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America's best cities for fall travel

Whether they’re leaf-peepers or ghost-chasers, Travel + Leisure readers have picked America’s best cities for autumn getaways.
Image: Savannah
Savannah, Ga., got rave reviews from Travel + Leisure readers for its Halloween happenings. Visitors flock here for the ghost-steeped history, taking “haunted” city tours, roaming Bonaventure Cemetery, and staying in spirit-inhabited B&Bs. iStock
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“There is nothing anywhere that smells like, looks like, feels like a New England autumn,” says marketing executive Janie Hoffman, who’s partial to Providence, R.I. “The chill that comes in as the sun goes down, that glow when the sun hits the yellow, red, and orange leaves — it’s truly heaven on Earth.”

Foliage may inspire people to get poetic, but according to Travel + Leisure readers, there’s much more to a great fall getaway than leaf peeping. In the Best Cities for Fall category — part of the magazine's annual America’s Favorite Cities survey — only two of the top 10 cities are located in foliage-rich New England, or even above the Mason-Dixon line. Readers also voted on qualities such as farmers’ markets, neighborhood cafés, theater, live music and B&Bs. And across the fall top 20, we found plenty of cities, foliage or not, that entice visitors with good post-summer deals and balmy weather.

Which fall features made cities winners? It helps to host festivals, such as the celebrity-chef-studded Harbor Harvest Fest in Portland, Maine (No. 4), or the pepper-roasting Wine & Chile Fiesta in Santa Fe, N.M. (No. 9). Kansas City, Mo., also made the fall top 20, perhaps because of its world-class barbecue competition and its claim to be the “haunted house capital of the world,” with amusement-park-style Halloween attractions such as The Beast. Down south in Savannah, Ga., ghost-chasers start filing into town each autumn to sleep in haunted B&Bs and take thrill-raising tours.

Other travelers seek out a different kind of thrill — cheap ones — when they plan fall getaways. In Honolulu, the lull between summer vacationers and snowbirds means more elbow room on the beach, and some of the year’s best rates. It’s also humpback whale season, when the mammals migrate from Alaska to the islands to mate and give birth. In San Diego, prices dip in September and October, usually just as the weather becomes most summer-like.

But it’s not usually sun and sand that inspire folks like leaf-peeper Janie Hoffman to hit the road in autumn. According to website, thanks to a wet spring and despite Hurricane Irene, the nation’s best display of fall color will be, sure enough, in New England states — including Maine, whose capital city made it into the top five. Read on for all the winning cities.

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