Leaves shake their greens for vibrant hues. Restaurants unveil fall menus. Just west of town, Yadkin Valley wineries busy themselves with harvest season. Book a weekend in Winston-Salem this month, when the cool mornings and evenings refresh this historic city.
To the Gardens
Take Reynolda Road out of downtown to the former estate of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds. A significant piece of this city's rich history, it's now divided into three separate destinations.
Explore Reynolda House Museum of American Art to learn not only the Reynolds family story but also how they transformed this home into a space holding one of the best small American art collections in the South. Editor's tip: Docents lead special tours at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
Stroll down a short walking trail to Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University, and rest among the rows. Originally part of the estate, all 129 acres are now owned and managed by the college, including the 4-acre formal garden of beautiful roses and fresh vegetables.
Reynolda Village, one of Winston-Salem's best concentrations of shops, sits next door. Village Antiques carries a good assortment of English and French pieces, as well as a nice collection of new and antique silver. We also found Doss Custom Fishing to be an excellent source for fly-fishing tackle and customized fly rods. Owner Herb Doss can even set you up with guided trips from the state's New River all the way to the Bahamas or Mexico.
You'll need a healthy morning start, so drop by simplyummy, a cute little cafe in Reynolda Village. They make everything from scratch, including the veggie-and-cheese frittatas ($2.75). Locals also gather daily for breakfast at Alex's Café. Don't pass up the Cinnamon-Pecan Pancakes ($3.75).
Arrive early for lunch at the quirkily named Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!!) a restaurant. Request extra napkins for V.V.'s Mamma's Meatloaf sandwich ($6.95). Order a piece of the popular Sweet Potato Pie ($3.25).
Ask for an outdoor table for dinner at Christopher's New Global Cuisine. We liked the slow-roasted half duck ($20), topped with a bourbon-maple glaze and a tropical fruit compote. You?ll also want to try the local favorite Lobster Macaroni and Cheese ($19), a twist on the classic comfort food made with four different cheeses.
Where To Stay
Our first choice in town remains The Brookstown Inn, a 19th-century textile mill-turned-hotel. The spacious rooms feature handmade quilts, pencil-post beds, and all the modern amenities you would find in major chains.
Speaking of chain hotels, the Marriott Winston-Salem just completed a full renovation. Egyptian cotton sheets and fluffy pillowtop mattresses welcome weary travelers. You also can?t beat the downtown location.
To the Vineyards
We admit that it ain't Napa yet, but if you're feeling adventurous, drive west of town, and you'll stumble upon nearly one-third of the state's vineyards and wineries clustered within the Yadkin Valley. Editor's tip: Find winery maps, guides, and narrative driving CDs at the Visitor Center.
The dramatic approach to Shelton Vineyards weaves through countless rows of grapes before opening to a palatial, hilltop complex resembling a resort more than a winery. Be sure to take a tour of the winery ($5, includes tasting five wines). We like the merlot ($15) and the Riesling ($12).
For a more intimate winery experience, visit RayLen Vineyards & Winery, where you can taste all of their dozen wines for only $3. We fell in love with the Shiraz ($12), which is just smoky enough to be a perfect pairing with barbecue. Wouldn't you consider that a necessity in North Carolina? Winston-Salem Convention & Visitors Bureau: toll-free 1-866-728-4200 or www.visitwinstonsalem.com.