Hoping for an endless summer? When Labor Day lurks on the horizon, don’t miss a chance for one last, memorable, end-of-season escape at spots from Maine to California with tons to do (and fewer high-season crowds).
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, also known as the Outer Banks, is a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina that swells with beachgoers in the summer. Labor Day doesn’t just mark the end of summer, but rather the start of the fall “shoulder” season, when visitor numbers tend to drop because southern schools are back in session.
That means heading straight to the front of the line to climb Currituck Beach and Bodie Island lighthouses, a bigger stretch of sand for sun-seekers along the 100 miles of beach, and more kitesurfing waves just for you.
Alright, you don’t have to stop consuming your weight in plump Maine lobster rolls come Labor Day, but they do taste much better when eaten at a beach picnic in Kennebunkport. Order an overstuffed roll from seasonal seafood stands like the Clam Shack, which has also been serving up fried haddock sandwiches and clam chowder (of course) to loyal patrons since 1968.
This quintessential Atlantic Ocean coastal town 30 miles south of Portland comes to life in the summertime with ice-cream stands, boat traffic in the idyllic harbor, and brilliant beaches for swimming and strolling. And yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat lobster for every meal.
Think Colorado is just for hitting the slopes in winter? Then a visit when the rivers are open for rafting and the mountains are in bloom with wildflowers is in order. Live music will help set the scene, too. Head out for the Vail Jazz Party, the grand finale of the Vail Jazz Fest, held at the end of August/early September in this friendly resort town nestled within the White River National Forest.
This party closes out the summer-long festival with a bang, thanks to a packed lineup of dozens of big-name musicians playing every style of jazz. It just might have you trading in snow boots for sandals in Colorado every year.
Cape May, New Jersey
With streets lined with Victorian estates and gingerbread houses, charming Cape May is not what you might think of as a typical Jersey Shore town. In fact, it’s so postcard picture perfect, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Its location — perched at the bottom of southern New Jersey on the Cape May Peninsula — means that it’s kissed by cool ocean breezes, even on the hottest of days.
Celebrate the close of summer with locals at the annual West Cape May Tomato Festival in early September. That’s right, a whole party for the summer’s favorite fruit at peak ripeness.
Traverse City, Michigan
Traverse City, an inland port town on Grand Traverse Bay in northern Michigan’s lower Peninsula, might be on the radar of those tipped off by Mario Batali (he has a summer home here) and Michigan native Michael Moore (he hosts an annual film festival in Traverse City). Even without celebrity endorsements, this is a getaway for in-the-know Midwesterners.
Take in this lakeside paradise from above with a hike over the Mackinac Bridge as part of the Annual Bridge Walk, held over Labor Day weekend. Head across the five-mile-long bridge — the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world — that connects Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas.
Sonoma County, California
Fact: Tasting world-class wines in northern California’s Sonoma Valley is an excellent way to cap off summer — especially when visiting as the tourist swells have subsided and before the fall harvest and crush season sets in.
Indulge in all that this wine- and culinary-rich area has to offer at the Taste of Sonoma in early September, which features more than 200 wineries and 60 chefs.
Door County, Wisconsin
Just on the other side of Lake Michigan, in Wisconsin, you’ll find another beloved escape: Door County. The 70-mile-long peninsula is trimmed with scenic shorelines on either side and has an interior landscape of rolling farmland.
The lakeside villages and towns dotted with summer cottages, art galleries and supper clubs have been luring families back to this spot northeast of Green Bay for generations.
Around Labor Day things begin to quiet down, making it an ideal time to visit. Mark the close of summer in the sweet town of Sister Bay at its annual outdoor Marina Fest, with a water-ski show, food, drinks and fireworks.