Even bears prefer Chicago during the autumn.
"It's cooler, the trees on Michigan Avenue are turning colors, and it's a great time to visit Brookfield and Lincoln Park zoos," says Lillian Polz, the head of a Chicago marketing firm. "The animals that were lethargic during the summer-like the bears and big cats-are all in their best winter coats and are much more lively."
No doubt, the crisp air and vibrant fall foliage can put a spring in your step. And for travelers, autumn offers added incentives: summer crowds have dissipated, hotel rates have wafted downward, and in many cities, the best local experiences are ready to shine. In San Diego, you can find the most summery temperatures of the year, along with emptier beaches and better surf. In Portland, OR, you can taste the city's famed microbrews at their fresh-hops best. And in Orlando, FL, you might get downright teary-eyed at the significantly shorter lines for Space Mountain.
Then, of course, there's the seasonal scenery. "Santa Fe is at its most beautiful and arresting in autumn," says Melissa Carl, who does cultural excursions with Curious Oyster Seminars. "The weather remains brilliant, and the changing of the leaves makes for an almost sublime experience. A quick drive up to the Santa Fe ski basin, when all the aspens are in color, is like living in a Georgia O'Keeffe painting."
The leaves start turning early in the resort towns outside Denver, but the city's foliage takes center stage during October, when you can see it nicely from the Cherry Creek Bike Trail, or along the High Line Canal, lined with brilliant yellow cottonwood trees. Beer fans, however, might be forgiven for never noticing any trees. Fall here brings a chockablock lineup of sudsfests: the Denver Oktoberfest, the Denver Beer Fest, and the Great American Beer Festival, featuring 2,000 different beers from more than 400 brewers.
Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation
Music City lives up to its nickname particularly well in fall, when it hosts the Independent Music Festival, the Americana Festival, and Loveless Café's Biscuits and Bluegrass Festival. Indeed, the biggest parties in Nashville increasingly reflect the city's love affair with southern, farm-to-table cuisine. The Music City Food & Wine Festival features cooking demos from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and musical multitasker Trisha Yearwood. And, as a reminder that not every lyrical turn of phrase in this town is belted out, the nearly 20-year-old Southern Festival of Books returns in October.
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To see the best local foliage, hike up Bradbury Mountain, just outside town, or pedal around using the bike-share program Zagster. After all, some exercise amid the foliage is a convenient way to rationalize all of the good eating to be done in this lobster-filled city. Dig in at October's acclaimed foodie-palooza Harvest on the Harbor. Highlights include the showcase of samples at the Grand Tasting on the Harbor, and the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition-where, happily, audience members get to taste and vote alongside the professional judges.