A Comprehensive Guide to Beaching it Up in the Fall

Forget summer. We make a case for why the fall is the perfect time to hit the beach.

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Complex Original

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Just because someone decided that Labor Day marks the official end of summer doesn’t mean that you won’t see the ocean for another nine months. Whether you’re aiming for a quick and easy weekend getaway, or are scrambling to find a way to get the most out of your unused air miles, there are plenty of seaside spots in the states that won’t break the bank when it comes to beaching it up in the fall. Plan accordingly.

By Car


Destination: Montauk

The Hamptons may be “over” post Labor Day, but that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t plenty to do at The End. In fact, many of the beach town’s regulars look forward to their first visit of the fall, once the $9 beers and New York’s summer influx of hipsters have started to disappear. Thanks to the farmers, fisherman, surfers, and yogis that have made Montauk their permanent home (or home away from home), there are plenty of attractions that stay open year-round, so visitors don’t have worry about an early October trip feeling like a half-assed use of their vacation days. Plus, it’s just a Jitney ride away!


Where to Stay

Even locals love hitting up Gurney’s Resort & Seawater Spa to enjoy a dip in the hotel’s heated indoor seawater pool—the only one of its kind in North America. The luxurious beachfront property does slash its prices during the off-season (well, at least a little bit), so fall guests shouldn’t feel guilty about dropping a little extra dough for one of the hotel spa’s seaweed-based treatments. If you’re less concerned with wining and dining your companion, or just really want to take advantage of those off-peak prices, book a room at Daunts Albatross Inn, where rooms start at $75 from November 1 to December 31. The inn may not be right on the beach—it’s a block away—but it is conveniently close to the bars that remain open all year.


What to Eat

Don’t stress about your dining options becoming annoyingly limited before the temperatures really drop. Montauk staples like Manucci’s, Anthony’s Pancake and Waffle House, and O’Murphy’s Pub are open year-round. No beach vacay is complete without overindulging in seafood, so head to Harvest for family-style plates of oysters, littleneck clams, swordfish, yellow fin tuna, and depending on the season, black sea bass, monkfish, and tilefish. Trendier spots like Bliss or Swallow East stay open until November, minus the outdoor seating, but why not just get your order to go and hit the beach for a fancy picnic. As for drinking holes, you won’t feel like you missed the party if you stick to smaller, dive-ier spots like The Dock (no credit cards or cell phones allowed) and Shagwong Tavern, or fun hotel bars like The Montauket—a great spot to do the whole cheesy but beautiful sunset view thing.


What to Do

There’s not a whole lot that you can’t do just because it’s after Labor Day. You can still bike to the lighthouse, which remains open daily between September 2 and October 13 (then it’s Mondays, Fridays, and on weekends) for tours. You can still fish (blackfish season starts early October) and scarf down oysters (Oysterfest is October 18-19 this year), and, of course, you can surf the waves at Ditch Plains year-round. One thing you’ll see during the colder months that you would miss with a summer visit: seals. The north beaches can get a ton of harbor seals in late November through December as they migrate down from Maine. So if you’re here with your girlfriend, count on devoting a solid hour to paying them a visit. And don’t forget: all beaches are dog friendly come September!


What to Pack

First and foremost: a wet suit! As far as your out-of-water wardrobe is concerned, it’s still a surfer’s town so keep it casual. Think L.A. meets New England, with colorful button-downs, canvas shoes, tailored shorts, caps, sunglasses, and a windbreaker for that awesome, salty ocean breeze. Bring your board if you have one, but there are also plenty of places to rent.

By Train


Destination: Cape Cod

As summer fades, so do the Cape crowds—particularly families—that can make late September through mid-October the sweet spot for a weekend getaway with your pals. The ocean is still at its warmest; the golden hour of sunset stretches longer and temperatures can hit the high 70s. During the offseason, you can also shave more than two hours off of your travel time depending on the Amtrak and R.I. bus connections.


Where to Stay

The newly renovated Inn on the Beach brings out a fire pit come fall, and offers a seventh night free between September 30 to October 29. If you’re on a tight budget, check out the indoor Jacuzzi-equipped Sandwich Lodge & Resort where rates are as low as $69 through mid-October. Any of the quaint motels or bed and breakfasts throughout the Cape will most likely be offering special deals or slashed prices, so make sure to check online or call ahead for the best deals.


What to Eat

Like Montauk, plenty of lively bars and restaurants stay open after the summer crowds disappear. You’ll find great options in the town of Orleans on the lower Cape, including Mahoney’s Atlantic Bar & Grill for dinner, The Lost Dog Pub (there’s live entertainment on Friday and Saturdays) for drinks, and Orleans Bowling Center for an awesome selection of arcade games. The Squire in Chatham is a hit with locals year-round thanks to karaoke and trivia nights, and, if you’re looking for fine dining, check out Cape Sea Grille in Harwich Port. Open until mid-December, the Cape staple boasts an awesome selection of local seafood that changes with the seasons.


What to Do

Hit the water while it’s still warm or head to the south side for a cooler, refreshing dip. There’s no shortage of beaches to choose from depending on what you’re looking for. Normally crowded spots like Mayflower and Craigville are pleasantly empty through the fall; at Cahoon Hollow Beach you can rent ATVs and four-wheelers for a ride along the coast; Sandy Neck Beach allows open fires, making it great for evening hangouts; Kalmus Beach is known for having the most reliable winds on the Cape, making it ideal for windsurfing. If you plan to visit through the end of October, you can still go whale watching through cruise groups like Dolphin Fleet Watch and Hyannis Whale Watchers. If you want to take a break from the ocean all together, hit the road to “test out” as many of the Cape’s clam and lobster shacks as possible. Sir Cricket Fish N’ Chips is open all year, with local favorites like Captain Frosty’s, Kream N’ Kone, and Cobie’s Clam Shack open through early October.


What to Pack

Just embrace the stereotypes and keep it preppy with cardigans, polos (yes, you can pop the collar), khakis, colored pants, and boat shoes. It worked for the Kennedys, so no excuses.

By Plane


Destination: Miami

Miami is one place that you don’t want to visit in the summer. Sneak a trip in during the fall and you’ll still beat the high fares of peak winter season. And unlike northeast beach towns that only reach 100 percent during high season, there’s always plenty to do in Miami year-round, whether you’re there to party or chill out with your grandparents.


Where to Stay

If you want to be right in the thick of things you won’t want to venture north of 21st Street for a place to stay—the options are still ridiculous. If you’re looking for something glamorous, check out Delano (if rooms aren’t available you’ll still want to stop by the lobby Rose Bar for a pre-dinner drink). Right next door there’s the more affordable Surfcomber. The newly renovated and super trendy Raleigh is a 10-minute walk away and plenty of cheap-ish options like The Century or The Garden Hotel where you can get a room for $150 a night. You’ll find more bang for your buck the further north you go (and way more families and clueless tourists), so just stay on Collins Ave. to make sure the beach is right at your doorstop. And finally, if you’re okay with having zero desire to actually leave your hotel, get a room at The Standard, which boasts an awesome bayside restaurant, yoga classes, spa, and bar complete with a ping-pong table.


What to Eat

Like New York, Miami is a foodie’s dream destination given its constantly evolving culinary scene. Regardless of when you visit, you can be sure that there will always be new hotspots to try (four-floored 1826 Restaurant and Lounge from award-winning chef Danny Grant opened this spring with a seasonally rotating menu that includes soft shell crab and local burrata), and legendary haunts that have still got it (The Forge—open since the 1930s and whose regulars included Elizabeth Taylor and Madonna—still has the best steaks in town). Just a few blocks away from the beach, and in the midst the city’s hottest clubs, you’ll find newly opened Tongue & Cheek, which boasts killer cocktails and a beef cheek burger. As for Cuban food, don’t leave town without a late-night meal at the iconic Versailles, which stays open until 3:30 a.m. on Saturdays.


What to Do

Miami has so many distractions that no one could blame you for struggling to find time for the actual beach, but do yourself a favor and make time. The water is warmer than anywhere else in the U.S and you’ll find beautiful, smooth sand along the coast. If you want to get more out of the beach than snoozing and swimming, find a snorkeling center—at South Beach Divers you can get a mask, fins, and snorkel for as little as $2 a day—or Jet Ski rental. And if your sole purpose is to party, you won’t want to miss the pools by day and clubs by night. Start at Hyde Beach at the SLS or WET Lounge at The W and then grab a cocktail at a trendy new bar like The Broken Shaker before ending your night at straight-out-of-Vegas super club LIV.


What to Pack

While your biggest concern when it comes to packing for Montauk or the Cape is not forgetting a sweater, when it comes to Miami, make sure you’ve got the sunscreen. A tip for if you plan to buy it down there: just walk the extra few blocks to the nearest Walgreens to avoid paying upwards of $20 at a hotel shop. When it comes to your wardrobe, don’t be afraid to go flashy with your swim trunks, bold with graphic T-shirts, and keep your button-downs white and crisp. Hell, take a page out of LeBron’s playbook and slap on a fedora. As for footwear, in Miami it’s flip-flops by day and dress shoes by night.

By Plane cont.


Destination: San Diego

If you’re going to fly all the way out west for beaches, San Diego trumps Los Angeles—even if L.A. folks don’t want to admit it. Plus, with the town’s easygoing attitude, you can rest assured that you’ll actually be able to unwind. With beautiful weather practically year-round there’s no need to refresh your app every few hours to make sure there won’t be a serious temperature dip or torrential rain during your visit.


Where to Stay

If you want to be right on the water, then you really can’t beat the Crystal Pier Hotel, whose white cottages sit directly above the crashing waves on the pier. Summer reservations are sometimes required almost a year in advance, but come fall, you can usually get a room just a few weeks prior to your trip. Another affordable option in the Mission Beach district is the Surfer Beach Hotel, which boasts a cool retro vibe and rooms for under $120. If you don’t mind staying further inland or the nightlife is as much a priority as is proximity to the ocean, you’ll find a ton of options in the Gaslamp district like boutique Hotel Solemar and the San Diego W, which has a reputation for being the most lively W property out there thanks to its incredible rooftop bar.


What to Eat

You’re right by the ocean—and the border—so there’s nothing wrong with polishing off a dinner of smoked fish and oysters at the legendary Fish Market with a burrito from Sarah’s Mexican Food (literally a hole in the wall between bars on Mission Blvd.). You could also spend your entire night at La Puerta in the Gaslamp district, which boasts awesome DJs, a killer tequila and cocktail selection, along with one-pound burritos and surf n’ turf fries. Surfers will talk your ear off about where to find the best fish tacos in town, but Mitch’s Seafood on the Bay (choose from local halibut, grouper, thresher shark, and white sea bass depending on seasonal availability) and South Beach Bar and Grille in Ocean Beach (go for fried oyster or ceviche!) are sure bets.


What to Do

Locals are known for their active lifestyle so you’ll have a ton of options when it comes to surfing, wakeboarding, and beachside yoga—there are some studios (check out Bliss Paddle Yoga and San Diego Paddle Yoga) that even offer paddleboard yoga. If you’re on a mission for complete relaxation, there are plenty of seaside spots to choose from. Locals love Pacific Beach, where you can find Tourmaline Surfing Park; hippie favorite Ocean Beach is known for its nightly drum circles and sunset gatherings; La Jolla Shores is the go-to spot for scuba diving and kayaking; Coronado and Del Mar are just freakin’ beautiful. Come nighttime you’ll find amazing bars and restaurants in the Gaslamp, including the 207 Nightclub at the Hard Rock, Whiskey Girl and Top of the Hyatt, as well as plenty of low-key pubs.


What to Pack

San Diego is known for its surf and skate culture, and the city’s style reflects that with its laid back vibe. Count on spending the day alternating between bare feet and swim trunks, and boat shoe and casual shorts, while basic tees paired with light pants will cut it for a night out. Also, don’t forget sunscreen and a Padres cap.

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