New England offers the ultimate mélange of destinations with famed autumnal leaves, down-to-earth locals serving amazing fresh-from-the-docks seafood and yet also some of the most exclusive places in the world. We adore Cape Cod’s windswept beaches, Boston’s picturesque parks and Nantucket’s tony boutiques lining the cobblestone streets. That’s why we always look forward to returning and discovering new spots across this great region.
While the list is endless of towns and hot spots worthy of a visit, here are the top locales that our Forbes Travel Guide editors chose during a recent whirlwind trip through New England.
As the region’s hub, Boston always bubbles with new activity. If you’ve already done Faneuil Hall’s food-hall-style eats, try the new Boston Public Market. It mixes market stalls (Stillman Quality Meats) and grab-and-go stalls (Noodle Lab) in its busy year-round indoor space. Following New York and Chicago outposts, the newest Eataly will debut in the fall or early winter at the Prudential Center. The massive Italian food hall, a Euro-style-market-meets-convenient-American-style-megastore, will no doubt be a hit.
You can expect events like the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival, Tall Ships Regatta and ArtWeek to swing through town. But make it a point to visit noted artist Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, an important contemporary piece with 12 bronze animal face sculptures from the Chinese zodiac propped up on poles in the Rose Kennedy Greenway, before the exhibit closes at the end of October.
Where to stay: Check into Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Boston (Forbes Travel Guide readers get a special deal that includes a room upgrade and welcome amenity). Before retiring to your spacious, classic room, go exploring. Choose a bike from the hotel’s complimentary fleet — the custom-designed two-wheelers bear Boston-themed names and décor like the red “Lobstah Linah” and the shamrock-green “Southie Shuttle” — and pedal around scenic Boston Public Garden across the street.
Bring your brood to the family-friendly hotel and opt for the Kids’ Adventure Package. Children receive a tent and a camping treat for in-room glamping fun, and can partake in a scavenger hunt and cookie-making class.
Where to eat: One of the city’s best restaurants sits on the hotel’s first floor. Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Bristol Restaurant & Bar is a popular haunt for Boston’s movers and shakers, but it’s just as well known for its mouthwatering Bristol Burger (cheddar, cognac-bacon and onion jam, Thousand Island dressing).
Hit the bar for exclusive $20 nights — Mondays feature an internationally inspired appetizer and accompanying drink, and Tuesdays spotlight a new bourbon and bite.
If you like wine pairings, Four-Star Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar inside Boston Harbor Hotel is a must. Offering a nice reversal on the usual ordering, the vino-driven menu first prompts you to pick a pour — white or red — and then select dishes listed by wine preference. Under white, go for the succulent pan-seared scallops on a heap of red quinoa, pink grapefruit and melted leeks. And red fans should try the cabernet-braised short ribs with truffle oil. As you savor the perfect pairing, peek out over lovely Boston Harbor and its gazebo.
If you’re up for more Boston views with some imbibing on the side, snap up a terrace table at InterContinental Boston’s Five-10 Waterfront for pitchers of refreshing Five-10 Lemonade (with Cruzan Strawberry Rum and strawberries) right along the Fort Point Channel.
Destination: Cape Cod
Boasting 560 miles of coastline and 115 beaches, the Cape provides a seaside retreat. Whether you hit the sand in Orleans or venture out on a whale-watching boat tour from Provincetown, activities revolve around the water.
Avoid the beach throngs with the help of Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club in Brewster. The hotel will set up stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking outings in the new freshwater Blueberry Pond.
And when you need to dry off, hit Cape Cod’s only 18-hole Nicklaus championship golf course or rent a bike to tackle the resort’s 429 acres or the 26-mile Cape Cod Bike & Rail Trail that cuts through Ocean Edge’s grounds.
Where to stay: For an exclusive stay, book a room at The Mansion at Ocean Edge, a hotel within Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club. The historic Victorian-style Mansion’s accommodations range from 480-square-foot Deluxe Guestrooms with a balcony or patio to three-bedroom Presidential Bay Collection lodgings with kitchenettes, dining rooms and close proximity to the water.
Another reason to choose The Mansion is that you get access to its 700-foot private beach and its brand-new Beach Bar — the Cape’s sole hotel beach bar. Kick back with a Cape Cod Cranberry Mojito (Smirnoff Cranberry Vodka, mint, berries, lime) or Beach Front Smash (Belvedere citrus, pineapple, strawberries, lemon juice) among the dunes while drinking in the great Cape Cod Bay panoramas.
Where to eat: For more views, dine at the resort’s Ocean Terrace, where you can feast on oysters plucked from the property’s Bay Pines Beach.
Or head to nearby The Bramble Inn for a four-course menu with appetizers like clam chowder flatbread (chopped clam and new potato béchamel, smokehouse bacon, baby arugula, mozzarella, pecorino romano) and mains such as Chatham cod with frothy leek milk.
Another Cape Cod fine-dining seafood favorite is The Brewster Fish House.
If you want casual fare, pick up a lobster roll at Sesuit Harbor Cafe in Dennis or “steamers” (steamed clams) and fried clams at Arnold’s Lobster & Clam Bar in Eastham.
Destination: Martha’s Vineyard
Whatever your politics, no one doubts why this 96-square-mile island is a favorite vacation spot of President Obama. We’re partial to lovely Edgartown. The Vineyard’s first colonial settlement is filled with Greek Revival homes built by whaling captains and gray-shingled cottages housing boutiques.
Stroll the brick-lined sidewalks and check out preppy threads at Vineyard Vines or classic menswear and kiddie attire (like knit sweaters emblazoned with sailboats or sharks) in North River Outfitter. Ladies can peruse bright patterned dresses at Gretchen Scott. Stark sells fine jewelry with an island influence (like Vineyard-shaped charms). Pop into Edgartown Books and navigate through the warren of small rooms to browse the collection. After picking out a tome, bring it to the patio of Behind The Bookstore, a café hidden behind the shop.
Where to stay: The Charlotte Inn is typical of Edgartown’s vibe. In the charming and thoroughly elegant Four-Star hotel, sit among equestrian paintings in front of the fireplace in the Living Room for tea, or don your jacket for sherry in the mahogany-paneled Green Room.
Upstairs, pristine antiques decorate the 19 luxurious rooms, while bathrooms come stocked with Hermès and Bulgari toiletries and the fluffy beds are dressed in Frette linens. Outside, the perfectly manicured lawns and an English garden inspire walks along the grounds.
Where to eat: Start your day under the blue-and-white striped patio awning at Among the Flowers and tuck into a hearty Portuguese omelet stuffed with linguica sausage (a local specialty), onion, potato and cheese. Or head across the street from the hotel to Rosewater Market & Take Away to grab a savory chèvre and black pepper scone and score culinary souvenirs like Jose Can You Sea Salt or Grey Barn’s Prufrock cheese, both made in the Vineyard.
Go to Oak Bluffs if you need treats. It’s home to Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium (famous for its buttery lobster ice cream flavor) and the beloved Back Door Donuts (which sets up at night behind Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery). But if you want sweets relief immediately, go around the corner from The Charlotte Inn to Vineyard Scoops for a cone of Almond Joy, housemade chocolate ice cream studded with almonds and coconut.
Dinner demands a return back to the hotel. At the romantic Terrace at The Charlotte Inn, dine under its windowed ceiling. The menu is full of seafood, but the tagliatelle is a can’t-miss. After a stint in Italy, chef Justin Melnick perfected his take on pasta ribbons and rich Bolognese. The time-intensive dish starts with curing the pork belly more than a week before tackling the sauce, then eight hours is spent cooking the housemade tomato conserva — and that’s just a start. It all adds up to one memorable meal.
About 30 miles south of Cape Cod, Nantucket is the final New England stop. Disembark from the ferry and you’ll immediately feel the pull of the island. With calm water, clear skies and lines of boats in the backdrop, take the brick walkways to tiny shingled huts housing luxe shops like Ellie Kai, where women can select their own silhouettes and fabrics for customized clothing, or restaurants like Cru, an oyster bar at the end of the dock with a fantastic patio.
Make your way to Main Street to shop for handsome menswear at David Chase, haute home goods at The Lion’s Paw and handwoven silk and mohair blankets at Nantucket Looms. And you can duck in next door to Nantucket Pharmacy for some nostalgia, as it has an old-fashioned soda counter.
Save time for the beaches — Surfside or Cisco for water sports, Madaket to be on your own. Beyond the beach, there’s no better way to experience the water than aboard The White Elephant hotel’s Barton & Gray Hinckley yacht (hotel guests who mention this story and charter the boat get a complimentary bottle of wine and cheese platter).
Where to stay: Four-Star The White Elephant gives you a serene slice of island life. Set along Nantucket Harbor, the hotel provides glimpses of the island’s famed bobbing boats (get harbor-view accommodations) as well as striking sunsets from your own private balcony. The neutral-toned rooms are chic and comfortable — you’ll relish sinking into the plush beds at night.
Drop by the sunny library for complimentary coffee and newspapers in the morning and Nantucket Vineyard port and cheese in the afternoon. Let the concierge arrange lobstering, fishing, scalloping or sailing excursions. Or simply while away the day on the harborside lawn splayed on a white chaise lounge.
Where to eat: Walk over to the wharf for lunch at Provisions. Our go-to: The Turkey Terrific sandwich is Thanksgiving tucked between two slices of housemade Portuguese bread with thick layers of smoked turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Go upscale at Four-Star Topper’s at White Elephant sister property The Wauwinet. Take lunch on the breezy deck and begin with Retsyo oysters, which are harvested only 300 yards away. Then the entrée: The lobster roll stuffs tender, chilled chunks of meat inside a buttery brioche bun. At night, step into the wood-floored dining room for a more formal experience with a three-course tasting menu.
Or stay at The White Elephant for Brant Point Grill. Whether you dine there for lunch or dinner, the relaxed harborside grill turns out fresh seafood like the crab cake with roasted corn relish, a two-pound lobster and poached halibut. Don’t overlook the lobster mac and cheese — it may be a side, but the rich dish loaded with Vermont cheddar is worth its own course.
For a nightcap, visit nearby Lola 41. The cozy, eclectic sushi bar/bistro is a hot spot among locals. Sit under its pressed ceiling and indulge in a dessert (the tres leches cake is a must if it’s available) or a cocktail like the Excuse Me, Dr. Hotpants (house-infused Thai chilli-kaffir, lime-mint-infused vodka, lime juice, ginger beer and pineapple juice).
Before leaving Nantucket, pick up a box of Aunt Leah’s chocolate-covered cranberries for a taste of New England that you can enjoy when you get home.