3 off-the-beaten-path oceanside destinations for a fall vacation

Oct 2, 2021

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There’s no better time to enjoy East Coast beaches than in the fall. Gone are the hordes of families, the crowded restaurants, the peak-season prices for accommodations.

Instead, it’s all light sweaters and long walks on the beach without dripping in sweat. The seafood is better (hello, oysters!) and the locals are much happier. If you’re lucky, you might catch a few days warm enough to get a light tan.

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If you missed the summer season or just find yourself in need of a little more waterfront time, here are a few destinations that offer the best of autumn beach time.

St. Michael’s, Maryland

Located an hour and forty-five minutes from Washington, D.C., and just over two hours from Philadelphia, St. Michael’s is a great spot for an easy weekend away. It faces, admittedly, not the ocean, but the Miles River, which feeds into the Chesapeake. These calmer waters make it excellent for water activities like kayaking or paddle boarding that are tough on the open waters of the ocean.

Related: 12 fall hotel openings we’re looking forward to for autumn travel

Base yourself at The Inn at Perry Cabin, a luxury waterfront property in a 19th century manor house, or the more casual new hotel The Wildset, run by sister team Allie Balin and K.C. Lager, who also worked on Nashville’s hit restaurant Henrietta Red. The Wildset’s restaurant, Ruse, is the perfect place to enjoy Maryland crabs, as well as other local seafood like tilefish and plenty of oysters. The Inn at Perry Cabin offers bikes and kayaks to guests.

If you’re in need, head to Shore Pedal and Paddle to grab bikes, stand-up paddles boards, or kayaks for an afternoon or the whole weekend. For a longer outing on the water, book a two-hour sailing tour with Sail Selina, or up the ante with a sunset sail (paired with Champagne). Back on land, enjoy spicy blue crab nachos from Gina’s Café, and wash it down with a beer from Eastern Shore Brewing, a local microbrewery.

Nags Head, North Carolina

If your fall beach dreams include miles-long walks on semi-abandoned beaches, with gorgeous sunrises and waves rolling in, then the Outer Banks of North Carolina are your spot. These barrier islands in North Carolina are known for their long, flat beaches with incredible horizons.

Related: Looking to live out your Outer Banks dreams? Here are 5 towns you should visit.

Base yourself at an Airbnb in Nags Head, ideally opting for a spacious condo or house at affordable offseason prices. For the best fall beach vibes, pick a rental with a heated pool or hot tub, and make sure you’ve got a patio overlooking the water, perfect for savoring an end-of-the-day glass of wine or your morning cup of coffee.

When (if!) you get tired of beach walks and gazing at the ocean, head up to Corolla to see the wild horses, believed to be descendants of horses that survived a shipwreck in the 1400s. Grab dinner (or lunch) at Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café, a local favorite that offers excellent seafood and nice views of the water. Rent kayaks or jet skis, take a parasailing tour, or go sailing with Kitty Hawk Water Sports, which has something for everything — including tiki boats for a cheesy but fun afternoon.

Cape May, New Jersey

If you’re from the Philadelphia area, Cape May is certainly not considered off-the-beaten-path. But for people coming from farther afield, you might be surprised to learn about the natural beauty and small town vibes of this area just South of Atlantic City.

Related: You can see fall foliage even in or near these big cities — here’s how

If you’re coming from Philadelphia, stop by Sweet Amalia’s Market and Kitchen for a fried oyster roll and some of the best raw oysters in the region, then continue on to the tip of the Cape May peninsula, where you have your choice of affordable, off-season rentals, or cozy hotels like the historic Southern Mansion.

Enjoy a meal on the wrap-around porch, then walk down to the beach and enjoy a stroll without the bother of the summer crowds. Enjoy local seafood at Fish & Fancy Seafood, where you’ll have your choice fried or broiled seafood platters, or taking home your own ingredients for a homemade meal. For something less seafood focused, try out Exit Zero Filling Station, where you’ll find an internationally inspired menu with a specific focus on curries of all kinds. Wherever you go, you’ll be charmed by Cape May’s history, hospitality, and beach-y vibes.

Related: 7 easy Philadelphia escapes you can get to in 3 hours or less

Photo by Eric Peterson/Getty Images

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