In New England, historic towns with large bodies of water are not only appealing in summer. They’re fantastic (some might say even better) in the fall. Brilliant leaves glisten against pristine rivers in Vermont, cool country air covers the roads in coastal Rhode Island, and robust flavors fill festivals in Maine. These are five day-trips worth the drive, both on and off the beaten path. Each one has plenty of browsing, walking, eating, and ways to just soak up the season that distinguishes this part of the country from anywhere else.
Travel 60 miles south of Boston on Route 24 and you’ll find the tranquil, not-often-talked-about town of Tiverton. Take the exit for Route 77 south (also Main Road), a whimsical stretch of roadside stands and provincial homes, to the intersection of Route 179. There you’ll be greeted by Tiverton Four Corners, a collection of art galleries, antique emporiums, and cozy boutiques. Visit The Cottage for chic home decor and knock on the door at Perfectly Twisted if you have a knack for knitting.
For lunch, Provender serves perfect picnic foods and in the colder months don’t skip its selection of soups. Owner Jennifer Borden, who loves the town especially in the fall, features seasonal sugar cookies that leave customers smitten with the season. “We love fall flavors the most and use a lot of pumpkin,” Borden said. “We are known for our scones because they’re made from scratch.” According to Borden, the oatmeal date scones are the most popular during fall, but don’t bypass the batch made with sherry-soaked currants.
Continue south on Main Road to West Main Road and enjoy views of the Sakonnet River. Roll down the windows, feel the autumn breeze, and smell the country air. In 3 miles, you’ll arrive at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards. Take the dusty, gravel-covered road to what some would consider a wine lover’s oasis. The vineyard offers tastings daily and tours are every hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Columbus Day. Grab a glass of wine and sit on the outdoor patio with a cheese plate from Carolyn’s Cafe or get lost in more than 30 acres of grape harvest.
162 West Main Road, Little Compton
If you have a green thumb or want to surround yourself with fall flora and fauna, head to Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth. The once-privately owned home is now part of the Newport Preservation Society. The gardens are expansive and boast remarkable color in the fall with flowers such as petunias and dahlias in full bloom.
In the formal garden, you’ll find plush greenery in the shape of a camel, giraffe, elephant, and teddy bear. Some of the topiaries are original and date to the early 1900s. “It’s unique because it’s a throwback to another time,” said horticulturist Jim Donahue, who works on the property. The garden is open through Columbus Day.
380 Cory’s Lane, Portsmouth
Settled in 1637 and incorporated two years later, Sandwich was the first town established on Cape Cod. A popular beach destination, Sandwich is also known as the “town that glass built” because of its early-19th-century glass industry.
Visit the Sandwich Glass Museum on Oct. 26 for PumpkinFest. Glassmaking artists will illuminate museum grounds with hand-blown pumpkins placed in bales of hay. The museum offers glass blowing demonstrations daily and walking tours through the colonial streets of Sandwich Village select days till Oct. 12.
129 Main St., Sandwich
You don’t have to wait until PumpkinFest to gush over glass gourds. Local artist Michael Magyar, who owns and operates The Glass Studio on Cape Cod, decorates his studio front with glass jack-o’-lanterns in mid-October. Each year Magyar creates up to 200 pieces in a variety of cuts and colors. “I draw inspiration from autumn colors like orange and red, but I also make blue, green, and metallic pumpkins,” Magyar said. Pop in and pick out a pumpkin for $30 to $150. Glass blowing demonstrations are free and take place year-round Thursday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
470 Route 6A, East Sandwich
For the outdoor enthusiast, ECOtourz offers bike and kayak rentals. Cycle to the sea or paddle the waterways of the upper Cape. A two-hour guided kayak tour is $150 per couple or $85 per person. Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen is a rustic retreat that’s open year-round. Experience fall foliage while wandering the wild flower garden and hiking nature trails. Behold the intricacies of jam-making in the working museum dating to 1903. Looking to cover more ground? Explore the copious gardens of the Heritage Museum & Gardens through Oct. 27. You’ll find an alfresco art exhibit and beds of hardy sunflowers, cardinal flowers, and cannas.
ECOtourz, 18 Jarves St., Sandwich
Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen, 6 Discovery Hill Road,
Heritage Museum & Gardens, 67 Grove St., Sandwich
There’s always time for tea and the Dunbar Tea Shop offers that and more. Sip on black tea infused with cranberry and essence of almond, a house specialty. The classic British tea house also serves breakfast and lunch.
1 Water St., Sandwich
South of the popular beach town, Wells, in York County, you’ll find Ogunquit — a town meaning “beautiful place by the sea.” Although Wells and Ogunquit play at a slower pace post Labor Day, they are still great places to hit in the fall.
On Sept. 28, head to PunkinFiddle in honor of National Estuaries Day at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm. The annual fete celebrates Maine’s rich coastal environment. Carve pumpkins, stuff scarecrows, press apples, and churn butter just like in the olden days.
342 Laudholm Farm Road, Wells
While in Wells, visit Spiller Farm and pick your own crops. Owner Bill Spiller and his wife, Anna, purchased the farm in 1976. September and October visitors can expect to pick tomatoes, winter squash, carrots, beets, and an array of apples. “We have a tremendous crop of apples this year because we had a freeze last year,” Spiller said.
On weekends through October, hop on a hayride and relish rows of sweet corn, bustling bee hives, a quaint picnic area, and an irrigation pond. Please call ahead as operating hours can change based on weather conditions.
85 Spiller Farm Lane, Wells
Head to Ogunquit Oct. 25 to 27 for the annual OgunquitFest. The three-day celebration includes a highly touted scarecrow contest where participating businesses showcase their creations during Columbus Day weekend. Ballot boxes are located throughout town and visitors are encouraged to vote. Other activities include a classic car show, an autumn bazaar, and horse-drawn wagon rides.
Cornerstone serves up artisan pizza and local craft beer. The pie selection includes an autumn-inspired acorn and squash pizza topped with goat cheeses and pecans ($17). After lunch, snuggle up with a sweater (it’s fall after all) and stroll Marginal Way. Hugging Maine’s magnificent coast, the footpath, with its breathtaking views and crashing waves, connects Perkins Cove to Ogunquit Beach.
228 Main St., Ogunquit
Make a savory stop at Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton. For nearly two decades, New Hampshire’s oldest winery has been producing red, white, and rose varietals. Take a guided tour and learn about winemaking from vine to vial; and enjoy a complimentary wine tasting.
183 Whitehall Road, South Hampton
Take Route 1 north along the New Hampshire coastline to the town of Portsmouth. The quintessential New England port is seriously perfect for postcards. Stroll the brick streets and back roads of Market Square. In the nation’s third-oldest city you’ll find history, character, and a glimpse back in time. Visit the North Church which houses a towering steeple that can be seen from almost any location in the town. Dine at Popovers on the Square, a quaint cafe serving soups, sweets, specialty coffees, and cordials. Browse the all-day brunch menu and devour a popover with homemade maple butter.
8 Congress St., Market Square, Portsmouth
Lose yourself in the daily life of centuries past at Strawbery Banke Museum. Admire wood-frame buildings and visit antique period homes situated on 10 acres of manicured landscape. Open daily until Oct. 31.
The historic grounds welcome the PASSPORT Craft Beer and Food Pairing on Sept. 14. Sip local craft brews paired with savory small plates from local purveyors. Further into fall, experience a traditional New England fair at the New Hampshire Fall Festival on Oct.12. You’ll encounter country living at its finest with art demonstrations, food preservation lectures, and a popular chili cook-off.
14 Hancock St., Portsmouth
A mysterious draw to Portsmouth are the Isles of Shoals. Located 6 miles from the coast, the rocky archipelago was discovered in 1614. Join the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company on a nearly three-hour narrated tour of each island. You’ll also cruise by the town’s working harbor which is home to the nation’s oldest and active naval yard. The final sail of the season is scheduled for Sept. 21.
315 Market St., Portsmouth
Yes, a day-trip to Vermont is doable.
Brattleboro beckons artists and country enthusiasts alike. Vermont’s oldest town, which sits on the southern tip of the Connecticut River Byway, is only a two-hour drive from Boston and lays claim to a vibrant visual and performing arts scene and lush local produce.
Galleries, studios, and museums in and around downtown Brattleboro open their doors to art aficionados on the first Friday of each month for Gallery Walk. Download a walking map and discover these artsy locales on foot.
Visit the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market on Saturdays (Route 9 near the covered bridge) and Wednesdays (Whetstone Pathway on lower Main Street) through October. You will find various vendors selling fresh fruits, organic vegetables, baked goods, and handmade accoutrements.
Grafton Village Cheese offers a daily sampling of specialty cheeses. While you’re there, take a peek at cheddar being made by hand. Next door, get in touch with rural life at Retreat Farm. The property operates an animal farm and holds history as being part of a large psychiatric hospital. Pet a pig and groom a horse through Columbus Day (weather permitting). For an outdoor experience year-round, bring your boots and bicycle to Retreat Trails for more than 9 miles of wooded recreation.
400 Linden St., Brattleboro
350 Linden St., Brattleboro
At Cortland Hill Orchard in West Brattleboro, you can expect to pick batches of Macintosh, Cortland, Empire, Northern Spy, and other heirloom varieties. “We’re small, but beautiful if you want a low-key experience,” said Nancy Miller, who owns the family-run farm with her son, Dean. Miller also sells ready-picked peaches which are grown onsite and homemade jams, jellies, and pickles.
72 Miller Road, West Brattleboro