What are the best trips to book right now? Our monthly Where to Go column tells you the smartest places to go each month for savings, special events, and all around great experiences. Here’s what’s hot in October.
For an Off-Radar Escape: Grand Rapids, MI
You might never guess that Grand Rapids -- the Rust Belt city between Chicago and Detroit best known for its beer -- has a thriving arts scene. Fall is when the performance season kicks off, and you'll find everything from classical fare to rock music to even "Star Trek: Live in Concert" at the Grand Rapids Symphony. The Grand Rapids Ballet also returns home in October after a West Coast tour. The city is home to a likewise diverse culinary scene, with everything from classic Italian, to dim sum and tapas, to ramen. There's also a growing vegan food culture here and the focus is, of course, on hyper-local, farm-raised vegetables.
Hotel Tip: Love luxury for less? Check into Amway Grand Plaza, a historic AAA Four-Diamond property that recently had a $14 million makeover. For a look back into the early 1900s, when the original building was first constructed, stay in rooms with restored moldings, rich wood furnishings, and bathtubs in the Pantlind wing. For a more contemporary experience, the new Glass Tower rooms boast neutral hues, modern fixtures, and spa-style bathrooms with rain showers.
For a Kickback to Summer: St. Croix, USVI
If you're not quite ready to give up beaches and balmy weather, book a trip to St. Croix, one of the Caribbean's three U.S. Virgin Islands that's enjoyed a recent infrastructure update. The end of the month is an especially good bet -- after hurricane season peaks, but before the winter crowds start to swell. Hotels and resorts are sweetening the deal with specials during this time, too. The historic Buccaneer resort is offering 20 percent off stays of five nights or more for travel through December 19 (from $285 per night with promotion; book by October 3). At boutique Sand Castle on the Beach, you'll receive two free nights when you book five until November 18 (from $119 after promotion; book by November 10).
Not all properties and vendors stay open through the low season, but you'll still be able to book diving and snorkeling trips or kayak out to the bioluminescent Salt River Bay. Also exciting this year is the USVI's first-ever restaurant week -- technically spanning 10 days, from October 29 to November 7. In addition to prix-fixe meal specials, Dine VI will also feature daily food-related events, including a food truck fest (October 31) and a gospel brunch (November 1).
For Outdoor Adventure: Mammoth Lakes, CA
This central California region might be best known for its skiing, but that's precisely why we love it as a low-key fall destination. Less jammed with traffic than Lake Tahoe or Big Bear, Mammoth Lakes is fringed by mountains in every direction, and there's no shortage of hiking trails and foliage viewing spots around town. In addition to Death Valley and the ghost town of Bodie -- two popular day trips -- the eastern gate of Yosemite National Park is also just 45 minutes away. And we'd be remiss not to mention the area's growing food scene, at the forefront of which is Eatery by Bleu -- a brewery and gastro pub that serves dishes like house made chili pork rinds and crawfish and andouille sausage beignets. The menu changes nightly.
Hotel tip: We love it when hotels put together special packages that provide extra value. Check out the Tamarack Lodge's Fall Colors package, which includes continental breakfast daily, a bottle of wine, two-hour boat rental, and two-for-one bike rentals, for as low as $129 per night. Pay just $20 more and enjoy your own studio cabin with a fireplace and full kitchen. A two-night minimum stay is required.
For Southern Charm: Charleston, SC
With centuries-old architecture and an established fine dining scene, Charleston has long been a culture capital of the south. Two events make this October an especially appealing time to visit. First: A reimagined and expanded non-profit civic center, the Gaillard Center, is celebrating the opening of its brand-new performance hall. A gala concert featuring Yo-Yo Ma and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra will officially kick off the season on October 18, followed by a performance by Grammy-winning choir Chanticleer, plus a three-day classical music festival, later in the month. Love wandering through beautiful old buildings? Another highlight is the Preservation Society of Charleston's Annual Fall Tour of Homes, immersing visitors in the city's most notable estates in a range of styles, from 18th century Georgian to 20th century Colonial Revival. In addition to the signature highlights tour and three themed tours -- including one focusing on the city's impressive ironwork -- there are also more specific tours on particular streets, neighborhoods, or historic periods.
Hotel Tip: For a slice of beach-y paradise, drive 12 miles from downtown Charleston to Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms. All of the rooms at the AAA Four-Diamond Boardwalk Inn, along with condos and rentals in its Village, are 25 percent off this fall. We found rates as low as $165 per night for a 425-square-foot room with two queen beds -- $172 for a 410-square-foot king room. Whichever you choose, you'll be a two-minute walk to the beach. Guests enjoy one hour of complimentary tennis time per room per day, and there's a huge roster of excursions, fitness classes, and tours for an additional fee.