After August—generally the biggest travel month of the year—summer's annual dispatch of surf-loving, guidebook-toting vacationers packs up and heads home. With peak season over, folks bid good-bye to crowded beach towns and coastal cities, leaving travel providers with plenty of guest rooms, beaches, and restaurants to fill this fall. The following five spots are on our radar, thanks to their attractive off-peak pricing and super seasonal attractions.
(Photo: The Cottages & Lofts at The Boat Basin)
Nantucket is one of our favorite off-peak beach destinations. Autumn in Nantucket brings so many special seasonal activities that one could argue the island's true peak should fall when the leaves do. Restaurant Week, from September 28 to October 4, bestows bargain-priced gourmet meals on fortunate patrons, with three-course dinners priced from $25 to $45.
Better yet, get your fresh seafood straight from the source—for free! October also kicks off recreational scallop season. Beginning the first of the month, folks are permitted to harvest the mouthwatering mollusks right from the beach.
Cook up some pan-seared scallops in your kitchen at The Cottages & Lofts at The Boat Basin. We found rates as low as $328.33 per night for a two-bedroom cottage with a kitchen and a deck that overlooks the water on Swain's Wharf. Comparatively, the same room is, on average, several hundred dollars more per night during the high summer season. This is the standard pricing structure at Nantucket properties. At the Chapman House, for example, rooms start at $319 per night during summer and drop as low as $119 per night come fall.
You can also snag discounted fall ferry tickets to Nantucket, depending on the operator. The Steamship Authority cuts one-way rates for automobiles from $68.50 in summer and early fall to $43.50 beginning November 1.
(Photo: Blue Haven Resort)
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
The Turks and Caicos islands have a reputation for luxury. Bruce Willis and Mariah Carey reportedly have homes here. And lavish beachfront resorts far outnumber budget-friendly hotels. The good news is that in fall, you don't have to spend like Bruce Willis to have an awesome vacation. This is a less crowded, more upscale Caribbean destination set firmly off the beaten path, where alabaster beaches are free of those hectic armies of plastic chairs and towels, no matter the season.
Get the royal Turks and Caicos experience at Joe Six-Pack prices with an off-peak stay on Providenciales, the main tourist center of the islands. Airfares to Providenciales drop sharply during fall months. As of press time, JetBlue is offering flights from New York to Providenciales for $134 each way for select Saturday departures in November; compare this to February fares displayed on Kayak, which run roughly double that. Hotels, too, are markedly more affordable in fall. Autumn deals abound, and standard rates are usually lowest for summer and fall stays. At the beachfront Blue Haven Resort, rates for the cheapest garden-view room start at $300 nightly through December 19, then spike as high as $450 per night for stays during winter months.
In addition to pleasing prices, expect balmy temperatures. As the summer heat wanes, average daily temperatures hover around 75 to 85 degrees.
(Photo: Dan Queiroz via flickr/CC Attribution)
Miami does a lot to court fall travelers. There's Miami Spice, an extended restaurant week that covers the full month of September. Car aficionados can geek out at the Miami International Auto Show or attend the NASCAR Ford championship race in November. And, of course, the beaches and nightlife don't lose their allure when summer ends.
For further incentive, consider the savings. If you're flying, it's often cheaper to get to Miami in fall than in winter. We found flights on American from Boston to Miami in January for as little as $277 each way, compared to the cheapest fares we found for mid- to late-March departures, which came to $342 each way. It's the same story with United: Our search yielded Chicago-to-Miami nonstop flights for $516 round-trip in November; fares jumped to $573 for the same trip in February. If these airfare differences seem trivial, consider the costs if you're traveling with a family or even as a couple. Sixty bucks a ticket can really add up.
Let's look at sailings out of Miami's cruise port. Sure, this isn't technically a Miami-centric thing to do, but if you're in town and you want to tack a long-weekend getaway onto your trip, you'll save a ton by planning a sailing during fall. Norwegian, for example, runs a three-night Bahamas sailing (Friday through Monday) out of Miami. Prices for this sailing start at $469 per person for an inside cabin in March, compared to $219 for the same cruise in November.
Portugal's Algarve region—a beach destination along the country's southern coast—draws huge crowds of mostly European tourists during summer. Similar to the French Riviera, the Algarve offers quaint historical towns, picturesque beaches, and, during the high season, a hard-partying club crowd. Yet a quieter mood develops here after the summer-holiday throngs have returned home.
Autumn sees a more serene Algarve, with bare beaches and bargains galore. And if you're after more of a culture-centric European vacation instead of an oceanside escape, the Algarve's cathedrals, castles, and cobblestoned villages will meet your needs in spades.
Consider Four Seasons Country Club, TripAdvisor's number-one-rated hotel for stays in the Algarve. Rates at this assemblage of 96 villas, which are rented by the week, start at €1,170 (about $1,510) in July and August and drop to nearly half that price—€610 (about $788)—in November and December. That's huge. Similarly, rates at popular B&B Duas Quintas drop to €75 (about $97) per night in fall, compared to €95 per night (about $123) during summer.
Can you still hit the beach in the Algarve during fall? Maybe. In early fall—September and October—its Mediterranean climate yields mild, summery weather. Those of you dead-set on surf and sand should plan an earlier fall vacation.
(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Whether you want to watch whales or the autumn leaves, to bike through Tudor neighborhoods or barhop around waterfront pubs, you'll find that Victoria doesn't lack for fall fun. One of our favorite new attractions to see in Victoria this fall is the Float House, which bills itself as the largest floatation center on earth. Book a 90-minute session in one of the center's five tanks filled with water and Epsom salt and float your stresses away.
Another great stress buster: the thought of all the money you'll save when you visit Victoria in autumn. Between sunny summer and ski season exists a great opportunity for budget-minded travelers: the off-peak fall period. Rates drop at hotels and B&Bs. And museums and restaurants get a little less crowded. At Abbeymoore Manor, a B&B in a historical 1912 mansion, low-season rates for stays between October 20 and December 18 start at $159 CAD (about $145). During high season, rates start at $229 CAD (about $209). Again, at the luxurious Villa Marco Polo Inn, rates start at $185 CAD (about $169) during the off-peak fall season and rise to $250 CAD (about $228) in summer.
It's cheaper to stay there, and it's probably cheaper to get there, too. We ran some test dates through Air Canada's booking system and found November midweek flights from Los Angeles to Victoria for as little as $174 each way. In June, the cheapest fares we spotted for the same trip came to $273 each way.
Nantucket, Cobblestoned Streets During Fall (Photo: Getty Images)
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Top Five Off-Peak Destinations for Fall 2014.