While many tour the Northeast in the fall simply for its glorious foliage, there’s also something special about stopping along the way to spend time in a community so picturesque it feels like it popped out of a calendar.
From breathtaking seacoasts to charming Main Streets, cutting-edge art to culinary adventures — and yes, access to spectacular leaf-peeping — these towns are filled with opportunities for the fall traveler. Here are six of our favorites, one from each New England state, with recommendations for what to do and where to eat and stay when you get there.
Come fall, it’s as if the seaside town of Ogunquit, Maine, takes a giant, deep breath. The summer vacation frenzy dissipates, the crowds disperse, and the pace slows. It’s the perfect location for a quiet seaside sojourn.
Of course, you’ll hit the beach: Ogunquit Beach is one of the finest in New England, a 3-mile swatch of soft sand flanked by expansive salt marshes and rocky cliffs. Start early with coffee and pastries from The Greenery Café (facebook.com/thegreenerycafeogt, 207-360-0211) to enjoy at the tucked-away Dorothea Jacobs Grant Common, adjacent to the Ogunquit Heritage Museum. It’s an easy walk to the beach from there.
Don’t miss a stroll along the ocean-hugging Marginal Way, a 1.25-mile pedestrian-only path. “There are lots of little pocket beaches accessible by stairs from Marginal Way where you can go tide pooling or just enjoy an uncrowded stretch of sand,” says Alice Pearce, executive director of the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce. Tip: Most of these little beaches are more accessible from the downtown end of Marginal Way.
For lofty views, drive to the summit of nearby Mount Agamenticus (agamenticus.org), surrounded by some 30,000 acres of conservation area and crisscrossed with a network of more than 40 miles of hiking and biking trails. You’ll have unobstructed views in nearly every direction, from the sparkling Atlantic Ocean to the autumn-tinged mountains of New Hampshire. Watch overhead for hawks, which are drawn to this peak during fall migration.
The beauty of Ogunquit has always drawn artists, including painter Henry Strater, who more than six decades ago founded the Ogunquit Museum of American Art (ogunquitmuseum.org, 207-646-4909). Wander the seaside gardens overlooking Perkins Cove before exploring more than 3,000 works, including those of renowned American Modernists. Open through October 31, the museum is hosting major exhibits including John Walker: From Low Tide to High Tide; Jim Morin: Drawing and Painting; and Robert Laurent: Open Studio.
What to Eat
For a quintessential Maine seaside experience, head to the Lobster Shack in pretty Perkins Cove (lobster-shack.com, 207-646-2941). The lobster roll is the go-to order here, but the lobster stew and homemade chowder are great, too. M.C. Perkins Cove (mcperkinscove.com, 207-646-6263) has stunning ocean views and modern takes on classic fare. The Maine peekytoe crab cakes and duck confit with juniper berries are winners. Friendly, longstanding Cove Café (covecorner.com, 207-646-2422) is a solid choice for breakfast, with a standout lobster frittata.
Where to Stay
The sprawling family-owned Beachmere Inn (beachmereinn.com, 207-646-2021), with a history dating back to 1885, has a variety of rooms spread across five buildings, some with kitchenettes, gas fireplaces, private terraces or balconies, and ocean views. The on-site Blue Bistro restaurant gets top reviews. Three-night stays are technically required, but call to check availability for shorter stays. Guests love hanging out around the backyard pool and patio bar at The Admiral’s Inn (theadmiralsinn.com, 207-646-7093; from $129). Rooms are clean and bright, the staff is ultra-friendly, and it’s an easy walk to town or the beach.
-Diane Bair and Pamela Wright
WICKFORD, RHODE ISLAND
The famous Simon & Garfunkel lyric “Slow down, you move too fast” would be a fine welcoming motto for Wickford, Rhode Island. The scenic village, across Narragansett Bay from its flashy neighbor Newport, enchants with its easy-does-it pace and deep-rooted history. The village, which is part of the town of North Kingstown, is a small seaside enclave, filled with impeccably restored homes, many built by former traders and wealthy sea merchants. It’s considered one of the oldest preserved Colonial villages in the country, and the entire village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Wickford, with its enviable protected harbor, was once a bustling trade port in the early 1700s and a thriving maritime and ship-building center after the Revolutionary War. Today, the village is a place to stroll and linger, and to feel like you’ve traveled to a simpler time.
Walk broad Main Street leading to the harbor, lined with mature shade trees and flanked by red-brick and clapboard homes, most decked out with fall flowering pots and overflowing window boxes. Expect friendly nods from passing folks, and greetings from canine residents out for a walk. (It’s dog-friendly, the kind of place where shop owners set out treats and water dishes for four-legged visitors.)
While in the village, browse a cluster of some 20 well-curated, independently owned shops, including Different Drummer (differentdrummerri.com, 401-294-4867), with its handcrafted jewelry, pottery and artwork; and Flatfish Cottage (flatfishcottage.com), with its unique home decor and accessories. The Green River Silver Co. (greenriversilver.com, 401-295-0086) is one of the state’s largest importers of sterling silver jewelry, and the award-winning Serendipity (serendipityri.com, 401-486-5532) is a great place to find locally handmade gifts.
History buffs should check out North Kingstown’s Smith’s Castle (smithscastle.org, 401-294-3521), which offers guided tours Friday through Sunday. Built in 1678 for Richard Smith, an early settler, it was one of the grandest houses in the area at the time, earning its nickname Smith’s Castle. It’s a picturesque setting, built near Rhode Island founder Roger Williams’s original trading post, and features gardens and nature trails. For more scenic views, take a walk in the nearby Bush Hill Nature Reserve, which overlooks an expanse of salt marshes and fields, or head to the town beach for a quiet stroll in the sand.
What to Eat
Grab a grinder (not a sub) at Shayna’s Place, known for its hefty fresh-made sandwiches and friendly vibe (shaynasplaceri.com, 401-294-8740). Tavern by the Sea is a bustling local favorite; start with a cup of the lobster bisque followed by the lamb burger or the popular beer-battered fish and chips (tavernbytheseari.com, 401-294-5771). Nice morning? Grab a seat on the deck for the weekend breakfast at Wickford on the Water, and dine on homemade specialties such as the lobster Florentine bowl or the corned beef hash omelet (wickfordonthewater.com, 401-294-7900; also serves lunch and dinner).
Where to Stay
The value-packed Hamilton Village Inn is about 1½ miles from Wickford, with clean motel-style rooms (hamiltonvillageinn.com, 401-295-0700; from around $115). TownePlace Suites by Marriott Providence North Kingstown has spacious studios and suites with kitchens and separate sitting areas, and is about a five minute drive from the village (marriott.com, 401-667-7500; from $174).
–Diane Bair and Pamela Wright
JACKSON, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Some New England towns look like real-life Christmas villages, and Jackson, New Hampshire, is certainly one of them. But this laid-back village nestled in the White Mountains really shines in fall as a spectacular jumping-off point for some of the region’s best fall foliage drives. It’s also a place where you can simply stay put and breathe in fresh mountain air while sitting by a stream or wandering quiet streets.
Located just 10 minutes by car from busy North Conway, Jackson couldn’t be more different from that town; the woods quickly close in as you head north on Route 16. Soon after climbing out of the tiny village of Glen, Route 16A loops off to the right, passing through a classic covered bridge and into a whole different world. Jackson center is a blink-and-you-miss-it place with a few restaurants and shops, some gorgeous old homes, a scenic river that cuts through town (and is also where the annual Wildquack rubber duck race takes place each spring), along with lots of peace and quiet. It’s a perfect place for a reflective stroll, as the roads in the area are generally quiet and see little traffic. Hike along 16B to reach the pristine Jackson Falls or along 16A for views of fields, forests, and mountains.
For leaf-peepers, one nice drive from Jackson is the steady climb north on Route 16, which leads up to Pinkham Notch and offers unforgettable views of Mount Washington, the highest point in the Northeast. The notch is home to the Joe Dodge Lodge (outdoors.org/destinations, 603-466-2727), a rustic basecamp run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Passersby can stop to peruse its visitor center and gift shop, and make use of its dining area. A drive south on Route 16, then west on Route 302, brings you to Crawford Notch, a U-shaped valley that has remarkable views around every turn. In Bretton Woods, west of the notch — about 40 minutes by car from Jackson — is the landmark Omni Mount Washington Resort (omnihotels.com, 603-278-1000), a grand hotel with an old-world feel and breathtaking views.
What to Eat
For a small town, Jackson has many dining options. One local favorite is Yesterdays (yesterdaysjacksonnh.com, 603-383-4457), a homey eatery known for its sublime corned beef hash. For a more upscale experience, the Thompson House Eatery (thethompsonhouseeatery.com, 603-383-9341) is an intimate farm-to-table restaurant in a historic house, with New American dishes such as herb-roasted chicken and miso-glazed salmon. A little taste of Boston can be found at the Shannon Door Pub (shannondoor.com, 603-383-4211), a boisterous Irish pub with the feel of a Southie watering hole, as well as classic American fare and some real local character. The cozy Wildcat Inn & Tavern (wildcattavern.com, 603-383-4245) has lots of nooks and crannies inside and an eclectic menu with everything from bánh mì to lobster rolls.
Where to Stay
The Christmas Farm Inn (christmasfarminn.com, 603-383-4313; from $89), a romantic hillside spot above the village, is also family friendly and includes a charming restaurant and tiny bar. Along Route 16 sits the Inn at Ellis River (innatellisriver.com, 603-383-9339; from $159), an inviting B&B with beautifully-appointed rooms, some of which have fireplaces or wood stoves. For old-world luxury, The Wentworth (thewentworth.com, 800-637-0013; from $169) is a European-style, grand hotel dating back to the 1800s and hosts many weddings.
With its quaint clapboard homes, soaring church spires, and old-fashioned restaurants and inns, Woodstock, Vermont, almost feels more like a movie set than a place where people actually live. But it is, indeed, a real town with a rich history showcased by its many well-preserved structures that date back more than a century. And, as visitors will find, it’s also the perfect base for a plethora of outdoor activities, especially in fall.
Woodstock’s tree-shaded village green is a great place to begin a walking tour. Start just off the green with a photo-op at a rustic covered bridge that spans the Ottauquechee River. Just east is the downtown section, lined with stately brick buildings and understated storefronts that make it look like a rural version of Charles Street in Beacon Hill. North of the center is the Billings Farm & Museum (billingsfarm.org, 802-457-2355), a peaceful spot for strolling that celebrates Vermont’s rural heritage and includes a working dairy farm. If you’re a hiker, a switchback trail up Mount Tom, which starts beyond the covered bridge on Mountain Avenue, rises above the town and offers magnificent views of the valley and the imposing Green Mountains to the west.
The Woodstock area is also a great base to access some wonderful places by car or bike. A drive up High Pastures Road, east of the center of town, leads to Sugarbush Farm (sugarbushfarm.com, 800-281-1757), a quintessentially Vermont spot with a petting zoo and farm store that sells maple products, local cheeses, and more; its dramatic hillside location is perfect for picture taking. A bit further east, in the tranquil town of Quechee, is Vermont’s version of the Grand Canyon: Quechee Gorge (vtstateparks.com/quechee.html) is a sight to behold, dropping a dizzying 165 feet below Route 4. Bikers will want to head west to West Woodstock and the Aqueduct Trails for its miles of varied terrain and unspoiled surroundings.
What to Eat
A variety of dining options can be found in Woodstock, including a homey farm-to-table spot east of the center called Worthy Kitchen (worthyvermont.com/worthy-kitchen, 802-457-7281). Owned by the people behind the sublime Worthy Burger in South Royalton, it offers delicious burgers along with some of Vermont’s best beers. Melaza Bistro (melazabistro.com, 802-457-7110), offers a more upscale and romantic — but still casual — vibe as well as a lovely patio and a regional menu with Caribbean influences.
Where to Stay
One of the region’s most luxurious hotels, the Woodstock Inn & Resort (woodstockinn.com, 888-338-2745 ) sits by the village green and features spa, golf, and tennis packages while also offering fine dining at the Red Rooster. The Kedron Valley Inn (kedronvalleyinn.com, 802-457-1473) in tiny South Woodstock is a marvelous option with its gorgeous views, beautifully-appointed rooms, and warm elegance.
It’s easy to find the Williams College Museum of Art (artmuseum.williams.edu, 413-597-2429) in Williamstown, Massachusetts — just look for Louise Bourgeois’s gigantic eye sculpture, made of forged bronze, on the lawn out front. In fact, the “eyes” have it in this bucolic area in the northwest corner of the state. There’s art everywhere you look.
Set in the green, rolling valley between the Berkshire Hills and the Hoosic River, Williamstown, along with its neighbor, North Adams, is a country oasis for art lovers. The art museum is a good place to start a visit. Some of the works in its venerable collection are studied in art history classes at the school. But WCMA also has a contemporary edge, best reflected in its temporary exhibits. Stroll the campus to see other sculptures in the college’s outdoor sculpture collection.
You can stretch your legs on the five hiking trails that crisscross the Clark Art Institute (clarkart.edu, 413-458-2303) campus. Along the way, you might encounter site-specific artwork or pass grazing cows. The permanent collection here is especially rich in French Impressionism and works from late 19th-century American painters.
Six miles east in North Adams, the former mill buildings of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as Mass MoCA (massmoca.org, 413-662-2111), encourage contemporary artists and curators to think big. The Sol LeWitt retrospective occupies nearly an acre of gallery walls. A sound installation (Allovers by Ryan Olson and Seth Rosetter) converts the stairwell and basement of a building into a gigantic, interactive musical instrument.
The Mass MoCA campus offers even more opportunities to feel the area’s artistic vibe. It includes excellent galleries such as ROAM: A Xtina Parks Gallery (roamgallery.photo, 413-663-8000), which features contemporary African art, and Ferrin Contemporary (ferrincontemporary.com, 413-346-4004), which focuses on ceramics. Sip a craft brew at Bright Ideas Brewing (brightideasbrewing.com, 413-346-4460) while you contemplate a purchase. Back in Williamstown, Greylock Gallery (greylockgallery.com, 413-884-6926) represents realist painters from New England and upstate New York.
What to Eat
In addition to student-oriented sandwich shops and pubs, Williamstown boasts fine dining. Mezze Bistro + Bar (mezzerestaurant.com, 413-458-0123) commands a gorgeous setting south of downtown, where the contemporary, prix fixe dinner features local products. Lamb kebabs and tagines lend a Turkish accent to the Mediterranean tastes at Pera Bistro (perabistro.com, 413-458-8676). The accent is French at Gramercy Bistro (gramercybistro.com, 413-458-6222). If you decide to check out the art house Images Cinema (imagescinema.org, 413-458-5612), the nearby Gramercy is the perfect spot for a bite after a movie.
Where to Stay
The Brookside Country Inn rooms at 1896 House Country Inn (1896house.com, 413-458-1896; from $94 ) are decorated in a rustic, Colonial style. And, its barn-restaurant building houses suites with fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. For a dose of midcentury modernism, book one of six rooms at the Guest House at Field Farm (thetrustees.org/place/field-farm-guest-house, 413-458-3135; from $269). Here, modern sculptures owned by the Williams College Museum of Art grace the grounds. For a 21st-century hipster take on a tourist motel, try the whimsical Tourists (touristswelcome.com, 413-347-4995; from $199) in North Adams.
–Patricia Harris and David Lyon
As anyone who has visited will attest, Woodbury, Connecticut, is not the place to go for new, shiny things. No, the charm of this town lies in the old, the vintage: Even shock-rocker Rob Zombie once owned a bucolic country compound, with features dating back to the mid-1700s, here.
Oldies are definitely goodies in Woodbury, the state’s antiques capital. To get a taste of the town, walk through the two historic districts along tree-lined Main Street, which showcase an array of Greek Revival-style buildings, Victorian mansions, and Colonial homes spanning the 17th through 20th centuries. “Our Main Street resembles the set of a feel-good Hallmark movie,” says Susan Mutschler, director of the Woodbury Public Library. Quaint shops, gourmet eateries, and residents who actually make eye contact and smile ramp up the charm quotient. It’s especially fetching in autumn, when the hillsides are dappled in hues of russet, scarlet, and gold.
Located along the Connecticut Antiques Trail in Litchfield County, this town of 9,761 is home to more than a dozen antiques purveyors. Most are situated on Main Street, making it easy to pop in and out of several shops. Tip: Plan your trip for the end of the week since many shops are closed Monday through Wednesday.
Mill House Antiques (millhouseantiquesandgardens.com, 203-263-3446) is one shop not to miss. Set in a former 17th-century grist mill, the museum-like space is a treasure trove of fine English and French furniture from the 1700s and 1800s, as well as custom-made pieces. (We do mean fine: Barbra Streisand is a customer.) The Hidden Acorn (hiddenacorn.com, 203-586-1223) is known for vintage and antique housewares and decor at reasonable prices, along with supplies for the DIY set that will help turn gritty objects shiny and new (looking). Bargain hunters should make a beeline for the open-air Woodbury Antiques & Flea Market (woodburyflea.net, 203-263-6217), open on Saturdays, weather permitting. There’s plenty of good stuff — no tables piled with random tools and tube socks — and myriad items ready to be creatively repurposed.
What to Eat
To whet your appetite, stop by the tasting room of Walker Road Vineyards (walkerroadvineyards.com, 203-263-0768; open weekends from May through December) and sample award-winning table wines in a 150-year-old barn. When there’s a nip of fall in the air, the fresh pasta is a perfect choice at John’s Café (johnscafe.com, 203-263-0188), a New American bistro with a Mediterranean tilt. The house-made bucatini with Bolognese, a special, is a can’t-miss when available. Curries and quesadillas mingle at Good News Restaurant and Bar (goodnewsrestaurantandbar.com, 203-266-4663), along with other excellent options on chef/owner Carole Peck’s farm-to-table menu of world cuisine.
Where to Stay
After a day of antiquing, you’ll want to stay someplace gloriously seasoned (although recently renovated). The 1754 House — an inn, restaurant, and tavern — (1754house.com, 203-405-3735; from $165) fits the bill. Built circa 1736, and formerly known as the Curtis House Inn, the place is owned by chef Michael Bates-Walsh, who helped open Gloucester’s Beauport Hotel in 2016. Considered by many to be Connecticut’s oldest inn, the property offers nine guest rooms with modern appointments, along with a good on-site restaurant and, often, live music.
–Diane Bair and Pamela Wright
*This story was updated on Oct. 6, 2023.
Patricia Harris, David Lyon, Diane Bair, and Pamela Wright are frequent contributors to the Globe Magazine. Marc Hurwitz is a freelance food and travel writer in the Boston area. Send comments to email@example.com.