Yale's Hometown Makes Funky Fall Getaway

Aah, autumn in New England.

Each year, the region's flinty hills are crowded with visitors in search of crisp apples, spicy cider doughnuts, fields of pick-your-own pumpkins and colorful foliage, set off against white church steeples and brilliant blue skies.

As a native New Englander myself, I love the season and sop up as much of it as I can.

But there's only so much cider-sipping and leaf-peeping you can do before you start to wonder what else the New England autumn scene might offer.

How about tangy Malaysian food with vintage French wines, cutting-edge theater or dance-til-you-drop clubs? Or colonial and black American history? Rare art from the British Isles? The purported birthplaces of pizza and hamburgers?

Art and Cultural Capital of Connecticut

You get all that, and the colored leaves, too, in New Haven — located about two hours from Boston, New York and the quaint towns of southern Vermont.

New Haven bills itself as Connecticut's arts and culture capital. These bragging rights are impossible to verify, but the city does boast three nationally renowned theaters, five museums, a symphony orchestra and other musical groups, galleries, festivals, monumental architecture and dozens of restaurants with global flavors.

For the traveler to Olde New England, the city also has loads of history. Its roots date from 1638, when a group of Puritans sailed into the harbor in search of land to build a Christian utopia.

They built their city in a grid of nine squares, with a central square called the green. New Haven's design is the ancestor of planned cities from New York to Paris.

The green is still an open, public space today and it has three churches in a row, two with the postcard-requisite white steeple. Center Church on the Green was built on part of the colonial burying ground and has a not-to-miss crypt.

Colonial New Haven hosted three famous fugitives — the three judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I of England. Two of them were hidden in a cave at the top of West Rock, an imposing geological formation that houses a state park.

Visitors can still see the cave and enjoy a glorious vantage point for fall foliage. A road through the park is open Thursdays through Sundays through leaf season; hikers can go in anytime.

Check Out Yale's Secret Society

For the blue-blooded and academically gifted, New Haven is synonymous with Yale University.

The Yale campus hosts weekly tours, and many of its attractions, from student music recitals to lectures by world and business leaders, are open to the public.

For a self-guided tour, start at the oldest building, Connecticut Hall (1750) and see the statue of Nathan Hale, a Yale alumnus and hero of the American Revolution.

Much of the campus was designed by James Gamble Rogers and built in the 1920s and 1930s.

Also, see the secret society headquarters of Skull and Bones (1856, since expanded) on High Street, where President Bush and other Yale alums cavorted.

A textbook example of Egyptian Revival is the gate to the Grove Street Cemetery (1845) by Henry Austin, with a chilling message for visitors: "The dead shall be raised."

Another campus attraction is Hillhouse Avenue, which Charles Dickens once called "the most beautiful street in America."

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