by Jason Frye
Summer isn’t the only time to enjoy a little sun and sand. A fall beach trip means fewer crowds, empty stretches of sand and often lower lodging rates. The sun’s still shining, the water’s still warm and the temperatures are ideal. We’ve rounded up four great spots for your shoulder season shore escape.
Ocracoke Island North Carolina
North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a vacation hotspot throughout summer and into the shoulder season, so escape the crowds where legendary pirate captain Blackbeard sought his own respite: Ocracoke Island. Yes, Blackbeard and his crew paid Ocracoke many visits, but you won’t have to worry about pirates when you go, your only concern will be which empty stretch of beach will you walk today, where to find the best fishing hole, and which restaurant will dish up dinner tonight. Rent bicycles to explore this island at a slower pace and pedal over to the 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse, one of the oldest active-duty lighthouses in the U.S.; explore the waterfront at Silver Lake; and head out to the beaches for a swim before heading back to freshen up at Edwards of Ocracoke, The Castle Bed & Breakfast or your cottage in the maritime forest. Rub elbows with locals at Eduardo’s Taco Stand (try the fried shrimp or crab and jalapeno tacos), Ocracoke Oyster Company, or Dajio when you feel hungry. And if you feel daring, join a ghost tour (through the end of September) and learn about the other residents of Ocracoke Island. Who knows, you may even see one or two along the way.
- NOTEWORTHY EVENT: Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree (Ocracoke Island, N.C.) Oct. 25-28, 2019 | VisitOcracokeNC.com
Holden Beach North Carolina
One of the southernmost beaches in North Carolina, Holden Beach has all the sand, sun and shelling you could want, but that’s only half of their shoulder season story. In Brunswick County, there are 567 holes of golf on more than 30 courses waiting on you to tee off. Not a golfer? Dial up one of the fishing charters in town and head out for a day of offshore fishing or stick to the Intracoastal Waterway for some inshore angling. Fishing not your thing? Hop on a kayak or standup paddleboard, sign up for surfing lessons (the water and waves can be ideal this time of year), or just head out for a pleasure cruise. Holden Beach deals out pleasure in bunches, from a platter of steamed shrimp at Provision Company or a seafood pot pie from Dock House Seafood & More. But no matter how you choose to fill your days (or your stomach) be sure to bring your blanket to the beach and spend some time stargazing.
- NOTEWORTHY EVENT: N.C. Festival by the Sea (Holden Beach, N.C.)
Oct. 26-27, 2019 | NCBrunsick.com
Bluffton South Carolina
The heart of South Carolina’s low country, Bluffton sits on a bluff overlooking the May River, and is just a short drive from Hilton Head Island. Named one of the South’s Best Small Towns and as one of America’s Happiest Seaside Towns by a pair of lauded Southern magazines, we have to agree. From kayaking on the May River and nearby Jarvis Creek, searching for dolphins, osprey and other wildlife, to gallery-hopping in Old Town to historic tours that dive into the town’s backstory, you’ll find no shortage of ways to spend your day. But don’t miss October’s Historic Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival, a week-long festival that shows off the best of the low country’s fresh seafood and the breadth of Bluffton’s quirky art community. The festival’s juried fine art show features more than 100 artists vying for the top spots while artists and art lovers stroll the streets and sample food from dozens of restaurants. If you want a perfect shoulder-season weekend, try the last two days of the festival when live music keeps the energy high. Pamper yourself with a stay at Montage Palmetto Bluff.
- NOTEWORTHY EVENT: Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival (Bluffton, S.C.) Oct. 12-20, 2019 | BlufftonArtsAndSeafoodFestival.com
Golden Isles Georgia
The southernmost set of beaches on our list, Georgia’s Golden Isles — St. Simons and Little St. Simons Islands, Sea Island, and Jekyll Island — have been named in the nation’s top islands for four consecutive years, and once you spend a day or even an hour here, you’ll agree. From astounding Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island and the pristine beauty of St. Simons beaches to the stretches of the Altamaha River, nature is on full display here. For a taste of shoulder-season luxury, enjoy a stay at The Lodge or The Cloister on Sea Island (both ), or Jekyll Island’s Jekyll Ocean Club or The Westin Jekyll Island (both ). Parks and nature preserves give you a feel for the maritime forests and a kayak or powerboat trip along the marshes and Altamaha River are sure to bring up stories of Altie, the Altamaha-ha, a legendary sea monster that may or may not call these waters home.
- NOTE WORTHY EVENT: Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival (Jekyll Island, Ga.) Sept. 20-22, 2019 | JekyllIsland.com
Book your off-season escape today! Call your AAA Travel Agent at 800-374-2865 or visit AAA Travel.
(Go Magazine Sept/Oct 2019)