Fall: a time for football, pumpkin-flavored everything, and, of course, fall foliage. Leaf peepers are tracking peak date predictions in hopes of timing their pilgrimage just right. But what if your job is so demanding that you don’t have the time to drive out to soak in the changing countryside?
The solution: an urban foliage adventure. Many cities offer fantastic fall colors, and all you need is a bus or bike to get there. You just need to know where to look. Whether it’s a city park that ignites into a rainbow of hues, or a trail that transforms a run into a leaf peeping expedition, here are the best places to take in an autumn landscape—no car required.
Sure New England’s famous foliage is an easy drive away, but you don’t have to leave the city for leaves. In the heart of Boston, the Public Garden (the first of its kind in America) hits its peak in the fall. You’ll find fiery scenes of red and orange reflected in the calm waters of the lagoon, and walkways sprinkled with fallen leaves that beg to be walked on. The trees here often pop a little earlier than their compatriots, so a visit here can be a sneak peek of what’s to come.
Fall in the Bay Area is a more subtle affair than its East Coast counterpart. You might have to look a bit, but you can find foliage here. One of the best places to get your leaf peeping on is on the UC Berkeley campus, at the Botanical Garden. The ginkgo trees here burst into a bright yellow in late fall (often in late November), while the Japanese maples add a dash of red. Spend a few hours meandering along the trails.
What’s better than that iconic Windy City skyline view? The same view, punctuated with fall colors among the greenery. Lincoln Park is home to a large assortment of changing trees, from birch to red maple. A good place to take it all in is the bridge over the south pond at Lincoln Park Zoo. This year, the zoo is launching its first Fall Fest, with family-friendly festivities like a pumpkin patch and corn maze.
Of course you could head to Central Park to watch the leaves change. And you won’t be disappointed. But a little extra effort has a big payoff. Hop on the subway uptown to Fort Tryon Park, a forested estate in Manhattan on the bluffs of the Hudson. Come fall, the leaves here and across the river transform into reds and yellows. The result is a nature scene that’ll make you forget you’re a few minutes from pizza joints and bodegas. While you’re here, spend some time exploring The Cloisters, the Met’s Medieval art collection set in an abbey-style museum.
A 230-acre park on Lake Washington, the Washington Park Arboretum is a haven of trees, trails, and quiet ponds. One of the main attractions here is the Japanese Tea Garden, which bursts into a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, yellows, and greens every autumn. Canoes are available for a serene float through the foliage, and on Sundays through October you can join a free fall color walk. The Arboretum is on multiple bus lines, or a 30-minute bike ride from downtown.
Austin’s climate is not a friend to fall foliage. Color can be hard to find, but for a glimpse of autumn, try a trek on the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail. The small bridge over Barton Creek at Zilker Park offers a view of the city’s skyline over the water, framed by trees with changing leaves. For a closer look, rent a kayak and paddle the creek.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the stately avenue that runs from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, isn’t the greenest part of the city, but it’s one of the prettiest come fall. The parkway is lined with oak and other trees. As the color morphs from green to red and yellow, the leaves form a glowing canopy over the sidewalks. It’s an easy walk from end to end, but you’re best off leaving time to stop into one of the museums that dot the route.
Beaches, movie stars, Hollywood mansions…Los Angeles is associated with a lot of beautiful things. Fall foliage, isn’t usually one of them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not here. For a quick taste of autumn, your best bet is to head to the L.A. County Arboretum in late November or early December. The trees stagger their shows; red maples come out strong early, while the yellow leafed ginkgo trees take their time to turn. The Arboretum is east of Pasadena in Arcadia, and while it’s L.A. and you’ll probably drive, the park is accessible on public transit.
The city’s oldest cemetery is also its second largest arboretum, with 67 types of trees. Come fall, the trees in Lone Fir Cemetery turn into a sea of yellow, while a carpet of leaves covers the ground around the paths and headstones. It’s located in Southeast Portland, about a 15-minute bike ride from downtown.
You’ll find Japanese Tea Gardens in many cities, but the one in San Francisco is what started it all—it’s the oldest public garden of its kind in the U.S. Spring’s cherry blossoms get more of the attention, but as fall rolls in, another colorful show of foliage begins. Red trees complement the garden’s painted pagodas, while green and yellow plants reflect in the peaceful ponds. The garden is easy to find in Golden Gate Park.
A lovely walk or bike ride in any season, the C&O Canal puts on quite a show in the fall. The full trail stretches 185 miles from D.C. out to Cumberland, Maryland, but you don’t need to go that far to see fall colors. Grab a bike in Georgetown and pedal along the canal locks and the Potomac River. If you’re up for a longer ride, continue out to Great Falls at mile 14. The rocky series of cascades is punctuated by bright reds and oranges in the autumn. Don’t forget your camera.