The beach during the off season has long enchanted me. Maybe it’s because my family is from England, and I grew up associating the beach with Land’s End fleeces and Wellington boots, or maybe it’s a result of living in New York and Pennsylvania for most of my life, where June to August just feels too limited for a beach season. Whatever the reason, I love to squeeze in one last trip to the beach as the leaves begin to turn, to dip my toes into the salty water, tilt my head to the sun, and wring out the final drops of warm weather.
With fewer crowds and milder temperatures, a fall beach trip is a perfect way for the entire family to enjoy one another and relax.
This September, as the weather began to turn in Pennsylvania and we had our first frosts, I drove with my husband and two daughters to Edisto Beach, South Carolina. We trekked along Route 81, through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, watching the tips of leaves begin to glow. As we enjoyed the foliage we wondered, briefly, if we should have planned a more seasonally appropriate trip, such as hiking through the Allegheny Mountains in upstate New York or visiting friends in Vermont.
When we arrived at the beach, we forgot all about going anywhere else. The sea breezes and salty air welcomed us without any of the humidity we’d experienced in the summer. We parked the car at our Airbnb and rented bikes for the rest of the week, pulling our two daughters along in a trailer where they kept us entertained by singing the entire “Frozen” soundtrack from memory.
The beach in September contains a fraction of the summertime revelers. Even in 2020, when it seems like everyone is leaving the cities and flocking to more remote sections of the country, the beach felt serene and peaceful. Every morning we woke up to a cool breezy sweater weather. Wrapped in blankets, we enjoyed coffee on the balcony, where we spotted pelicans, deer, and even an alligator. When the air had warmed up enough for a walk on the beach or a swim, we loaded up our girls into the bikes and found a beach access point we hadn’t been to before. We let our kids build castles in the deserted sand and watched as they toed the water’s edge, running from the waves as they washed onto the shore with the tide.
We saw more wildlife than we do in the summer, perhaps due to the quietness. We rode the bike paths through the state park and discovered different species of crab and birds. One of the only other people on the beach with us that afternoon fished while we collected shells. He caught both a stingray and a shark the size of my 4-year-old—making me a little relieved we hadn’t gone swimming that day.
A Time to Reflect
Fall is usually the busiest time of the year for us. All the rhythms that came to a halt in the summer suddenly start up again, and our calendar is filled with sports, meetings, and events. We love to intentionally schedule our vacation a few weeks into this season, because it gives us a chance to pause. We can look at our rhythms and ask ourselves how they are going. Are our routines manageable? Do they create an environment in which our family thrives, or do we need to adjust and reevaluate? The time and space away help us to think clearly and make decisions that are healthy for our family.
One evening, we rode our bikes to the sound side of the island. After a day of playing in the sun, we were beginning to feel chilled from the evening air. We pulled into a beach access point and walked up the path to the beach, taking care to avoid the sandburs that would attach themselves to our feet.
The path opened up to calm waters and a beach full of washed up moon jellyfish that neither sting nor bite. As my daughters tried to pick up each one and toss it back into the sea, my husband and I spotted a pod of dolphins in the distance.
In the summertime, the long days and thick humidity can lull you into a sleepy assumption that the season will never end. In the fall, the shortened days and cooler temperatures serve as a reminder that summer is fleeting, heightening all the senses to capture every last moment of it.
We watched the sun set over the sound and rode our bikes home in the light of dusk to the soundtrack of cicadas. We arrived back at our Airbnb in time to make a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy it on the balcony, all four of us snuggled up beneath a blanket. As we compared shells we’d found that day in the cool evening air and talked about the villages we built in the sand, I smiled, knowing we had wrung out summer’s every last drop.
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com