Go Now: The Best Last-Minute Fall Escapes
All of a sudden, daylight's cutting out early, pumpkin spice is on the march—and holiday shopping looms way too large. The time is ripe, in other words, to get outta Dodge. From last-call fall foliage viewing to endless summer vibes (and oh yes, cheap airfare), here's what we're loving in the world of spur-of-the-moment autumnal escapes.
Big Bend, TX
“The best place in America to fall asleep under the stars,” according to The Washington Post (and probably not coincidentally, an official Dark Sky Park), Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas is a, um, stellar spot for a last-minute fall camping trip. (Daytime temperatures generally reach the 70s, but with nights in the 40- to 50-degree range, you'll want thermals and a toasty sleeping bag). You can still catch some spectacular citrine and amber foliage along the park's trails, which will also introduce you to the legendary local mountains, canyons, desert and river (the Rio Grande, that is). Big Bend is also home to more than 400 bird species, 40 cactus species and the odd mountain lion and Mexican black bear. The four campgrounds are bookable up to four days before your visit. And if you’re not up for sleeping outdoors, check out the tranquil Chisos Mountain Lodge. And serious trekkers, you’re in luck: You can get backcountry hiking permits in person, directly at the park, up to 24 hours before you want to head into the thick of it.
The airfare alone is pretty compelling—we've seen nonstop roundtrips from the US for as little as $350 in Nov.—but here's what we love more: The shorter, cooler days hardly affect outdoor living in Amsterdam, where bikes are still out in full force (there were almost 900,000 of them in the city, at last count), people still are schmoozing at sidewalk cafes (albeit under heaters) and canal cruises are still totally worthwhile, despite the nip in the air (as of Nov. 28, you can book a floating tour of the Amsterdam Light Festival). Even the historic floating flower market is still in full bloom. Other don't-misses include the Rijksmuseum (where you can catch the amazing Rembrandt-Velasquez exhibition until Jan. 19) and the always gutting Ann Frank House. During your downtime, warm up with hot chocolate and Dutch apple pie at Winkel 43—or a glass of glühwein at the Museumplein if you're in town from Nov. 16 on, when the ice rink opens, along with a full menu of cool-weather treats.
Santa Barbara, CA
If you still haven't accepted the change of seasons, cling to the endless summer vibes in Santa Barbara, where the local waves are still full of surfers—and the historic Arlington Theater is hosting the city's inaugural Surf Film Festival Nov. 8–9 (needless to say, Endless Summer's on the lineup). But you'll pick up the summery vibes Santa Barbara's putting down anytime you walk along State Street—all palm trees, Spanish-style balconies and open-air hangouts. One such spot to try: the bougainvillea-fringed patio at Loquita Santa Barbara, where the farm-to-table tapas, jamón tastings and real-deal paella are another nod to the area's Spanish colonial past. And whenever you're in town, see what's happening in wine country, where there's always something on.
Niagara wine region, Canada
Speaking of wine, we've had our eye on another little corner of the continent, too: Niagara-on-the-Lake (on the Canadian side of the falls), home to more than 20 wineries and a rising vinophile scene. Surprised? Consider that the climate is similar to northern Italy's and Burgundy's—and the grapes don't disagree: Everything from cabernet franc to pinot noir does well here, as you'll find at Taste the Season (Nov. 1-24). Of course, even if the festival makes this prime time for wine tasting, you're here during the off-season for most everything else, so prices are accordingly low: We've seen roundtrip airfare for around $300 from the US, and rooms at the award-winning Harbour House Hotel for just about half the price of high-season stays. And seeing the falls without the crowds (as well as 19th-century Fort George and the historic Heritage District of Niagara-on-the-Lake) is a pretty glorious bonus.
If you've been seeing a lot lately about Puerto Rico's post-hurricane recovery and have wanted to check out the progress for yourself, go for it: We're seeing last-minute, direct flights for as little as $150 roundtrip from the US. Act really fast, and you can catch the inaugural edition of Puerto Rico Cocktail Week in San Juan (November 3–9)—and seriously, where better to celebrate than in the legendary birthplace of the Piña Colada? Or if mojitos are your drink, hold out another week for Mojito Fest (Nov. 16), when you'll also find food from more than 40 top local restaurants to help absorb all that sweet, minty rum you'll be sampling. Then again, you can always head to Casa Bacardi for a historical tour, tasting or mixology class. Once you're ready to leave San Juan (and given those gorgeous, cobbled streets and candy-colored colonial facades, we'd understand if that point never came), check out the newly regenerated rainforests of El Yunque, the once again bioluminescent waters of Fajardo, Vieques and Lajas and the ascendant, island-wide foodie scene.
The 100-mile stretch that makes up Mexico's gorgeous Riviera Maya is perfect for partying or pampering—your choice. With extra-cheap fares from the US right now (we're seeing a lot of direct flights in the $200 round-trip neighborhood), Cancun is the ideal starting point; the rest is up to you. Playa del Carmen is a perennial favorite among snorkelers and divers; Tulum among yogis, and Coba, among adventurers. And that's the tiniest sampling of what's available. Plus: You’ll be beating the crowds (and the attendant prices) by showing up on the cusp of the dry and wet seasons.
To anyone looking for an easy-on-the-pockets, last-minute European getaway, Lisbon says, Olá! (We're seeing direct US-Lisbon roundtrip fall fares for under $500.) One of western Europe’s oldest cities, Portugal’s laid-back capital makes for some of the richest possible roaming. You can brave the hilly streets on foot (one way to head into Thanksgiving with a calorie deficit) or hop aboard the iconic tram 28. But however you decide to get around, don't miss the 16th-century convent-turned National Tile Museum, the Feira da Ladra flea market, the iconic fado at Clube de Fado and the pasteis de nata at Pasteis de Belem (or try your hand at making your own). Wherever you wind up, it will be far less crowed than during the jam-packed summer season, with lovely weather, too: Even into December, daytime temperatures can approach 60 degrees. You'll also find great digs at great rates.