Park City, Utah, downtown in autumn at dusk. 

America's 13 Coolest Small Towns For A Fall Vacation

Autumn comes knocking with mild weather and wakes up nature in the most vivid colors. These 13 small towns come alive during fall for the coolest getaway in the United States.

Cambria, California

Autumn sunset at Santa Rosa Park estuary, Cambria, California
Autumn sunset at Santa Rosa Park estuary, Cambria, California. 

Cambria is a coastal town between San Francisco and Los Angeles with a dose of cool to suit any taste on a fall getaway. The beach locale is known for excellent shoreline trails and a lovely historic downtown area with cozy pit stops to warm up on a "cooler" day. Cambria was initially a busy mining town with Victorian architecture dating back to the 1800s. At present, art galleries and boutiques are sprinkled among admirably-vintage buildings, along with a great selection of eateries.

Nature lovers enjoy visiting the elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Rookery, with baby seals arriving just in time for fall. There are countless scenic trails adorned in autumn colors for the most atmospheric bike rides and hikes in the brisk air with local wildlife around. Paso Robles is just 30 miles inland with wineries and the renowned Sensorio art installation featuring new light towers exhibit.

Cape May, New Jersey

Colorful historic Victorian houses line the beachfront in Cape May, New Jersey
Colorful historic Victorian houses line the beachfront in Cape May, New Jersey. Editorial credit: EQRoy /

The picturesque seaside town of Cape May is best to visit during fall when beach crowds depart. It is the perfect time to stroll the shores for the sunset views on a cool evening with the sea breeze in the air. The promenade offers excellent biking opportunities with vistas over water, and many great restaurants along for some fresh local seafood, like a piping-hot bowl of clam chowder. Cape May is a National Historic District in its entirety, with streets housing nearly 600 well-preserved Victorian-style buildings.

The historically-renowned Cape May lighthouse comes with endless vistas from up top, while the Cape May Winery is open for tours or a glass of something bold to complement the brisk weather. The Washington Street Mall is a great place to mingle, and people watch on a hunt for bargains or stocking up on winter gear. Sherlock Holmes Weekend is an especially fun event in late October or Early November with mystery-solving and other festivities.

Cashiers, North Carolina

Whiteside Mountain, North Carolina, with the "Shadow of the Bear"
Whiteside Mountain, North Carolina, with the "Shadow of the Bear." 

The cool town of Cashiers is perched scenically on a high plateau in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North CarolinaVillage Green is the town's heart and hub, spread over a 13.5-acre park with days-worth of cool recreational pursuits in the fresh air. There are botanical gardens for scenic strolls and relaxation, walking paths for the active, admirable art displays, as well as various seasonal events "falling" at this time.

The quaint village with less than 2,000 residents swells during fall, thanks to its natural beauty. The mild weather offers a respite to enjoy outdoor activities without breaking a sweat, including many hiking trails, golf, and visiting waterfalls in the area. The town is also renowned for lush fall foliage of dizzying color combinations, along with the "Shadow of the Bear." One must see the half-an-hour-long natural spectacle of shadows creeping over the nearby mountains to form a shape of a bear each day.

Grand Marais, Minnesota

Grand Marais is a small harbor city on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota
Grand Marais is a small harbor city on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. 

The small town of only 1,340 residents is a real cool jewel perched at the crown of Lake Superior's North Shore. It is the ultimate fall-time destination with many events during the season, such as the annual Art Along the Lake Fall Studio Tour from the turn of September to October. The Grand Marais Art Colony offers printmaking and beginner photography classes. The aptly-named World's Best Donuts sells cinnamon-sugar rings to go with a steaming cup of Joe on a brisk autumn morning before heading out into the scenic outdoors.

One can set base at the quintessential Wunderbar Eatery & Glampground near Cook County's countless trails for hikes in the mild weather. There's the Devil's Kettle Falls at Judge C.R. Magney State Park with a "waterfall to nowhere," along with the Grand Portage State Park near the Canadian border with the state's highest, 70-ft waterfall. One can also stay and eat at the Naniboujou Lodge featuring an art deco dining room with Cree Indian touches, or stop by the local favorite The Hungry Hippie Tacos for the famed puffy bread fried tacos.

Gretna, Louisiana

Gretna is a cool small town and a historical destination on the west bank of the Mississippi River across from New Orleans. It is the seat of Jefferson Parish, the state's most concentrated national historic district area. Fall-time in-town comes alive with vibrant colors of nature, festivals, and special events celebrating the harvest season and local culture. 

There are hay rides, corn-themed festivities, pumpkin patches, and the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival filled with music, dancing, and food. The nation-famous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival just across the river is easily-reachable via a pedestrian ferry that makes free runs between New Orleans and Gretna.

Julian, California

Autumn by the lake in Julian, California
Autumn by the lake in Julian, California. 

Julian is a truly-quintessential little town and the coolest in California to visit during fall. The former mining locale overrun by gold-diggers in the 1800s is perched scenically at 4,000 feet above San Diego County, with palm trees and beaches below. The atmospheric streets are filled with fresh mountain air and vibrant fall colors that are hard to come by anywhere else in the southern state.The legacy of the riches remains in the old-fashioned downtown area, set adorned with apple orchards that turn color during harvest season. Julian is back-dropped by scenically-dressed mountains, casting shadows as if breathing chilly air into town. One cannot miss an evening of sipping hot apple cider within the Alpine atmosphere right on home soil. For varied pastimes, there's trying out different café spins on homemade apple pie, picking apples from the orchards, and scenic drives.

Lenox, Massachusetts

Fall colors surround a cemetery and small church in Lenox, Massachusetts
Fall colors surround a cemetery and small church in Lenox, Massachusetts. Editorial credit: James Kirkikis /

Lenox is the coolest place in Massachusetts for the most beautiful fall season on the East Coast. There are quaint inns adorned with scenically-dressed trees and rolling hills of the Berkshires, imparting a sense of tranquility on a stroll or picnic in mild weather. The quaint townscape features the beautiful Tudor mansion estate, The Blantyre, with nostalgia-inducing feels. The property is excellent for an atmospheric evening or an afternoon spent along its private trails for more sights.

The nature comes alive during fall when the breeze plays with the leafy foliage for a kaleidoscopic haze. The active also enjoy the pond and trail system in the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, along with the nearby Kennedy Park’s hiking trails. The Stony Ledge trail is back-dropped by the gorgeous Mount Greylock for great panoramic picnics in the shadow of the peaks.

Manchester, Vermont

Autumnal shot of the Main Street of Manchester, Vermont
Autumnal shot of the Main Street of Manchester, Vermont. 

The small town in the southwestern part of the state brims with New England charm for the coolest getaway during fall. The enclave quaintly peaks out from below Mount Equinox, lighting up on fire in autumn colors from mid-September through October. The quintessential fall foliage destination between the Taconic and Green Mountain Ranges offers plentiful scenic hikes in mild weather, with leafy trails that lead to stunning waterfalls. No visit would be complete without rummaging the atmospheric downtown area with historical buildings in-between modern restaurants, shops, inns, and boutique hotels. The friendly setting has also been up-done with landscaping, vintage-style street lights, and new benches for a cool evening spent. There are classic fairs and festivals in-town, while the back-roads come dotted with covered bridges, farms, antique shops, and apple orchards for more fall-themed outings.  

Mount Dora, Florida

Mount Dora Lighthouse located at the Port of Mount Dora in Grantham Point Park, Florida
Mount Dora Lighthouse located at the Port of Mount Dora in Grantham Point Park, Florida. 

Mount Dora is one of the most well-known small towns in the state and the coolest to visit during the fall in Florida. Historic inns and B&Bs offer great stays for all budgets, while many gourmet restaurants serve local cuisine that will suit any taste. The natural setting around Lake Dora turns vibrant for scenery soaking on a stroll or angling along the banks. One can also go boating or join a fishing excursion to see the picture-perfect town from another side in the misty air.

Mount Dora has a perpetual autumn-feel atmosphere, which makes it no wonder that Floridians stampede the cozy townscape during the season. There are the old, 19th-century clapboard houses and antique shops, a plethora of outdoor cafes lining the historic district, and The Cellar Door winery for a chill evening with a glass of vino. The Renninger’s Antique Center & Farmer’s Flea Market is a treasure cove for bargains and valuable collectibles.

Park City, Utah

Park City, Utah, downtown in autumn at dusk
Park City, Utah, downtown in autumn at dusk. 

The cool town of 8,500 is located less than 40 minutes from Salt Lake City. It is a renowned road-trip stop, destination for skiing, and movie screening with Sundance. Fall-time offers lower lodging prices than winter, fewer crowds, and the Autumn Aloft hot-air balloons festival in mid-September. There's Round Valley's 700-acre nature area for scenic autumn hikes and over 30 miles of mountain-biking trails. The seven-mile Guardsman Pass route is optimal for leaf-peeping on a drive through forests of evergreens and oaks in the Wasatch Mountains. One must stop at the Pine Canyon Drive lined by aspens for the densest foliage of the prettiest colors.

The historic old town features the Main Street-full of independently owned shops and cafés, such as the Pink Elephant Coffee Roasters. Many galleries and the Park City Mercantile also sell SLC-made Porter ceramics and mahogany-lined journals by Woodchuck. The High West Distillery & Saloon on Park Avenue is renowned for the "Ghost Dance" concoction of American Prairie bourbon with raspberry, sweet vermouth, Amaro, and cold brew. There's also Freshie's Lobster Co. for seafood, Anaya's Market for Mexican grocery, and Ritual Chocolate making award-winning treats in small batches. The modern Park City Peaks Hotel features Mad Men-era furniture for a cool stay.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Aerial view of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Aerial view of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. 

The tiny town of Pigeon Forge offers the coolest golden-leaf season in Tennessee. It is known for the Dollywood scene at the theme park of entertainer Dolly Parton, along with myriad outdoor pursuits for leaf-peeping. The town-set overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains is only 10 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with endless trails for fall-time ventures. It is perfect for visiting during October to early November, with a must-stop at the Cades Cove for fully-glorious autumn colors.The verdant valley is ringed by mountains offering varied landscapes in color and wildlife sightings, including white-tailed deer, black bears, and coyotes. It is the perfect place to hike in mild weather or go for a breezy bike ride past the dizzying specter of changing colors. There is an 11-mile one-way loop trail for a scenic drive entirely accompanied by the Smokies, along with the nearby Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and the Rich Mountain Road.

Saranac Lake, New York

Colorful aerial view of Saranac Lake, New York in the Adirondack Mountains during fall
Colorful aerial view of Saranac Lake, New York in the Adirondack Mountains during fall. 

The cool village is a highly-demanded destination during fall for the spectacular mountain-lake setting. The Adirondacks feature miles of hiking trails, scenic peaks, and seemingly endless lakes with bountiful outings for leaf-peeping. In-town, there's a cozy, walk-able central area with cute cafes to stop for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate in the morning air that is perpetually brisk throughout the year.

The Blue Moon Cafe on Main Street has been a local favorite for well over 20 years. One must try a hearty bowl of the steaming Cafe Chunky Chili to "take the chill off" on a fall evening. The adorable Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage Museum comes with some cool displays and artifacts on the famed writer. He called the place home from 1887 to 1888 as he recovered from a bout of tuberculosis on the premises. 

Stowe, Vermont

Aerial view of Stowe, Vermont and the Green Mountains with autumn colors
Aerial view of Stowe, Vermont and the Green Mountains with autumn colors. 

The premier small town in New England seems to be made for fall, as it starts preparing its lush foliage in August. Upon setting base at the renowned Lodge at Spruce Peak, right in Stowe's vibrant heart of color changes, one must venture into nature for the phenomenal autumn displays. There's seasonal hiking, fly-fishing, and mountain biking in the mild weather.

The luxury resort is set around an aptly named "Village" with Vermont country market shops, restaurants, outdoor apparel shopping, and designer boutiques right at the doorstep. Stowe is the ultimate destination for natural sight-seekers and chasers of fall colors that many "fall" in love with to revisit in winter for skiing or snowboarding.

The cool towns across the United States get dressed in the best autumn attire and offer myriad pursuits to enjoy the foliage. Seasonal festivals and fall-themed events unravel on the streets, while scenic drives and atmospheric cafes are great for a rainy day. 

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