, your wanderlust (yes I said it) is probably imminently approaching critical levels, and you’re in need of a weekend getaway. Luckily for us there’s a whole host of options for a September sojourn. So here’s a quick run-down of some top picks I’ve amassed while dreaming my way through Google Maps.
Given its excellent proximity-to-beauty ratio, this should be a mainstay for every resident of the Big Apple. I’m planning to visit in October so hopefully this won’t inspire too many people, overrunning the trails with Tri-I scientists. At a mere two hours drive from the city, the Catskill Mountains boast some of New York State’s most magnificent scenery, which comes all the more alive during the fall foliage season. Hiking forms the bread and butter of any trip to the region, with trails like Slide Mountain and Indian Head providing jaw-dropping views to those willing to put in the miles. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, Hunter Mountain is home to North America’s longest, fastest zipline, which can even be traversed under cover of starlight, on the Night Zip Tour. As far as accommodation goes, the Catskills are home to several quaint Bed and Breakfasts that start as low as $105 a night—at the slightly eerily named Twilight Lodge—ranging to $225 at the more upscale, regal sounding Clark House (get it?). For those wanting to truly get back to nature, New York State has kindly provided several campsites, such as North-South Lake and Devil’s Tombstone, generally running in the region of $15-25 per night. For something in the middle, try an AirBnB such as this one, conveniently located above an upscale pizza joint.
Very slightly further afield (just under three hours drive, or five hours on the train) is the idyllic seaside village of Mystic. Yes that’s right, the Mystic of Mystic Pizza fame. The restaurant really exists, although the movie wasn’t actually shot there. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive stature (the village’s population sits at just over 4,000 people), there are plenty of adventures to be had here, primarily nautical in nature. Mystic is home to the largest maritime museum in New England—the famed Mystic Seaport—where landlubbers can try out their sea legs on historic colonial era vessels, the most notable of which is the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world. The Mystic Aquarium forms another unique attraction, home to the North East’s sole population of Beluga whales! Once you’ve got your Beluga selfie you can head to downtown Mystic, where you can soak up the atmosphere of a bygone era, gazing at colonial buildings while enjoying a bite of locally sourced seafood. Cap off a perfect trip with a sunset river cruise, and be sure to head back next summer for the outdoor concert series.
When I think of autumn, I think of New England, and nothing screams New England quite like the great state of Maine. With its quintessential lighthouses towering over jagged rocks, keeping watch over the expansive, deep blue Atlantic—the East Coast’s northern most state represents a picture-perfect paradise. Although it might seem a bridge too far for a weekend trip, Maine’s most populous city of Portland is only a five and a half hours drive from New York, and just over an hour’s flight (you can snatch a September round-trip for under 200 bucks). There’s a whole host of things to do in this vibrant, seaside town, including art galleries and museums; brewery tours exploring the thriving local beer scene; and of course sampling the local delicacies of lobster and chowder, which the state is famous for. Once you’ve soaked up the vibrant atmosphere of the city itself, you’d be remiss not to visit the scenic spots of the surrounding area, such as Crescent Beach State Park, and nearby Two Lights State Park—featuring that classic lighthouse/rocks combo that will get those precious Instagram likes rolling in. If that’s not enough to satiate you, consider extending your trip to visit the stunning Acadia National Park (three hours drive from Portland), where you’ll feel truly removed from the hustle and bustle of New York—waking up to the fragrance of pine trees and the salty sea air, at the rustic Acadia Cottages.
Last on the list is another classic New England destination, Massachusetts’s own Cape Cod. Again, although it seems pretty far away, at just under five hours drive, it’s easily doable for a long weekend. If driving isn’t your game, you can ride to Boston on the cheap with Megabus, then beat the traffic with a 90-minute ferry trip. Best known for its scenic grassy beaches, there’s a lot to explore on the Cape—ranging from the more highbrow glass-blowing museum in Sandwich, to the raucous debauchery of Provincetown. Whale watching is a must, with the local waters being home to a sizable population of Humpback, Finback, Minke and Pilot whales, as well as dolphins, seals, and course the Great White sharks made notorious in Spielberg’s 1975 classic Jaws (though your chances of seeing one are slim to none). As far as accommodation goes, the Cape has several charming bed and breakfasts to choose from, although their rates dramatically spike during the high season. Spots fill up quickly, but if you can brace the cooler nights I highly recommend camping at Nickerson State Park. My childhood bedroom is filled with photo album after photo album of all the snakes and turtles I used to catch on the park’s numerous lakes when visiting with my family as a young boy.
So there you have it. Though this land is vast, there’s much to see just a stone’s throw from New York City. If you find yourself wondering where the time goes and you’re running out of free weekends, or simply low on cash flow (the lowly scientist’s default state), then don’t worry, there’s still plenty of options for day trips closer to home. Bear Mountain is usually at the top of the list for New Yorkers in search of that elusive thing called nature, but just slightly further afield is the ever impressive Storm King Art Center, where abstract sculptures come to life amongst the painted hues of the surrounding fall foliage—viewers of the Netflix show Master of None will recognize the park from season 2, episode 9. Equidistant from New York, but this time heading east up the I-495, Long Island’s Caumsett State Park provides a scenic setting for hiking, cycling, and gazing upon the tranquil Long Island Sound—with several miles of bridle paths leading to secluded beaches, forests, and the historic Henry Lloyd Manor house, built in 1711. Wherever the season takes you, make sure to time it right, bring your camera, and above all, enjoy the autumn breeze.