In spite of its place as the harbinger of long and cold winters for many, fall gets an inspired reception every year, with festivals and events to celebrate the bounty and beauty of the season. With hundreds, if not thousands, of fall food and drink festivals across the country, fattening up for winter is easy.
From fall fruits to fruits de mer, autumn harvest festivals have the season’s best offerings covered. Many are free, though the food and drinks will cost extra. Here are some of the largest, tastiest, and most unique festivals celebrating the flavors of fall.
Next>> Pumpkin festivals
Few things say fall the way the pumpkin harvest does. Still in the field, carved into a face with triangle eyes, or baked as rich pies are just a few of the ways visitors will see the festive fruit at pumpkin celebrations around the country. Many of the festivals feature giant pumpkin weigh-offs, children’s activities, and live music. And there’s even one event that’s dedicated solely to pumpkin chunkin’ (known as pumpkin flinging to the uninitiated).
Here are a few of the pumpkin festivals this season:
- Circleville Pumpkin Show; Circleville, Ohio: Parades, pageants, music, rides, contests, and of course, a pumpkin weigh-in are all part of the four-day Circleville Pumpkin Show from October 18 to 21, which takes place outside of Columbus, Ohio. 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of the festival that bills itself as the greatest free show on earth.
- Pumpkin Festival; Keene, New Hampshire: On October 21, carved pumpkins and their owners will come from near and far to participate in the annual Pumpkin Festival, where tens of thousands of jack-o-lanterns are on display and the occasional world record for number of carved and illuminated pumpkins is set. Food and crafts are also part of the daylong event. Admission is free.
- Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival; Half Moon Bay, California: Car-sized pumpkins and a farmer dubbed the “Picasso of pumpkin carvers” make the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival, just south of San Francisco, a hit year after year. This year’s festival takes place on October 14 and 15. Other activities include a scarecrow contest, haunted house, parade, pie eating contest, live music, and food and drinks from local farms and producers. Admission is free.
There are plenty more pumpkin festivals across the country.
Next>> Apple festivals
After a season of being outshined by the fruits of summer, apples come back into their own in fall. Many consider autumn the ultimate time of year for a perfectly crunchy and sweet apple, and festivals in apple regions around the country showcase the fruit with food, drink, and entertainment.
Here are a few of the ways to celebrate apples this fall:
- National Apple Harvest Festival; near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Drive two hours from Washington, D.C., and you’ll find the heart of Pennsylvania Apple Country. During the first two weekends of October the region will attract harvest revelers to the 42nd annual National Apple Harvest Festival. Vendors sell apple pancakes, candied apples, apple pie, and apple jellies. And farm market displays, hayrides, a petting zoo, and six stages of entertainment keep things lively. Admission is $8 for adults and free for children under 12.
- Bayfield Apple Festival; Bayfield, Wisconsin: Local apples, apple desserts, and apple delicacies are available at the three-day Bayfield Apple Festival from October 6 to 8. Live music, performers, 150 arts and crafts booths, and a kids’ carnival entertain visitors. There’s also a Venetian boat parade as well as a grand parade that includes a 600-member band. Admission is free.
- Washington State Apple Harvest Festival; Wenatchee, Washington: Apple pie dessert contests, live music, tractor-drawn wagon rides, and apple tastings transform downtown Wenatchee on September 23. There are also children’s activities such as face painting and contests around Centennial Park. Admission is free.
Next>> Seafood festivals
Whether it’s the return of fish to seasonal waters or the coming of months with the letter ‘R’ (an old saying about which months are the best to eat shellfish), there’s definitely something about fall inspires seafood festivals across the country. Fresh air and plenty of seaside activities make these events lively and popular. And the fresh seafood may have something to do with the crowds that return year after year as well.
If you’ll be near a coast, there’s a chance you’ll find a seafood festival this fall. Here are a few to whet your appetite:
- Issaquah Salmon Days Festival; Issaquah, Washington: This festival honors the return of the salmon, drawing huge crowds to the city of Issaquah, just outside of Seattle. The two-day event takes place on the weekend of October 7. In addition to salmon viewing, hatchery exhibitions, and a salmon bake, there’s also a parade, art exhibitions, and live entertainment. Admission is free.
- Santa Barbara Harbor and Seafood Festival; Santa Barbara, California: Honoring the beginning of the local lobster season, the Santa Barbara Harbor and Seafood Festival brings the freshest of the channel right up onto the pier. Visitors can choose among the fishermen’s catch of lobster, crab, prawns, and sea bass, and then watch as it’s cooked to order. There are also cooking demonstrations, free boat rides, introductory sailing lessons, and live music. Admission is free.
- Wellfleet Oyster Festival; Wellfleet, Massachusetts: On October 14 and 15, Wellfleet turns from just another Cape Cod town into oyster central. Oysters still salty from the ocean, stuffed clams, chowders, and New England beer are served up on Main Street. The festival also includes live music, competitions, educational displays, arts and crafts, and children’s activities. Admission is free.
- Urbanna Oyster Festival; Urbanna, Virginia: At the 49th annual Urbanna Oyster Festival on November 3 and 4, you can have your oysters raw, roasted, smoked, steamed, or fried. Fifty vendors sell oysters and other seafood as well as landlubbing food. Two parades, pageants, an oyster shucking contest, live music, and children’s activities round out the offerings. Admission is free.
Next>> Cranberry festivals
Cranberry festivals offer an educational peek into the aquatic world of the bobbing berry. To have a festival you need a bog, so events are limited to the few states where cranberries grow.
In Wisconsin, Warrens attracts 100,000 people during its Cranberry Festival on the weekend of September 22. Chatsworth, New Jersey, hosts its cranberry festival on October 21 and 22. In Oregon, Bandon has its cranberry festival from September 10 to 12, and in Grayland, Washington, the Cranberry Harvest Festival takes place on October 14 and 15.
Oktoberfest is a beer-centric event with Bavarian roots and—judging by how many cities in the U.S. and around the world host one—widespread appeal. Entry fees and beer prices vary by fest; in some cases, admission is even free. In true Oktoberfest fashion, revelers will be able to buy beer and food, listen and dance to traditional music, and sit at long tables. Lederhosen may be optional, but a mighty thirst and big appetite are musts.
There are more Oktoberfests throughout the year and across the country.
Next>> Grape harvest and wine festivals
Grape harvest and wine festivals
Winemaking may be a years-long process, but the giddiness of the harvest—when the grapes are at their ideal sweetness and the large leaves start to turn bright colors—is contagious and inspires events at wineries and festivals in wine growing regions.
Most states have wine growing regions, and many vineyards have some kind of celebration at harvest time. Here are a few of the larger festivals in honor of the harvest and the wine:
- Geneva Festival of the Vine; Geneva, Illinois: This fall wine and food festival takes place from September 8 to 10 in Geneva, 40 miles west of Chicago. Visitors can sample local wines and eat food from Geneva’s own restaurants under a large tent downtown. There’s also live entertainment, a fine arts and crafts show, and antique carriage rides. Entry is free.
- Hudson Valley Wine Fest; Red Hook, New York: More than 40 local wineries will be represented at this year’s festival on September 9 and 10. There will be wine tastings, food demonstrations, and live music. Ticket prices range from $10 for a designated-driver, one-day pass to $30 for a two-day tasting pass. A promotion that’s good until September 1 offers a discount of $5.
- Valley of the Moon Festival; Sonoma, California: With a blessing of the grapes, grape stomping, fireman’s water fight, and amateur wine maker awards, this year’s Valley of the Moon Festival in Sonoma from October 22 to 24 is sure to be entertaining. There will also be wine tasting, arts and crafts vendors, and a silent auction. Entry is free, though there is a $15 fee for four wine tasting tickets.
- Oregon Grape Stomp Championship and Harvest Celebration; Turner, Oregon: You’ll need to register your team of two (one stomper and one swabber) in advance to join the wine stomping competition at the Willamette Valley Vineyards on September 23 and 24. There’s plenty to do for non-stompers as well, including wine tasting, enjoying live music, and food sampling. Tickets are $5 and include a commemorative glass.
Wine events happen year-round. LocalWineEvents keeps track of the latest. And though you wouldn’t know it by the name, the website is also a good source for beer and food events.
Fall festivals are a perfect excuse to enjoy the last days of pleasant weather, and to savor the tastes of the season. A lot of them are free, and with so many to choose from, there’s sure to be one to fit every craving.