Matthew Hillery, manager of venerable Cook's Lobster House, loves September on Bailey Island. "It's no longer blaringly hot, like August. The lobsters are starting to change from shedders to hard shells, and things slow down," he says.
An hour north of Portland, the ½-mile-wide and 2½-mile-long isle evokes an armchair traveler's Maine. Here is the rocky coastline. Here are the summer cottages for generations of Maine families. Here are fishermens' buoys strung like multicolored charms across weathered sheds. And here are the lobsters. During the summer, much of the catch consists of soft-shell lobsters, which locals and vacationers flock to buy.
The glorious swath of fall color adds to the checklist, and local property manager Lynn Reid alerts leaf-peepers that the "fall change happens a bit later on Bailey Island than in the mountains and on the mainland." Leaves begin to glow in September, and they're in full display by mid-October.
The island offers home rentals and seasonal inns with postcard settings and regional charm, including a few with a decided lack of luxury that showcases classic Maine frugality. Note to the many Driftwood Inn guests who fed coins to manager Alice Burpee's "Hawaii-bound" glass jar: She finally made her dream trip.
Bailey Island Info: Call 888/624-6345 or visit www.visitmaine.com.
• Log Cabin Island Inn (open April through October); 207/833-5546 or www.logcabin-maine.com.
• Drift wood Inn (open mid-May until Columbus Day), humble cabins and rooms with a breathtaking setting and home-cooked food; 207/833-5461 or www.thedriftwoodinnmaine.com.
AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA
Savory aromas awaken guests at gracious Victorian inns. Golf club thwacks punctuate the swoosh of surf at sumptuous resorts. Sunbathers sprawl on 13 miles of sand. Kayakers glide by wary, stilt-legged herons.
Amelia Island, on the Atlantic just north of Jacksonville, grants those experiences and more―from spa treatments to horseback riding on the beach. Despite the resorts, high-rise condos, and other tourist trappings, the mood remains lazily low-key.
Time seems to have stopped about a century ago in Fernandina Beach, the island's only real town and one of America's great bed-and-breakfast destinations. Immense old Victorian mansions, holdovers from bustling seaport days, have proven perfect for conversion into charming inns.
Fernandina Beach also harbors a significant fishing fleet, so visitors know what's freshest on every menu. At Fort Clinch State Park, rangers dress as 1864-vintage soldiers, blacksmiths, and other workers, staying in character to tell the inside story of Civil War-era military life. It's safe to say visitors to the island these days have a lot more fun.
Amelia Island Info: Call 800/226-3542 or visit www.ameliaisland.org.
• Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, a beachside inn; 800/772-3359 or www.elizabethpointelodge.com.
• Amelia Island Williams House; 800/414-9258 or www.williamshouse.com.
• Bailey House Victorian Bed and Breakfast; 800/251-5390 or www.bailey-house.com.
• The Addison; 800/943-1604 or www.addisonhousebb.com.
• Amelia Island Plantation; 888/261-6161 or www.aipfl.com.
• The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island; 800/241-3333 or www.ritzcarlton.com.
• Down Under Restaurant; 904/261-1001. Beech Street Grill; 904/277-3662 or www.beechstreetgrill.com.
• Fort Clinch; 904/277-7274 or www.floridastateparks.org.