As the heat of summer mellows into the crispness of fall, beach lovers need not bid farewell to their coastal escapes. In fact, autumn unveils a different charm, with fewer beachgoers, cooler breezes, and a chance to explore the rich histories, natural wonders, and cultural delights of these seaside towns. Join me on a journey through seven coastal gems that truly come alive during the off-season.
Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May, the grand old dame of American seaside resorts, refuses to hibernate when summer ends. Instead, it beckons visitors with open arms in the fall, offering a serene escape from the bustling crowds. Imagine leisurely strolls or bike rides along the promenade, where you can savor the crisp sea air. Pause at Madison’s Bakery for a sticky bun or swing by Cape May Brewery for a double IPA – because life’s too short for anything less.
This National Historic District boasts over 600 meticulously preserved Victorian homes, each a testament to a bygone era. Think intricate woodwork, pitched roofs, and inviting wraparound porches that practically whisper stories of yesteryears.
Nature enthusiasts can embark on an adventure by climbing the 199 steps to the summit of the Cape May Lighthouse, a historic gem that has graced the shoreline since 1859. And for those with time to spare, the skeletal remains of the S.S. Atlantus await exploration at Sunset Beach, along with the hunt for “Cape May Diamonds,” pure quartz crystals that date back to the 17th century Kechemeche inhabitants.
Haleʻiwa, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi
Haleʻiwa, nestled on Oʻahu’s North Shore, isn’t your typical beach town. Beyond its colorful plantation-style buildings selling delectable fish tacos and shave ice, lies a history that reaches back to the 12th century. Native Hawaiians once thrived here, blessed with fertile valleys, natural springs, and easy access to the ocean.
Even Queen Liliʻuokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch, couldn’t resist the allure of Haleʻiwa’s charm, vacationing amidst its beauty. She even worshipped at a Protestant church built in 1890, a testament to the town’s enduring history. The Haleʻiwa Hotel, which once boasted 14 suites with hot-and-cold running water (quite the luxury in its day), opened its doors in 1899, marking Oʻahu’s inaugural hotel (though it met its demise in 1943).
Native Hawaiians were the first to discover the epic surf along this coastline, now a mecca for surfers and spectators alike during the winter months. However, in the fall, Haleʻiwa dons a quieter, more contemplative demeanor, perfect for wandering through its boutiques, surf shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
Revere Beach, Massachusetts
Revere Beach, located just five miles north of Boston, holds the prestigious title of being the first public beach in the United States, established by the Massachusetts legislature in 1895. Back in its heyday, it earned the nickname “Coney Island of the East” for its vibrant dance halls, movie theaters, restaurants, carousels, and not one but two of the world’s tallest and fastest roller coasters.
However, Mother Nature had different plans, and the Blizzard of 1978 blanketed Boston with a whopping 27 inches of snow over two days, leaving much of Revere Beach in ruins. Yet, this adversity ignited a revitalization that has brought the beach back to life.
Today, you can stroll along the boulevard, relish a roast beef sammie or lobster roll at Kelly’s Roast Beef, and indulge in a sundae at the family-run Twist & Shake. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the endangered piping plover, whose sand-hued plumage camouflages perfectly with the beach’s natural palette.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
The area surrounding Cannon Beach, nestled about 80 miles west of Portland, has a history dating back to the 15th century, with Native American tribes like the Clatsop, Nehalem, and Tillamook calling it home. Spanish explorers arrived here as early as the 1500s, followed by the famous William Clark and Sacagawea duo in 1806.
Native American artist Guy Capoeman commemorates Sacagawea with a stunning 10-foot cedar sculpture known as the “Welcome Pole,” which you can encounter on the self-guided Cannon Beach Public Art Walking Tour, spanning 1.5 miles.
The beach itself derives its name from the artillery that washed ashore after the U.S.S. Shark’s fabled sinking in 1846. Today, visitors can catch a glimpse of one of these namesake cannons at the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum.
However, the real star of the show remains the expansive beach, crowned by the monolithic Haystack Rock, a 235-foot basalt sea stack that looms dramatically on the shoreline. It’s been a backdrop for iconic movies like “The Goonies” and “Kindergarten Cop.” During low tide, tidepools teem with life – from sea stars and anemones to crabs and nudibranchs. Visit in September for the warmest weather along the coast, although October brings a refreshing chill to the air.
Laguna Beach, California
Located 50 miles south of Los Angeles, Laguna Beach boasts a scalloped coastline and freshwater canyon lakes that once beckoned Native American nomads. Originally called Lagonas, a nod to the Spanish word for lagoon, it attracted 41 homesteaders after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862, making it the only town in Orange County to be homesteaded.
Today, it’s a haven for sunseekers, with around 30 diverse beaches to explore. Whether you’re drawn to the action-packed Main Beach or the seclusion of Thousand Steps Beach, there’s something for everyone. And here’s a secret: despite the name, it only takes 218 steps (not a thousand) down a steep staircase to reach the latter.
Autumn is the perfect time to visit Laguna Beach. The crowds have thinned, the waters remain warm, and the weather invites you to dine al fresco at one of the many delightful restaurants. Afterward, embark on the 2.4-mile Top of the World hike, offering panoramic vistas stretching from Catalina Island to Mount Baldy.
Atlantic Beach, South Carolina
Known as the “Black Pearl,” Atlantic Beach stands as one of the few Black-owned beaches still thriving in the United States. For over three decades, this petite town spanning just four blocks served as a bustling vacation destination for Black beachgoers from the segregated South. In the early 1930s, Black entrepreneurs and families ran hotels, restaurants, and shops here.
However, after the era of segregation, the town’s popularity waned, and many Black tourists explored other destinations. Today, residents, many of whom are descendants of the Gullah Geechee people, are diligently preserving the town’s rich history. While you’re here, you can explore historic sites in the area, primarily located in nearby Myrtle Beach.
St. Augustine Beach, Florida
Long before the English colonized Jamestown and even before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés graced the shores of Florida and christened the settlement St. Augustine. This historic city now stands as the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States.
Stroll along the redbrick streets, flanked by centuries-old buildings that seem to whisper tales of the past. Step into history with a ride on the Old Town Trolley tour, where you’ll encounter gems like the City Gate, constructed with coquina blocks in 1808, or the González-Alvarez House, the oldest surviving Spanish colonial dwelling in the city.
Fall brings a respite from the humidity, making it a perfect time to explore the historic city and its 42 miles of sandy shores. Enjoy horseback rides on Crescent Beach or embark on a treasure hunt for shark’s teeth at Mickler’s Landing Beach, known for its pink sand composed of crushed coquina.
In these charming coastal towns, autumn unveils a different kind of beauty, where history, nature, and culture intertwine to create unforgettable experiences. So, pack your bags, embrace the crisp sea breeze, and explore these off-season treasures before the crowds return. Your next adventure awaits!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Seaside Escapes in Autumn
Q: When is the best time to visit these seaside towns mentioned in the article?
A: The best time to visit these seaside towns is during the autumn months. Fall brings cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, and a unique charm to these coastal destinations. You’ll have more elbow room to explore, enjoy outdoor activities, and experience the rich cultural and natural heritage of these towns.
Q: What are some notable attractions in Cape May, New Jersey?
A: Cape May, New Jersey, offers a plethora of attractions. You can explore the historic Victorian homes, take in the scenic beauty of the shoreline, visit the Cape May Lighthouse, and even hunt for “Cape May Diamonds.” Fall is an ideal time to enjoy these attractions with comfortable weather and fewer tourists.
Q: Are there any significant historical sites in Haleʻiwa, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi?
A: Yes, Haleʻiwa in Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, boasts a rich history. Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, vacationed here, and you can still find historic sites such as a Protestant church built in 1890. The town’s history is intertwined with its natural beauty, making it a captivating destination.
Q: What makes Revere Beach, Massachusetts, unique?
A: Revere Beach, Massachusetts, holds the distinction of being the first public beach in the United States, established in 1895. Its history is closely tied to the vibrant entertainment scene it once hosted, including dance halls, theaters, and roller coasters. Today, you can enjoy a stroll along the boulevard and savor local culinary delights.
Q: What should visitors expect to see at Cannon Beach, Oregon?
A: Cannon Beach, Oregon, offers a blend of history and natural beauty. You can explore the beach, visit the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum to see a cannon from the U.S.S. Shark, and marvel at the iconic Haystack Rock. Don’t forget to explore tidepools during low tide, where you’ll find a diverse array of marine life.
Q: Why is Laguna Beach, California, a popular destination in the fall?
A: Laguna Beach, California, is popular in the fall due to its pleasant weather, reduced crowds, and diverse beaches. Whether you prefer the bustling Main Beach or the seclusion of Thousand Steps Beach, Laguna Beach has something for everyone. The fall season allows visitors to enjoy outdoor dining and scenic hikes.
Q: What makes Atlantic Beach, South Carolina, historically significant?
A: Atlantic Beach, South Carolina, is historically significant as one of the few Black-owned beaches in the U.S. For decades, it thrived as a vacation spot for Black beachgoers during the era of segregation. Today, residents work diligently to preserve the town’s history, making it a unique and culturally rich destination.
Q: What are some must-visit historical sites in St. Augustine Beach, Florida?
A: St. Augustine Beach, Florida, boasts a rich history as the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the U.S. Visitors can explore redbrick streets, take an Old Town Trolley tour, and visit historical landmarks like the City Gate and the González-Alvarez House. Fall offers pleasant weather for exploring these historical treasures.