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Goodbye, Summer. Hello, Fall.
Beautiful colors abound, the climate is not too warm to be exploring out, and new layered fashion clothing are out in display. What’s not to love about this season? Everything is looking more festive as people prepare for the holidays–Thanksgiving and Halloween.
With most kids already back to school, plenty of destinations are offering promotions to attract visitors to their places. In addition to relatively affordable costs to visit the places, you can also expect lower crowd levels during this season. Giving families more incentive to take a long weekend vacation to relax.
With plenty of beautiful places to choose from, I have not been to all of them. So, I enlisted the help of a few travel experts. They each share their experience, why they think families will have a great time, and what they recommend visitors to do.
There’s just so much great ideas to share with you so make sure you read through the recommendations!
- San Francisco Bay, CA
- Mackinac Island, MI
- Petoskey, MI and Charlevoix, MI
- Branson, MO
- Stowe, VT
- Walt Disney World, FL
- Palm Springs, CA
- Gatlinburg, TN
- Miami, FL
Pop-Up Museums, Wineries, and Pumpkin Capital of the World
Location: San Francisco, CA
Recommended by Emily from Henry and Andrew’s Guide
The fall is hands down the best time to visit San Francisco – the sun finally comes out after the bitter cold Faugust (Fog-August) San Francisco “summer”; the colors of the grape vines turn into beautiful fall colors of red, yellow and orange; and the Pumpkin Capital of the World – Half Moon Bay comes to life!
This year, in particular, we have not just one but two famous Instagrammable pop-up museums going on through October (dates may get extended) – the Color Factory and the Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC). Tickets to both museums are sold out, but find someone who has tickets and beg them to take you and your kids! Kids under 2 at the Color Factory and 3 for MOIC, can go in for FREE. The museums hand out enough sweets to get your kids to run around like crazy, and they will come out starry eyed and exhausted – ready for a nap! Can’t beat that.
Wineries and kids actually go well together if you go to the right wineries, know what to expect, and what to bring! Check out these tips for going to California wineries with kids, and head over to wineries in places like Napa, Sonoma, Livermore or Half Moon Bay.
Half Moon Bay is supposedly the Pumpkin Capital of the World, and it lives up to its title every year in the fall. Some of the most kid friendly places there are Lemo’s Farm and Pastorino Farm. Across the street from each other, both offer activities like pony rides, train rides, hay rides and of course, pumpkin patches. For a less scary train ride, opt for the Pastorino Farm one. Bonus? These farms are right next to a very family friendly winery, La Nebbia, with bocce ball courts and picnic tables. So pack your lunch, go to the farms, and end with a nice bottle of white wine outside surrounded by pumpkins for a perfect fall day in the San Francisco Bay Area!
Explore more of San Francisco’s top attractions with unlimited cable rides, hand-picked and packaged into one convenient booklet, CityPASS. For places to stay in San Francisco, check Hotels.com. Don’t forget to check cheap flights to San Francisco on sale right now from Skyscanner.
Bikes, Horses, History and Fudge
Location: Mackinac Island, MI
Recommended by Yamkins from Gofamgo
If you’ve only been to Mackinac Island, MI during the summer or haven’t been, you need to book yourself a trip. Shortly after the Labor Day weekend, visitors to this island gets scarce. Everyone is back to the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. Good news to us looking for getaways, that means you get the best seats in the ferry, bargain hotel rates, lakeside view dining tables, and less crowded walking and biking trails.
The northern part of Michigan usually gets chilly this time of year. Sweatshirt kind of weather while you stroll along the trails and admiring the beautiful tones the season brings. It’s a great place to be off-the-grid for a while and appreciate nature. You won’t see any cars in here. Nada. You can, however, rent a bicycle or surrey for a few minutes to a day. Cycling is the best way to explore the car-free hot spot. If you rather just sit and relax, you can book a tour on one of the horse carriages in the island. The coachmen and coachwomen are very good guides and will bring you up to date with the history of the island.
Speaking of history, you won’t be shorthanded here. From tours of century-old lighthouses to Fort Mackinac, you will appreciate the stories that shaped the place. Not to mention the infamous Grand Hotel, built in 1887, offers day tours for non-hotel guests which will give you a peek of old world charm. The Four Diamond rated historic hotel is also known as the filming location of the classic Somewhere in Time starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. Every year in October, the Grand Hotel hosts a weekend dedicated to the film and its fans. Book a room for your family at The Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, MI.
Mackinac Island is also known as home to the American favorite treat: fudge. Your trip to this island will never be complete without tasting the samples of numerous flavors of fudge. Watch them make it while you shop and make sure to bring some home with you.
Other activities you can do include golfing, shopping, and eating!
Where to Stay
Check out these recommended accommodations from Hotels.com for your stay in Mackinac: Island House Hotel and Mission Point Resort. If you want something more homey, you can also stay at an AirBNB residence and GET $40 OFF your stay.
Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Location: Petoskey, MI and Charlevoix, MI
Recommended by April Berry from Minivan Adventures
Looking for a family-friendly fall getaway? I highly recommend a fall color tour around the northern Michigan towns of Petoskey and Charlevoix. This area has all the beautiful colors and views that adults want and just enough fun and adventure to keep the children happy.
The best time to plan your northern Michigan fall color tour is late September through mid-October when the colors peak in that area. I suggest stops in Petoskey, Boyne Mountain, Ironton, and Charlevoix. These areas will provide you with plenty of opportunity for fun experiences and some lovely views – beautiful lake views, stunning forest views, and mountaintop views.
While in Petoskey, you can add a little variety to your excursion by stopping by Kilwin’s Chocolate Kitchen for a free tour. Or, plan a picnic in Pennsylvania Park in front of the Wright Cycle Company storefront façade. Children and adults will enjoy either or both of these stops. Also, be sure to stop by Bayfront Park to admire the vibrant colors of the trees against the blue backdrop of Lake Michigan.
In Boyne Mountain, take the ski lift up the mountainside for more stunning views. If you are a family of thrill seekers and the ski lift doesn’t provide enough excitement for your crew, you could also make the short drive over to Wildwood Rush where you can admire the beautiful fall colors via a zipline canopy tour!
There is a small ferry in Ironton that will take you and your vehicle across the south arm of Lake Charlevoix for just a few dollars. It takes about 10 minutes round trip, and it’s definitely a unique and memorable experience that the entire family will enjoy.
Then there is Charlevoix – my favorite northern Michigan town. While there, children would enjoy seeing the drawbridge in action. Also, fall is a great time to look for Petoskey stone souvenirs along the nearly empty off-season beaches there. (Read our best tips for finding and polishing Petoskey stones here.) These beaches are also great places to catch a lovely Lake Michigan sunset. And finally, enjoy the colors along the Little Traverse Wheelway – a 26-mile biking/walking trail that extends from Charlevoix and past Petoskey through some beautiful terrain.
Yes. With these beautiful views and fun experiences, a northern Michigan color tour of the Charlevoix/Petoskey areas may be just the outing your family is looking for this fall.
Where to Stay
Check out these highly rated accommodations from Hotels.com for your stay in Northern MI: Stafford’s Bay View Inn at Petoskey and Horton Creek Inn Bed and Breakfast in Charlevoix. If you want something more homey, you can also stay at an AirBNB residence and GET $40 OFF your stay.
Crafts, Comfort Food and Family Fun
Location: Branson, MO
Recommended by Stacey Billingsley from Love, Laughter and Luggage
If you’re looking for homemade crafts, comfort food, and family fun look no further than Branson, Missouri, this fall. Nestled in the Ozark hills, Branson is a beautiful place when the air gets cooler and the leaves change to vivid yellow, orange, and red. There is so much to do, and you can enjoy all Branson has to offer while experiencing the beauty of autumn. Enjoy homemade cooking at McFarlin’s or the Farmhouse. Shop along Lake Taneycomo at the Branson Landing while enjoying the vibrant-colored trees along the shore. In the evening, choose one of the shows that gives Branson its reputation for outstanding live music entertainment.
One of the best places to visit in Branson during the fall is Silver Dollar City, an 1880s theme park that spotlights the craftsmanship, food, and traditions of the past. This park also features rides for the kids and the thrill-seekers in your family. During the fall, the entire park is decorated with pumpkins, corn stalks, leaves, and scarecrows to get you in that autumn spirit. The weather is generally cooler during the fall, so it’s a great time to explore the park without dealing with the extreme temperatures of summer and winter. Take in music shows or watch craft demonstrations such as pottery making or woodworking. Browse the craft booths of visiting craftspeople from the surrounding area during Silver Dollar City’s annual craft festival. Silver Dollar City is the perfect place to welcome fall and enjoy all the beauty of the season.
Where to Stay
Check out these highly rated accommodations from Hotels.com for your stay in Branson, MO: Cliffs Resort Table Rock Lake near Silver Dollar City and The Branson Hotel near Veterans Memorial Museum. If you want something more homey, you can also stay at an AirBNB residence and GET $40 OFF your stay.
Leaf Peeping on a Budget
Location: Stowe, Vermont
Recommended by Ruth Mendes from Have Kiddos Will Travel
Majestic mountain views, hiking, skiing, biking, restaurants, waterfalls and mountain climbing, Stowe Mountain Resort, and the Von Trapp Lodge–the real-life inspiration for the film Sound of Music. These are just some of the things Stowe, VT is known for.
Travel + Leisure Magazine has voted Stowe, VT as one of the “12 Best Places to see Foliage in Vermont”. It’s a family friendly destination to do what Vermonters call “leaf peeping” without breaking the bank.
New England is known for its many covered bridges and there are plenty to explore in the Stowe area. Nothing screams New England like white church steeples and covered bridges and there’s no better time than Fall to take in these views.
Take a Gondola Skyride to the top of Mt. Mansfield after exploring Stowe Mountain Resort. The views are magnificent and the Gondola options makes this natural beauty accessible to families with young children. Enjoy playing in their playground, bocce game, hiking trails and amazing mountain views.
The Von Trapp Family has managed to turn the mountains of Stowe into their own Australian Alps replica. Whether you are a Sound of Music fan or not, the views are not to miss.
Smugglers Notch State Park can be accessed via the Green Mountain Byway (opened seasonally) and features amazing views of 1000-foot cliffs, which were originally used a smuggling route to Canada. My kids love watching mountain climbers and scaling some of the smaller rock formations.
Stowe Mountain Auto Toll Road zig-zags its way up to the top of Mt. Mansfield and offers incredible scenic views of the Vermont area allowing you to see all the way to Lake Champlain on a clear day.
Enjoy a tour at Cold Hollow Cider Mill and watch them press apple cider year-round, and shop at their General Store for Vermont-made gifts and fresh apple cider donuts.
A bonus stop is in nearby Waterbury where you can stop for ice-cream and a 30-minute tour at the Ben and Jerry’s Factory. Learn about how they make their famous ice-cream and sample a full-size scoop sample at the end. This is a favorite “stretch your legs” pit stop for our family when exploring Vermont.
Where to Stay
Check out these highly rated accommodations from Hotels.com for your stay in Stowe, VT: Stowe Mountain Lodge and Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa. If you want something more homey, you can also stay at an AirBNB residence and GET $40 OFF your stay.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in Disney World
Location: Orlando, FL
Recommended by Amanda Bacon from Fairytales by Amanda
One of the most frequently asked questions I get asked is “When do you recommend visiting Disney World?” For me, I love the fall! September and October provide a perfect combination of low crowd levels, excellent deals on dining and accommodation packages and exclusive experiences that you simply cannot get at any other time of the year, including Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
The Not-So-Scary Halloween party boasts three major events: The Boo-to-You Halloween Parade, Happy HalloWishes fireworks festival and the Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular!
Boo-to-You Halloween Parade: Led by the headless horseman, this family-friendly “Spooktacular procession” features your favorite characters like Mickey and Minney along with villains like Captain Hook, Wreck-it-Ralph and the ghosts from the Haunted Mansion.
Happy HalloWishes Fireworks festival: Disney villains conjure up a ghostly fireworks show sure to tempt you to embrace the dark side!
Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular: Join the Sanderson sisters from Disney’s Hocus Pocus, as they enlist the help of other Disney villains to put on the most dasterdly Halloween party this side of the netherworld!
If the incredible shows are not enough to lure you, the exclusive meet-and-greets offer access to some of Disney’s most elusive characters. The roster of characters includes Jack and Sally from The Nightmare before Christmas, Lots-o-Huggin Bear from Toy Story 3, Moana, Jack Sparrow and many more!
Come dressed in your Halloween costume and trick-or-treat all through Magic Kingdom or shop the exclusive event merchandise!
Whether you love shows, characters or want to trick-or-treat at the happiest place on earth, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party makes visiting Walt Disney World a spell-tacular destination this fall.
The Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is available on select nights August 25th – November 1st.
Palm Springs and Palm Desert Area
Location: Palm Springs, CA
Recommended by Melissa Conn from The Family Voyage
A typical fall getaway might involve leaf peeping, apple cider and chunky cable-knit sweaters. But palm trees? You bet! Don’t miss California’s desert cities of Palm Springs and Palm Desert in fall. After months of brutal heat, October brings relief in the form of sub-100 daytime highs, while you can expect to spend Thanksgiving pool-side in 75 degree temps.
What should you do in Palm Springs and Palm Desert in the fall? Our favorite activity for all ages is a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. You’ll see fields of cholla and Joshua trees stretching off into the distance while you choose from a wide range of hiking trails. Hiking not your thing? Take the kids to The Living Desert, where they can experience desert animals in their native habitat.
Fall temperatures may be similar to early spring, but weekend crowds will be tiny by comparison. As such, you’ll find much better bargains on hotels and vacation rental properties. If you live in the southwest, the Palm Springs area is an easy drive. From the rest of the US, Hop an easy flight to Palm Springs international airport. A long weekend is the perfect amount of time for a visit, so start planning your fall desert getaway! Check out more ideas for Palm Desert with kids here.
Where to Stay
Check out these highly rated accommodations from Hotels.com for your stay in Palm Springs, CA: The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn and La Serena Villas or Triada Palm Springs – Autograph Collection. If you want something more homey, you can also stay at an AirBNB residence and GET $40 OFF your stay.
Stunning Landscapes and Rustic Cabins
Location: Gatlinburg, TN
Recommended by Brittany Kollmer from October Acres
If you live on the east coast of the United States you’ve no doubt been told that you have to visit the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the Fall. I’ve always dreamed of renting a rustic cabin and enjoying the cooler weather and fall foliage down there. We had plans to do just that this year but a unique opportunity came up in August when we realized the path of totality for the solar eclipse was going through the National Park, of course we couldn’t miss that so we decided to take our trip in late August. Before I get into any more details about a Fall trip to the area let me just tell you how amazing and beautiful seeing a full total eclipse is! I feel so lucky that my entire family was able to experience it, it was truly incredible. Definitely add it to your bucket lists, the next one in the US will be 2024 which isn’t that far away.
So, back to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP). It is already a stunning landscape and Fall foliage and those cooler temperatures makes it that much more beautiful. One way to view the beauty is to ride the aerial tramcar to the top of Ober Gatliburg. From there you can also partake in other fun activities such as the mountain coaster or alpine slide. Next on your list would be to enter the GSMNP which is just steps from Gatlinburg. The entrance to the park is free and you can follow 441 all the way through the park to North Carolina which is about an hours drive. Every inch of the drive is beautiful and scenic and there are several lookout spots along the way. Your first stop should be at the Sugarlands Visitor Center which is about a mile into the park. For $5 you can purchase their map kit which covers all of the hiking trails and auto tours in the National Park. I also suggest purchasing their National Park passport book for your kids; it’s an educational book as well as an actual passport book you can stamp at each park and visitor location to keep track of your travels and adventures.
Be sure to stop at the Newfound Gap lookout, not only is it gorgeous but you can take a picture by the Tennessee/North Carolina border and have fun being in two states at once. Another spot to stop on the way is Clingmans Dome, it’s the tallest mountain in the Smokies. It is a very steep, but paved ½ mile hike to the top and the view is absolutely incredible. Once you make it to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the end of the drive be sure to stop in there, each visitor center has its own mini museum indoors and this one also has a farm building museum outside.
I can say so much more about this beautiful place, but I think you get the idea! It’s a Fall trip you definitely want to take.
Where to Stay
Check out these highly rated accommodations from Hotels.com for your stay in Gatlinburg, TN: The Lodge at Buckberry Creek and Baskins Creek Condos. If you want something homier, you can also stay at an AirBNB residence and GET $40 OFF your stay.
Fall in Miami
Location: Miami, FL
Recommended by Stehli Krause from Mommy and Kid Travel
Our leaves don’t change and we don’t have hot cider stands, but Miami, FL has lots to offer families looking for a quick fall getaway. To experience the best we have to offer, head over to the farming community of the Redlands, just 45 minutes south and west of South Beach.
Your first stop should include a sticky bun from Knaus Berry Farm . This truly special treat is served by the dozen (or half-dozen) in a distinctive brown cardboard box top. This is a no-frills farm stand that also excels at baked goods. Bring cash, however. Credit cards are not accepted. The lines on Saturday can be long, so arrive early. Knaus Berry Farm is open November through mid-April and closed on Sundays.
Looking for a pumpkin patch? Head over to family-run Pinto’s Farm. A relative new comer to the pumpkin patch scene, Pinto’s farm is the gold standard. Pinto’s offers shaded walking paths (important in the heat) stacked with pumpkins carefully placed alongside cute vignettes for that charming family photo. Pony rides, paddle boats, a petting zoo and face painters add to the fun! Pinto’s is open from September 30th through November 5th, and right now there is a special discounted rate of $10 for the first 300 customers.
Another great place is Burr’s Berry Farm. Fall begins our strawberry season, and the absolute best place to pick your own strawberries and tomatoes is at Burr’s. Brand new for this year is the Harvest Festival from Sept 30th through October 31st featuring a corn maze, pumpkin patch and hay rides. A South Florida landmark, Burr’s is famous for its shakes and ice cream sundaes featuring their home-grown produce which is usually available from December through May. For some great pics of their yummy goodies, hit the farm’s Instagram feed at #BurrsBerryFarm.
If you find yourself in the Palmetto Bay area and crave a spooky good time (and you have older kids who can handle a scare) try a ghost tour at Deering Estate, October 19th or 26th from 8pm to 10pm. It’s well worth the $30 per person. For the super-courageous, try the Spookover on October 13th from 10pm to 2:30am at $65 per person.
Or maybe you just want the beach! We have miles and miles of sandy beaches, and the fall is a wonderful time for a swim in the ocean.
Bottom line? Give Miami a chance for your fall getaway!
Where to Stay
Check out these highly rated accommodations from Hotels.com for your stay in Miami, FL: Biltmore Hotel – Miami and Ritz-Carlton in Miami or Hotel Colonade at Coral Gables. If you want something more homey, you can also stay at an AirBNB residence and GET $40 OFF your stay.
Stehli Krause is a busy working mommy traveling with her set of 8-year-old twins. You can read more about their road trips and travels at Mommy and Kid Travel. You can follow their adventures on Facebook or Instagram.
What are your plans for this Fall season with your family? Have you been to any destination that you think other families will love? Share in the comments below and don’t forget to share this list to your friends at social media.