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Something about New England's brilliant autumnal foliage and crisp air conjures up memories of collegiate life: regal oak-shaded campuses, boho coffeehouses, bookstores, and music clubs. Here's a cheat sheet on three famous New England college towns that make for the ideal fall weekend getaway:
Providence, R.I. (Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, Johnson & Wales University)
Famous alums: Openly gay mayor of Providence David Cicilline and film producer Christine Vachon from Brown University, and director Gus Van Sant from Rhode Island School of Design.
Stay: The sleek and intimate Hotel Dolce Villa (63 DePasquale Square, 401-383-7031, doubles from $179) overlooks the busiest square in Little Italy–inspired Federal Hill, steps from gelato parlors and pastry shops.
Brunch: A longtime favorite of the gay community within walking distance of Brown and RISD, hip Rue de L'Espoir (99 Hope St., 401-751-8890) presents a wildly popular weekend brunch, where you might sample lobster-and-mushroom crepes or salad Niçoise.
Meet: As the name suggests, the Dark Lady (124 Snow St., 401-831-4297) hosts terrific drag shows. This swanky mixed-gender downtown bar is also great for cruising and mingling.
Extracurricular: For an offbeat cultural experience, check out the Culinary Archives & Museum (315 Harborside Blvd., 401-598-2805) at Johnson & Wales University, a fascinating repository of food history, from ancient cookbooks to wacky kitchen gadgetry.
Visit Providence Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information.
New Haven, Conn. (Yale University)
Famous alums: Gay activist and playwright Larry Kramer, news anchor Anderson Cooper, actors Jodie Foster, Sarah Gilbert, and David Hyde Pierce.
Stay: The opulent Three Chimneys Inn (1201 Chapel St., 203-789-1201, doubles from $210) occupies a stunning 1870s painted lady Victorian that's steps from Yale's campus and dozens of great restaurants.
Brunch: Quirky Claire's Corner Copia (1000 Chapel St., 203-562-3888) has been turning out creative veggie cuisine since 1975, including terrific weekend breakfast fare, including whole-grain pancakes with sauteed bananas, and eggs poached in marinara sauce with mozzarella over a baguette.
Mingle: Open nightly and always drawing a friendly bunch, Partners Cafe (365 Crown St., 203-776-1014) keeps things interesting by hosting popular theme nights, including go-go dancers on Tuesdays and women's nights once a month.
Extracurricular: New Haven is a thriving theater town, where many Broadway-bound plays open before moving to the Great White Way. The Long Wharf, Yale Rep, and Shubert theaters all stage outstanding plays and musicals throughout the year.
Visit Greater New Haven Convention & Visitors Bureau for more information.
Northampton, Mass. (Smith College)
Famous alums: Feminists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (also, author Augusten Burroughs documented his bizarre Northampton childhood in Running With Scissors).
Stay: The historic Colonial-style Hotel Northampton (36 King St., 413-584-3100 or 800-547-3529, doubles from $200), built in 1927, sits in the heart of downtown and has the cushiest rooms in town.
Brunch: Overlooking Smith College's leafy campus, gay-popular Green Street Cafe (64 Green St., 413-586-5650) serves authentic corned-beef hash among other treats during its festive Sunday brunches.
Mingle: Students and revelers cut loose on the dance floor at Diva's (492 Pleasant St., 413-586-8161), the top gay club in the Pioneer Valley.
Extracurricular: In the basement of downtown's funky Thorne's Market shopping center, Herrell's (8 Old South St., 413-586-9700) serves what many believe is the best ice cream in the Northeast—try the vanilla-malt or chocolate-brownie flavors.
Visit Northampton Chamber of Commerce for more information.