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.
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.
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.