Great Escapes: 5 beaches that just get better in autumn

The "World's Most Famous Beach" is less than seven hours from Atlanta traveling Interstate 75 south.

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The "World's Most Famous Beach" is less than seven hours from Atlanta traveling Interstate 75 south.

Smaller crowds and milder weather make these destinations perfect for fall travel

Sun, sand and surf don’t go anywhere when the seasons change. Tourists, however, do. That’s why autumn is a great time to head to the beach. The water is still warm, but the sun is less intense and the beaches less crowded. Some attractions might be closed during the offseason, but there is usually still plenty to do.

If you’re looking to escape the concrete and glass of the city, check out these five beaches.

ExploreGreat Escapes: Travel tips and destinations this fall
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Seven miles of white sand, fewer people and a free trolley are just three reasons to visit Anna Maria Island's beaches.

Credit: Photo courtesy Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce

Seven miles of white sand, fewer people and a free trolley are just three reasons to visit Anna Maria Island's beaches.

Credit: Photo courtesy Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce

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Seven miles of white sand, fewer people and a free trolley are just three reasons to visit Anna Maria Island's beaches.

Credit: Photo courtesy Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce

Credit: Photo courtesy Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce

Anna Maria Island, Florida

Seven miles of white sand, fewer people and a free trolley are just three reasons to visit Anna Maria Island in autumn. This area on the Gulf of Mexico is expensive during the summer, but prices drop during the offseason to make it an affordable option. The island offers a wide variety of accommodations, including beach-side cottages, small bungalows, resorts, luxury homes, condos and villas. Two things you won’t find here are high-rises — few buildings are taller than three stories — and chain restaurants. The Anna Maria Island area is home to award-winning bistros, cafes and restaurants, although some might close when the tourists leave. Dine on the island or travel across the bridge to Cortez Village and find more great places. Because Anna Maria Island is a shore bird and turtle nesting nature preserve, pets are not permitted on the beach. However, the dog park in the middle of the island and the causeway approaching the island welcome Fido.

Anna Maria Island is an hour and half away by plane, or 8.5 hours driving down Interstate 75. Visit https://annamariaislandchamber.org for more information.

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Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is one of the Gulf Coast’s most underrated destinations.

Credit: Photo courtesy of travelerbroads.com

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is one of the Gulf Coast’s most underrated destinations.

Credit: Photo courtesy of travelerbroads.com

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Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is one of the Gulf Coast’s most underrated destinations.

Credit: Photo courtesy of travelerbroads.com

Credit: Photo courtesy of travelerbroads.com

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

The small seaside town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The town has rebuilt, though, and is now one of the Gulf Coast’s most underrated destinations. According to Southern Living, “the town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. In fact, this strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s ‘Secret Coast.’” Fodor’s named Bay St. Louis one of the nation’s best beaches in 2018. With the summer crowds gone, you won’t have to fight for a spot to cast your line off one of the area’s piers, or to enjoy the restaurants and art galleries in Old Town. Stay in a hotel, bed and breakfast, or Airbnb rental for as little as $75 a night and usually no more than $200.

Bay St. Louis is only about 6.5 hours from Atlanta via Interstates 85 and 65. Visit www.baystlouis-ms.gov for more information.

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The Love Sign is next to the Cape Charles fishing pier and makes a great place for photos.

Credit: Photo courtesy of capecharlesvirginiaescape.com

The Love Sign is next to the Cape Charles fishing pier and makes a great place for photos.

Credit: Photo courtesy of capecharlesvirginiaescape.com

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The Love Sign is next to the Cape Charles fishing pier and makes a great place for photos.

Credit: Photo courtesy of capecharlesvirginiaescape.com

Credit: Photo courtesy of capecharlesvirginiaescape.com

Cape Charles, Virginia

Cape Charles is the only beach on Virginia’s Eastern Shore where you can park your car on the street, walk 100 steps and have your toes in the sand. After Labor Day, there are many more parking spaces and plenty of room on the beach to spread out. The Chesapeake Bay is still warm enough in autumn for swimming, kayaking or paddleboarding. There is plenty to do in the town of Cape Charles, too. A corn maze, pumpkin picking and other activities at Shockley Farms will keep the kids entertained. Golfing, hiking, fishing and birding are also favorite activities. November is Wine and Brine Month, a celebration of local vintages and oysters. There are events throughout the month celebrating this pairing. Accommodations range from modern hotels to rooms in Victorian-style bed and breakfasts. The food scene in Cape Charles has everything from artisan bakeries and waterfront restaurants to a cozy pub, pizzeria and Russian tea house. The only thing you won’t find is a chain restaurant. To explore more of Cape Charles, visit https://capecharlesvirginiascape.com.

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Daytona Beach is a favorite destination for families, college students and anyone looking for more than just sand during their beach vacation.

Credit: hotels.com

Daytona Beach is a favorite destination for families, college students and anyone looking for more than just sand during their beach vacation.

Credit: hotels.com

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Daytona Beach is a favorite destination for families, college students and anyone looking for more than just sand during their beach vacation.

Credit: hotels.com

Credit: hotels.com

Daytona Beach, Florida

Daytona Beach got the nickname of the “World’s Most Famous Beach” in the 1920s, when it became world-renowned for automobile testing and racing. One hundred years later, the area is a playground for everyone from families with small children to college students on spring break. If you want to avoid crowds, however, autumn is the perfect time to check out its 23 miles of white, hard-packed sand.

But there is more than just the beach during this season. According to daytonabeach.com, the upcoming months are packed with events that feature something for visitors of all interests and ages. Just a few of the fun festivals are: Biketoberfest, set for October 14–17; the Halifax Art Festival, set for November 6–7; the Greek Festival, set for November 11–14; The One Daytona Art Festival set for November 13-14; the DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts, set for November 20–21; the Riverfest Seafood Festival, also set for November 20–21; the Daytona Turkey Run car show, set for November 25–28; and the Clash Daytona triathlon festival December 3–5, which is technically winter.

Even when the air temperatures drop, the ocean water stays warm. The average temps are around 84 F in September, 81 in October, 76 in November and 71 in December. This makes autumn the perfect time for outdoor activities like surfing, kayaking and canoeing, fishing, hiking and biking, horseback riding, and bird watching.

Smaller crowds also mean smaller price tags. Whether you’re looking for an oceanfront resort, bed and breakfast, condo off the beaten path, Daytona Beach has those and a range of other accommodation types.

You can reach Daytona Beach in just seven hours driving down Interstate 75 south. For more information on the area, visit daytonabeach.com.

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Go beyond the basic pail-and-shovel creation by signing up the whole family for a course at Sand Castle University. Contributed by Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

Credit: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

Go beyond the basic pail-and-shovel creation by signing up the whole family for a course at Sand Castle University. Contributed by Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

Credit: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

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Go beyond the basic pail-and-shovel creation by signing up the whole family for a course at Sand Castle University. Contributed by Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

Credit: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

Credit: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf Shores has eight public beach access locations: Lagoon Pass, West 13th Street, West 12th Street, West 10th Street, West 6th Street, West 5th Street, West 4th Street, and Gulf Place West and East Beach. The main public beach is Gulf Place, “where Highway 59 dead-ends into the Gulf.” For a small fee, you get all-day, upclose parking, making it easy to unload your gear. With smaller crowds, you’ll be able to spread that gear out and have fun. If constructing sand structures is on your itinerary, Sand Castle University can teach you the basics or help you take your skills to the next level.

On days when you’re looking for something other than sand and surf to occupy the family, head over to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s new, 25-acre location in Gulf Shores. From giraffe feeding to zip lining, your family will be entertained for hours.

Gulf Shores also has fishing, bird watching, golf and numerous other activities for fall visitors. Accommodations range from hotel rooms to beach houses to camper/RV parks. You can get there in about six hours via Interstates 85, 65 and 10. For more information on the area, visit Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism at www.gulfshores.com.