Motor Into Autumn Along The East Coast


The kids are back in school. Outside my window, shades of russet are creeping into the maple trees. At night, it’s finally cool enough to leave the windows open, as the frenzied chorus of crickets shifts into cut time. They know winter is coming.

But we still have a few more summer weekends — scant, precious weeks before the High Holidays arrive on a whirl of spiced apples and autumnal finery. With golden afternoons still in the 80s, consider one of these driving getaways to savor the last rays of summer.

New England, two ways. Ask locals on the New England seashore, and they’ll confirm: September is hands-down the best time of year. The ocean is at its warmest, perfect for swimming; sunny weekdays can feel like August, but without the crowds. And there’s something about classic Victorian architecture that feels just right on crisp September evenings, with fall in the air and pumpkins on the stoops.

With only a weekend: Just over the Connecticut border — a mere three hours from New York Penn Station, via Amtrak — is Westerly, R.I., an unpretentious slice of old New England. The paucity of tourists is rather surprising, given Westerly’s full slate of charms: sandy ocean beaches, a historic downtown, a harbor filled with sailboats, and grand old estates in the upscale Watch Hill district.

Westerly’s answer to a town green is Wilcox Park, an enchanting space designed in 1898 by a protégé of Frederick Law Olmsted, the Central Park visionary; you’ll recognize the familiar choreography of walkways, ponds and fin-de-siècle fountains. Wilcox’s 14-acre park-arboretum is on the National Register of Historic Places, along with its surrounding neighborhood.

A stroll along the park’s perimeter reveals 1950s-era shops on High Street, Romanesque landmarks like the 1892 Westerly Library, and blocks of Greek and Colonial revival mansions. One of these is the Granite Theatre, which began life as an 1849 Church, and where Agatha Christie’s “The Hollow” is playing this month.

If you have more time: Hop a flight or savor the ferry cruise to Martha’s Vineyard, and island off the coast of Cape Cod. Long after trees are bare on the mainland, the Atlantic Gulf Stream suspends the Vineyard in a summery golden haze. In September, this perennially popular isle is for grown-ups — including the tight-knit community of Jewish writers that convenes on Oak Bluffs porches and at events like this weekend’s Writer’s Marathon.

With no lifeguards to check beach permits, the most picturesque — and exclusive — stretches of the Vineyard town of Chilmark are yours to wander. The Instagram throngs that suffocate the fishing village of Menemsha in August have ebbed, allowing for the return of a simple, communal ritual of sunset-watching on the island’s Western tip. And the island’s agricultural heritage reveals its full bounty, bringing late-summer tomatoes and corn to farmers’ markets.

Beaches not your thing? Head to Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, a landscape of rolling green fields, covered bridges, grain silos and farm stands. Horse-drawn buggies remind you this is Pennsylvania Dutch country, named for the German Christians who settled in colonial times alongside one of the United States’ oldest Jewish communities. In the 1800s, a fresh influx of Jewish immigrants established congregations like Shaarai Shomayim; a century ago, the circa-1896 sanctuary still held Reform services in German.

Downtown Lancaster is one of the region’s best kept secrets — a vibrant, polyglot hub whose red-brick rowhouses, like much of the region, suggest a time warp. The city’s chief attraction is Lancaster Central Market, America’s oldest continuous public market, where dozens of local farmers, bakers and artisans showcase wares in an 1889 market hall. By late September, the surrounding countryside is vivid with color; roadside farms welcome families for hayrides and pumpkin picking.

Love a road trip? Five hours south of New York is Skyline Drive, a spectacular, 100-mile road threading 105 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.

Through Labor Day, this spectacular stretch can be as congested as the Cross Bronx. But as summer wanes, the traffic eases and brilliant purple wildflowers come into view, along with 100-mile vistas, spotted deer and flocks of turkeys.

You’ll need about three hours to complete the drive, which leaves time for a detour to the region’s only kosher winery: Molon Lave Vineyards in Warrenton. On a lake in Virginia’s wine country, Molon Lave is a fine rustic spot for a picnic and a winemaking tour.