For most of us, the Labor Day weekend brought summer to a jarring halt. The kids are back in school, and the daily grind has begun again in earnest. Any wishful thinking about summer vacation is focused on next year.
But for those with some flexibility, the period between Labor Day and Columbus Day can actually be the best time for a summer vacation. Gone are the crowds (and all their children) that turn otherwise charming towns and spectacular beaches into congested, aggravating obstacle courses. Rooms become available (sometimes at reduced prices), as do tables with a view at popular restaurants. You can even find a convenient place to park. Throw in sunny but cooler days, and all those end-ofseason sales -- at everything from souvenir shops to art galleries -- and it's easy to see why for many savvy travelers, Labor Day is the new Memorial Day.
The greatest rewards often are to be reaped at New England's most popular resort towns, places you might have dismissed as not worth the effort and money during the height of the season. Here are three of those now worth a second summer look.
Newport, Rhode Island
The Vanderbilts and Astors have been gone for decades, but the Gilded Age summer playground of the very, very rich is still very, very chic, thanks to Newport's dramatic seaside location, renovated Colonial core and its ongoing appeal to the yachting crowd. Come September, however, the hordes of domestic and overseas visitors practically fall off the Cliff Walk, thus freeing up Little Rhody's top destination, big time.
WHAT TO DO (FREE) Significantly damaged by superstorm Sandy, Newport's famous Cliff Walk was completely reopened this spring. The 3.5-mile paved walk takes you along the bluff overlooking Easton Bay and behind several of the mansions.
WHAT TO DO (FEE) Gawking at conspicuous consumption has always been the thing to do in Newport, and fall just makes it more enjoyable. Ten mansions run by the Preservation Society of Newport County remain open through Oct. 13, with the best deal being your choice of five for $31.50 (401-847-1000, newportmansions.org)
BEACHES Newport's three best beaches are cleverly named First, Second and Third and look out onto Rhode Island Sound, beginning just east of downtown. Parking is free after Labor Day.
STAYING FOR LESS By all means, start your search at the Discover Newport website (listed below) where an extensive list of discounted offers -- such as $179 a night at the elegant downtown Hotel Viking and $100 a night at the beachfront Comfort Inn -- pops up once you enter your target dates. Be sure to read the fine print, as there often are hidden fees and charges.
GETTING THERE Newport is 180 miles east-northeast of New York City via I-95 and RI State Route 138.
INFO Discover Newport, 800-326-6030, discovernewport.org
An early 19th-century shipbuilding center turned grand Victorian summer resort, Kennebunkport surged into the national consciousness in the 1990s, thanks primarily to one family: the Bushes, whose compound on Walker's Point is now Kennebunkport's one must-see (from afar) attraction. For decades just a well-heeled, low-key charmer, revitalized (and more expensive) Kennebunkport is now a three-season fixture on the southern Maine circuit.
WHAT TO DO (FREE) Parsons Way Shore Walk. Beginning at Colony Beach, this 2-mile-long, paved path leads around Cape Arundel to Spouting Rock and Blowing Hole and includes views of the Bush compound.
WHAT TO DO (FEE) Travel back in time at the Seashore Trolley Museum (195 Log Cabin Rd., 207-967-2800, trolleymuseum.org), the world's oldest and largest electric railway museum. Open daily through Oct. 13. Admission (includes unlimited rides): $10 adults, $7.50 (ages 6-16)
BEACHES Kennebunk Beach is comprised of sandy Gooch's Beach, rocky Middle Beach and smaller Mother's Beach. Nonresident parking fees end tomorrow.
STAYING FOR LESS While many of Kennebunkport's premier lodging establishments don't budge a buck after Labor Day, a few do -- such as the grand old Cape Arundel Inn, where midweek rates come down to $179. Less-elegant properties, such as the Rhumb Line Resort, generally do, with midweek rates of $129. For much deeper discounts, consider nearby Wells or Ogunquit.
GETTING THERE Kennebunkport is 300 miles northeast of New York City via I-95, I-91, I-84, I-495 and back on I-95 (the Maine Turnpike).
INFO Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce, 207-967-0857, visitthekennebunks.com.
No New England destination screams "summer" more than Cape Cod. But the summertime crowds and traffic leave many screaming for mercy. Come September, however, the Cape's abundance of destinations becomes an abundance of opportunities. If you can't justify taking the ferry out to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, go for Chatham, the traditional, summer community at the "elbow" that's still holding its own against the forces of development but currently in the midst of shark mania due to a dramatic (cue the "Jaws" theme) rise in great white sightings.
WHAT TO DO (FREE) Walk the ¾-mile Morris Island Nature Trail of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (508-945-0594, fws.gov/refuge/monomoy). Open daily, sunrise to sunset.
WHAT TO DO (FEE) Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year is the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center (847 Orleans Rd., 508-945-8889, chathammarconi.org), once a large ship-to-shore communications center and now a museum of wireless communications. Open Wednesday-Sunday through Oct. 12. $5 ages 10 and older.
BEACHES Chatham's largest, Lighthouse Beach, opens out to the colder -- and rougher -- Atlantic Ocean and is the one most visited recently by great white sharks who come looking for seals. Four smaller and more protected beaches face warmer and milder Nantucket Sound to the south. Nonresident parking fees ended after Labor Day.
STAYING FOR LESS A little comparative online shopping reveals reductions at most properties, such as $220 for an oceanview room at the Chatham Tides or $250 at the traditional and centrally located Bradford Inn. Outlying motels can get below $100 a night.
GETTING THERE Chatham is 275 miles from New York via I-95, I-195, MA State Route 28, and U.S. Route 6.
INFO Chatham Chamber of Commerce, 800-715-5567, chathaminfo.com.