As the days grow shorter in autumn, and the old year begins to wane, Mother Nature compensates by turning up the lights and gilding the flora around us in vivid jewel tones of copper, ruby and tawny gold. Fall getaways are ideal for those wishing to sidestep dizzying summer crowds, and take in what this unrivaled season offers.
Whale and dolphin watching in San Diego
In San Diego, whale and dolphin watching is pretty much a year-round activity, especially for spotting orcas, minke and fin whales, but in the fall, visitors won’t have to slog through the masses who visit this area for its nearly perfect Mediterranean climate and nonstop activities.
Adrenaline junkies can choose an authentic six-passenger Navy SEAL attack boat with unlimited water views where they can practically reach out and touch a pod of smiling dolphins as they dance by. Adventure R.I.B. Rides offers its ultra-fast speeds for groups or private tours.
Back on land, don’t miss the opportunity to hop on the USS Midway at the Naval Pier in downtown San Diego. The aircraft carrier now houses a maritime museum boasting more than 60 exhibits, including 29 impeccably restored aircraft.
And then there’s the city itself, divided into vibrant neighborhoods from Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter to culturally diverse North Park and Hillcrest, all of which are teeming with clubs, rooftop bars, al fresco eateries and some of the best Mexican fare this side of the border.
More than 20 years after its release, “Toy Story” remains one of the most beloved offerings from Pixar. Scheduled to open this summer, Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, set in Andy’s backyard, should be in full swing by fall. Designed to make guests feel as if they’ve landed in the film and shrunk to the size of one of Andy’s toys, the 11-acre space features Woody and Buzz, along with a slew of other playthings.
Two new attractions include the Slinky Dog Dash, a family roller coaster that sends riders whizzing and bouncing around turns and drops as the playful doxie stretches his coils to the breaking point. Alien Swirling Saucers, familiar from the first “Toy Story” movie, blends music, lighting and sound effects. Woody’s Lunch Box offers a new quick-service window for casual meals and old-fashioned floats.
Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios, 351 S. Studio Drive, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. 407-939-5277, disneyworld.disney.go.com
Bluegrass Horse Farm Tours, Lexington, Ky.
Red and gold fall colors shine brightly along the scenic highways that meander through the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. And, yes, this is bourbon country, but even more than that, with over 400 horse farms in the area, Lexington is regarded as the horse capital of the world. However, don’t mention that to the other place that considers itself the horse capital of the world, Ocala, Fla.
Whether you choose to book a guided tour or explore a working horse farm independently, Lexington and its environs are loaded with opportunities to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. Some of the elegant working farms also offer lodging.
Rosecrest Farm sits on 150 acres of rolling hills littered with thoroughbreds. You can sit on the white-columned porch with a mint julep in hand, watching the horses graze, or hit the bourbon trail and its distilleries.
If you dream of looking a retired Kentucky Derby winner in the eye, then book a visit to one of several thoroughbred farms where some notable horses are living the sweet life (visithorsecountry.com). These include Taylor Made Farm, home to 2014 Derby winner California Chrome, and Coolmore America, where the 2015 Derby and Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, calls home. If you want to see a particular horse, make sure you call ahead because some of these horses travel after Kentucky breeding season.
Located about 9 miles from Lake of the Ozarks State Park, the venerable Lodge of Four Seasons lakefront resort and spa went through a $15 million renovation in 2016. The lodge makes for a tranquil fall getaway with its lush grounds, Japanese gardens and fire pits with water views. Golfers can hit the links at the Robert Trent Jones Sr. signature golf course.
The 3,500-acre resort offers plenty in the way of water sports, and if you want to venture away for the day, check out Ha Ha Tonka State Park with its castle ruins, sinkholes, caves and the state's 12th largest natural spring. Don't forget the Lake of the Ozarks Wine Trail (lakeoftheozarkswinetrail.com), in the scenic area billed as the "Missouri Rhineland."
When you return to the lodge, wind down at the Japanese-themed Spa Shiki, one of the top-rated spas in Missouri. Take in one of the eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, then move on to the Himalayan salt exfoliation and detox wrap, followed by a nontoxic, paraben-free airbrush tan.
The American Revolution and the Civil War Siege of 1862 weren’t kind to Yorktown, leaving the once-thriving port decidedly diminished. However, this charming Colonial town continues to treat its visitors to a peek into history.
For an authentic feel of a bygone era, consider setting sail aboard one of the schooners from Yorktown Sailing Charters. Opt for a leisurely sunset cruise on the York River, drifting by monuments and historical sites on shore, or explore the tidewaters of Chesapeake Bay. You can choose to relax, or for a hands-on experience, have a go at the helm or help raise the sails. You don’t need to know how to sail to enjoy the ride, but dress warmly as it gets pretty windy on the water.
Give an elephant a bath, hug a giraffe and feed a kangaroo on this 1,100-acre site situated on the southwestern edge of the Hoosier National Forest, a short jaunt from the historic resort towns of French Lick and West Baden Springs. Adults and kids can sign up to bathe an elephant at the 100-year-old Wilstem Ranch. Bathing includes scrubbing the pachyderms with long-handled brushes, rinsing, and even painting their massive toenails. Not with Revlon Fire Engine Red, but rather with mineral oil. The three rescue female elephants come from Kruger National Park in South Africa. Giraffe and kangaroo encounters were added in December.
Some say that fall is the best time to visit Santa Fe. You won’t find many arguments. Fall means fewer crowds, cooler weather, and plenty of high-elevation leaf peeping. For families with young kids, Meow Wolf is where it’s at. The idea of a museum has been turned on its head by this former bowling alley that’s now part modern art museum and part interactive amusement park thanks to a benefactor, “Game of Thrones” creator and Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin, who recently launched the museum’s first — and quirkiest — permanent installation. Imagine a 20,000-square-foot Victorian home falling into a psychedelic rabbit warren and you have an inkling of House of Eternal Return with its secret passages, interactive light and musical objects, and topsy-turvy furnishings.
Stockyards National Historic District, Fort Worth, Texas
The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District screams Texas and the Wild West louder than just about any other place in the country. In the mid to late 1800s, cattle drives passed more than 4 million head of cattle through Fort Worth, which was quickly known as Cowtown. The railroad came, the Stockyards were built, and Cowtown enjoyed the reputation as a hub for shipping livestock. At its peak, in 1944, the Stockyards processed over 5 million head of livestock. Today, the number is hardly a fraction of that, but each week, thousands of head of cattle are still sold from the Exchange building — via satellite video.
Nowadays, tourists flock to the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historical District, which hosts the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive featuring majestic Texas longhorn. Along with cattle and history, the Stockyards offers restaurants, weekly championship rodeos, live music and shootout re-enactments.
Don’t miss the nearby Sundance Square, a massive shopping, dining and entertainment center blending vintage buildings with glittering high-rises.