Traditionally, traveling in November isn’t so much a matter of picking between warm-weather destinations but rather picking the airports with the cheapest flights to our families. And yes, it’s nice to see family and enjoy the communal bounty that is Thanksgiving. But November has 30 days, and Thanksgiving is but one of them, leaving a whole month of other places to visit.
So if you’ve got the time — and the space in your travel budget — November can be one of the best travel months of the year. Most people are saving their travel for the holidays, and you can still catch fall colors at lots of places with low rates late in the shoulder season. Here are a dozen places worth checking out once you’ve booked your trips to see relatives. Or if you’re planning to avoid them altogether.
1. Fort Myers/Captiva Island, Florida
Around this time of year, pretty much anywhere in Florida is going to be a good idea, and the Gulf of Mexico beaches along the state’s southwest coast are among its most picturesque. November begins peak bird-watching season, best done in the J.N. Ding National Wildlife refuge. When breaking from birding, check out the park’s educational “Learning Lavatories,” which have topped many best bathroom lists since they were installed last year.
This November is especially fantastic as Fort Myers and Captiva welcome the 2019 Hobie Cat World Championships from November 1 to 16. The epic sailing races will be the first race of their kind held in America in 35 years, where sailors will race identical 16-foot catamaran Hobie Cats just off Sunset Beach by day. And bring some of the best nautical parties in the world at night.
The emerald mountains and turquoise waters of the BVI shine especially bright in November, when sailing season begins and the islands’ numerous sail-up resorts fill with wintertime visitors. But this November, it’ll also be one of the world’s top destinations for foodies as the islands host their sixth annual Food Fete. The month-long food festival brings chefs from all over the Caribbean and the United States to the BVI, this year featuring Miami’s Adrianne Calvo, Lamar Moore of Chicago’s The Swill Inn, and John Mooney of Bidwell in Washington, DC.
Food Fete runs from November 7 to December 1, highlighted by events like the Taste of Tortola on November 9 where the island’s top restaurants will all be on hand. Rum fans can try over 280 rums at the Cooper Island Rum Festival on the 16th. After a trip to the famous boulders at The Baths, visitors can enjoy live jazz from Arturo Tappin at the Taste of Virgin Gorda on the 23rd. Then finish the month off scarfing Caribbean lobster at the Anegada Lobster Fest on November 30 and December 1.
3. Chiang Mai, Thailand
November is lantern festival season in Thailand, where two festivals — Loi Krathong and the Lanna festival Yi Peng — draw thousands of visitors and locals to release handmade lanterns into the air and the Ping River. The tradition symbolizes new beginnings and the warding off of bad luck and is a magical spectacle of traditional Thai culture.
While seeing the lanterns is a unique experience, once across the Pacific you may want to experience more of the country. Intrepid Travel runs an eight-day Explore Northern Thailand tour, where you’ll begin in Chiang Mai at the lantern festival, then venture through the rest of the region visiting ornate temples, ancient ruins, and fragrant markets.
4. Western Australia
Not that we’re ever ones to besmirch turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, but if your November tastes run a little more varied and you’re not visiting family for the holiday, Western Australia should be on your list. From November 8 to 17, the vast state welcomes the Western Australia Gourmet Escape. The 10-day bacchanal will be held in various locations around the state, including a first-time stop in the scenic Swan Valley, the state’s largest wine region and home to some of the country’s most famous producers.
As if dining on fine food in the Australian countryside wasn’t enough, this year’s festival is headlined by Momofuku’s David Chang, who brings his creations to the Gourmet Beach BBQ at Castle Rock Beach in Dunsborough on the 15th. Perth, the state’s largest city, will also host a massive Chinese banquet from Danny Bowien and Malcolm Chow, as well as George Cooper’s vegetable degustation featuring vegetables from his own farm.
5. South Andros, Bahamas
If you’re not big into Caribbean geography, The Bahamas is actually made up of 700 islands, a large number of which weren’t too badly damaged by Hurricane Dorian. And visiting the rest of those islands is the best thing you can do to help this country recover. South Andros, which hasn’t seen much tourism historically, is welcoming its first new resort in two decades this month with the opening of the 18-suite Caenula Mar. You may recognize it from HGTV’s Island of Bryan, which chronicled the resort’s transformation from 1960s relic into luxe hidden gem.
This tiny island 20 minutes by plane from Nassau is still relatively uninhabited, though it has all the white sand and turquoise water one imagines in a Caribbean vacation. As it sits along a relatively unspoiled section of the world’s third-largest barrier reef, South Andros offers some of the best and least-crowded dive sites in the region, as well as undisturbed snorkeling and fishing for those who don’t dive.
6. Tucson, Arizona
Tucson is about as close as you’re getting to experiencing Day of the Dead without crossing the border to Mexico. During All Souls Procession Weekend from the 2nd to the 3rd, the city’s streets fill with skull-painted revelers holding posters of loved ones who have passed on and decked out in traditional costumes. It’s an authentic, organic celebration that wasn’t designed as a tourism destination but now brings 150,000 participants every year.
Outside the festival, you can find out why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015 at the Taste of the Desert on the 2nd. This month is also ideal for outdoor adventure in Southern Arizona with high temps in the mid-70s. This means comfortable hikes up finger rock for sweeping desert views or pleasant leisurely strolls along the Rilliro Riverbed. You can also go climbing through the canyons in one of five mountain ranges surrounding the city, or get deep underground in Kartchner Cavern State Park.
7. Sonoma County, California
What would Thanksgiving be without Good Ole’ Charlie Brown serving pretzel sticks for dinner and Peppermint Patty learning the real meaning of Thanksgiving? And, sure, you could just sit back and wait for a rerun of a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving to come on. Or you could head to Santa Rosa, where the Charles Shultz museum is debuting Hidden Treasures: Unseen Originals from the Collection with all kinds of never-before-seen original Peanuts comics and memorabilia.
Some people, however, may not choose to base their November travel plans around cartoons. And for them Sonoma offers its annual Wine and Food Affair, where guests can sample their way through pairings in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys beginning on the 3rd. It’s also the height of another kind of harvest season in Sonoma, where farmers are picking squash, pumpkins, and apples, and restaurants have menus loaded with them all. Then Dungeness Crab season at the end of the month brings a whole different kind of harvest to the area.
How much do you really know about the endangered Black-Necked Crane. Absolutely nothing? Cool, well come the end of November you can be a downright expert when you head to Bhutan’s Phobjikha Valley. That’s when the people of this region hold an annual festival to honor the crane — which migrates here from Tibet in winter — including bird-themed dances, crafts, and games, as well as special events at the Black Neck Crane Centre.
But perhaps traveling halfway across the world for a single day of bird festivities seems a bit much. So might we suggest jumping on Red Savannah’s Bhutan from Paro to Jakar tour, which spends a few days in the valley for the crane festival but also takes you across breathtaking Himalayan passes to sacred sites like Burning Lake and into temples dating back over 500 years.
9. Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
The Big Island during shoulder season is a nice respite from the hordes of tourists, when the kids are in school and holiday crowds have yet to arrive. You’ll have much of Volcanoes National Park to yourself, as well as the surf breaks at Banyans and Kahaluu. Beyond volcanoes and big waves, the Big Island is also known for its coffee, and November is prime time to come and experience it.
From November 1 to 10, the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival takes over the city, with everything from coffee educational programs to barista competitions at night. The festival kicks off with a colorful lantern parade, complete with traditional dancing and music. There’s a coffee marathon and half-marathon on November 9, which covers much of the same course as the famous Ironman. And the whole thing finishes with a Taste of Kona where food and coffee combine for one of the islands’ best culinary events.
10. Okayama, Japan
Leaf-peeping season might be coming to a close in the US, but if you’re willing to fly a little bit you can catch some of the most spectacular fall colors in the world in the land of the rising sun. Some people say the changing maple and gingko trees are actually far more vacation-worthy than tourist-saturated cherry blossom season. And while Kyoto gets most of the fall color visitors, the Setouchi Region and Okayama have far thinner crowds and far thicker foliage.
If gazing at nature’s best work isn’t enough, November also hosts the final month of the Okayama Art Summit, a two-month international expo curated by French artist Pierre Huyghe. The city is filled with contemporary installations and exhibitions in multiple venues, making Okayama one of the most visually stimulating places in the world this month. Take a room at the Tsuyama hotel, and you can score an open-air bathroom with a private terrace from which to overlook the city in all its color-filled splendor.
11. Berlin, Germany
Hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since Scorpions recorded “Winds of Change.” One of the events that most inspired it, the fall of the Berlin Wall, was also 30 years ago this November, and the city will be commemorating the anniversary of its destruction from the 4th to the 10th. The main event will take place on November 9 — the day the wall fell — when concerts will erupt in parks, public spaces, and arenas citywide.
The rest of the week will be a fascinating look at the wall’s history and the art it inspired, with art installations, movies projected over building walls, concerts, and lectures. It’s also a good time to visit some of the historic museums that tell an all-too-recent history, like the Topography of Terror museum in the city’s old Gestapo headquarters. Or the Checkpoint Charlie museum, where you’ll learn the sacrifices people made to try and get from one side of the wall to another.
12. Jackson County, North Carolina
With the live music and endless beer in Asheville, sometimes people forget the rest of mountainous western North Carolina can be just as beautiful a fall escape. For a less-crowded, late-fall, bright-color alternative, look to the towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva, collectively the hubs of Jackson County. The towns sit between the entrance to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the highest point along the Blue Ridge Parkway, both offering the region’s best views of the seasonal foliage. You can also visit Shadow of the Bear, a lookout point off highway 64 where during this time of year Whiteside Mountain appears to cast a perfect shadow of a black bear from about 5:00 to 6:30 PM.
Jackson County also has its own Ale Trail with 10 breweries between the four cities, though we’d suggest limiting it to one city at a time. You can also visit film locations around the area, including the downtown stand-in for Ebbing in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in Sylva. And the High Hampton Inn, site of the 2017 remake of Dirty Dancing.