New England offers an incredibly diverse menu of experiences for families within a small, easy-to-navigate radius that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the country. We know families look to the south in the cooler seasons, but we’re making a case for fall exploration in some of our favorite spots in the northeast. The tourists are gone. The weather is mild. The leaves are ablaze. What’s not to love?
Culture And Cuisine In The Berkshires
Between a two- and three-hour drive from the city, the Berkshires are a cultural mecca thanks to institutions like Tanglewood—the legendary outdoor classical music venue that has attracted such musical greats as Yo Yo Ma and John Williams—and a host of other well-regarded performance festivals like Jacob’s Pillow and Williamstown Theatre. But for your next artsy fix, first make your way up to North Adams, a former industrial town that’ll add just the right touch of edge to your trip.
The main attraction there is undoubtedly the Mass MoCA, a factory-turned-contemporary museum with a cool factor that all ages can appreciate. This month, don’t miss the two 90- and 100-foot-long phoenixes that rise from construction site scraps—or the ethereal two-floor water fountain trickling from trompe l’oeil “stone” slabs made of Styrofoam. The best part: Kids can mimic the original techniques used by the artists featured in the museum’s Kidspace studio.
After immersing your children in the avant-garde, it’s only fair to feed them some straight-up delights, like at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge where an exhibit about the creation of the Disney classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” complements the expansive main collection of Rockwell works. Along the way down to the Lenox/Pittsfield/Stockbridge hub, take a five-minute detour off of the 7 freeway for pumpkin slingshots, 40-foot slides, and mini-mazes at Ioka Valley Farm–or hit up the 11-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, once a railroad track snaking through the reservoir, river, and wetland landscapes that still delight bikers today. Then fuel up at the cozy Nudel Restaurant with casual but incredibly seasonal Berkshires fare. Here, American dishes like pasta and ribs go gourmet (but remain recognizable) thanks to elements like sweet corn ratatouille, bone marrow, maple sweet and sour sauce.
At the end of the night, there’s a match made in slumber heaven for all types of families. For the Anglophile, Blantyre is an ivy-covered English-style mansion boasting dramatic four poster beds even grown-ups will want to jump up and down in. With all the stylings of a 16th century palazzo, Wheatleigh is outfitted with neutral tones to let the rolling landscapes shine. Or cozy up in one of the 10 buildings that comprise the Red Lion Inn, known for its fine collection of American antiques and their talented, quirkily-tattooed chef.
(P.S. New York Family editor and longtime Berkshires visitor Eric Messinger details a splendidly updated inn, at great value, right here.)
Extreme Leaf Peeping In Vermont
Bigger isn’t always better. The modest height of Vermont’s diverse trees is exactly what makes the state a prime foliage destination, yielding a rainbow of brilliant colors and unobstructed views on elevated trails. But winding drives and occasional hikes aren’t the only way to soak in fire-red maples, golden mountain ashes, and rich purple pin cherries—the ski capital of America offers plenty of active thrills in the fall, too.
On the legendary slopes of Stowe and Sugarbush, families can literally dive right into the forests via gravity-defying bungee tampolines and zipline, whether on a canopy tour with naturalist experts or a solo adrenaline-pumping ride. About two-and-a-half hours south, Battenkill River is ripe on warmer days for kayaking and rafting, running from quiet mountain bases through wider, splashier bank down to remote swimming holes and angler streams—rimmed with blazing thickets on all sides.
Families not wanting to rough it completely will discover plenty of rustic comforts inManchester, a moderate four hours from the city. Though it’s often noted for high-end outlet shopping, the town makes for a surprisingly down-to-earth destination. Kids who are keen on critters can take up falconry at the Equinox Resort’s British School , whose handlers show you how to fly a trained hawk yourself, or saddle up for horseback riding lessons at Mountain View Ranch. There, the littlest of riders can delight in hand-led pony and donkey rides, while cowboy school includes a few rodeo routines for the more experienced equestrians.
Nearby, the 30-acre hilltop Wilburton Inn certainly has kids in mind, with apple turnover baking workshops, sculpture gardens to run around in on site, and even concerts by NYC favorite Moey’s Music Party. The turn-of-the-century inn, whose co-owner Georgette Levis inspired a character in Broadway’s “Sisters Rosensweig,” boasts two- to 24-bedroom houses all decked out with wood-burning fireplaces, Jacuzzis, and decks—perfect for larger, multi-generational travelers.
Simple Pleasures On Cape Cod
While Cape Cod is often characterized by the stereotypically swanky scenes of Nantucket and the cheekily bohemian culture of Provincetown, it’s the mid-Cape town of Brewster, nestled on a laidback stretch of Route 6A, that beckons to city dwellers looking for true respite.
Find the ultimate home base at the Ocean Edge Resort, a family-owned coastal estate where no less than five pools, 11 tennis courts, and a Nicklaus golf course make it easy to lose yourself in leisure. But budget time to properly enjoy the resort’s real pièce de résistance: the private beach whose low tide allows guests to walk as far as a mile into the ocean, which still might be warm enough to graze in September and October. You’ll want to while at a few hours away with simple joys like chasing hermit crabs by day and gathering ‘round a toasty fire pit for s’mores by night. (For easy access, book updated, spacious rooms at the newly renovated Mansion side of the resort.)
Experiencing town life is just as easy, thanks to the endless attractions scattered along Main Street. Stop first by Hopkins House Bakery—which boasts an idyllic garden blooming with handsome daisies and cheery pastel bird houses—to fuel up on warm pastries and browse kitschy furnishings. Further west, the Brewster Bookstore stocks a fantastic selection of children’s books, and the garden-petting zoo-gift shop hybrid called Strawberry Patch brings a slice of the farm to the main street. For a treat, make your way over to Brewster Scoops, where the ice cream-themed décor is almost as fun as the flavors on menu. Families searching for souvenirs can enjoy their cones next door to the Brewster General Store, filled with vintage curios, nautical knick-knacks, and rustic-chic homeware.
Fall bonus: On the way home, stop by Newport, Rhode Island and Mystic, Connecticut for a taste of seaport life. In Newport, there’s nowhere like the home of America’s World Cup tour for quick sailboat jaunt or seal-watching cruise. Alternatively, the Mystic Aquarium presents the rare chance to watch beluga whales through portholes, and the 17-acre Mystic Seaport museum even encompasses a planetarium in the midst of its 100+ ships and nautical replica village.
Indy Nature Along Mid-Coast Maine
Wedged between hipster Portland and the sprawling Acadia National Park, the towns of mid-coast Maine are a magical, off-the-beaten path combination of nature, art, and locavore life that are worth braving the seven-hour drive.
Kick things off in the town of Belfast, where you can wander the harborfront streets for whimsical art—think: faces carved into old pilings and surfboards reincarnated as benches. A half hour south, schooner tours that breeze past picturesque islands, bell buoys, and lighthouses make the case for a stop in the tourist-friendly town of Camden. After the long drive, recharge with a stay at Samoset Resort, where a brilliant floor plan grants every one of the spacious guestrooms sparkling sea views—though all sorts of sports from tennis to shuffleboard to badminton, not to mention wildlife and arts programs, entice families to leave the balcony. Another cool experience for older kids: Trekking to the Breakwater Lighthouse, perched at the end of a mile-long granite path in the middle of the Penobscot Bay.
While it’s a tough distinction to make, the town that arguably best captures the mid-coast spirit is Rockland, a former industrial town undergoing an artsy, foodie renaissance. For a dose of local culture, the Farnsworth Art Museum showcases the works of Maine’s great artists—while gallery window hopping promises to be a short, quirky adventure for the younger set. Then ride along with Captain Jack Lobster Boat Adventures as lobstermen haul in their catch. A real must for foodie families is dinner at Primo, whose James Beard award-winning chef crafts fresh menus with the bounty from the on-site farm: micro-greens, edible flowers, honey, and house-cured meats. It doesn’t get more local than that.
Finally, wind your way to Bath and its Maine Maritime Museum, which houses a brilliant blend of the traditional photos and models one might expect with cool, openly displayed artifacts like operating lighthouse lights and harpoons. The opportunity to tour the shipyard where the world’s largest wooden ship was built and to see real boats taking shape at the Boat Shop make Bath a treasure trove of seaworthy adventures.