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Essential fall experiences across America
Eating, dancing, and celebrating our way through autumn
Ah, autumn. No matter where you are in the United States, there’s an essential experience that gets locals into the seasonal state of mind. From picking fresh apples in their prime to squeezing in one last pool party before winter rolls around, we’ve gathered the best things to do in the fall in every region of the U.S. How did they make the list, you ask? We sought out unique events, delicious eats, and awe-inspiring landmarks that showcase prime destinations each time the autumn equinox rolls around.
You already know that harvest fests are classic fun, so we’ll save that for another time, and fill this fall guide with experiences you can’t have in any other destination—or any other time of year. Order a pumpkin spice chai and grab your scarf. Let’s take advantage of awesome autumn outdoor activities, locally harvested eats, and amazing events, because winter’s coming.
Keep your cool in the Southwest
You may not think the Southwest has much to offer by way of fun fall activities, but the region brings its signature sunshine and spice to the season. Trade your sweater for a swimsuit and head to the high desert. It’s time to experience a new kind of autumn.
Visit Scottsdale for outdoor dining in blissful weather. The Arizona Taco Festival 2018 is scheduled for October 13 and 14. More than 50 taco-making teams from across the state face off, and everyone wins—because, tacos. Every handheld delight is just $2 all weekend, and festivities include eating contests, lucha libre wrestling, and more. The Taco Festival isn’t the only amazing outdoor dining in Scottsdale when the temperatures drop each autumn. Located in the Arts District, Café Monarch boasts a garden dining area and gorgeous, gourmet food.
Embrace casual desert vibes and make a splash at one of Las Vegas’ fabulous pool parties. Wet Republic’s bathing suit bash might be a summer staple, but their famous pool parties are open through the middle of October, too. Perfect for clinging to the best memories of summer, or if you’re looking for an unconventional activity in Las Vegas. Plus, the cabanas are less crowded after August. Hey, when in Vegas…
Spend a quiet day on the water in Lake Powell. Autumn is this destination’s shoulder season when the water is warm and the evenings are cool. Come for a fishing trip or family campout. On Veterans Day, Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas and the National Park Service offer free admission to all their parks and attractions in Lake Powell.
For a more conventionally autumnal experience, journey to Red River, New Mexico for Switch on the Holidays. Celebrated on Thanksgiving weekend, this event fills the warm days and crisp nights with live music, a tree lighting ceremony, vats of hot chocolate and cider, and vintage vibes. Red River is located in the mountainous region of Taos County, and you might catch the start of ski season.
Winter Park is the starting point for some spectacular scenic drives. Many of the rural roads close for the colder seasons, but Willow Creek Pass, Ute Pass, and Colorado River Headwaters National Scenic Byway are all open year-round. Back in Winter Park, warm up after a day on the blacktop with a hot bowl of soup at local legend, The Back Bowl Soup & Bistro. They serve a spicy turkey sandwich called Never Summer—perfect for bidding the heat goodbye—order up! Can’t get enough of the Centennial State? Drive about 65 miles and you’ll reach the Mile High City, so add a few Denver activities to your autumnal itinerary.
Welcome the harvest moon in the Southeast
The American Southeast was practically made for leaf peeping and eating hearty comfort foods on a cool day. Of course, those fall favorites come with any visit to the region, but you’ll find some unexpected events, too.
Sip some seasonal drinks in Dugspur. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Dugspur is home to Blacksnake Meadery, which happens to be Carroll County’s first winery and Southwest Virginia’s only meadery. Their Sippin’ Porch is open on Saturdays and Sundays during the fall.
Eat hot, hearty gumbo in the Gumbo Capital of the World. Each October, the Bridge City Gumbo Festival spans three days and includes the signature savory seafood dish, craft and art vendors, live music, and other Southern eats. We can almost taste the juicy shrimp and okra.
Go vintage in the Great Smoky Mountains at the Old Mill Heritage Day in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Pigeon Forge is a historic resort town in the Great Smoky Mountains, with lots of fun activities and gorgeous views. Kick up your heels to live bluegrass tunes and try your luck at old-fashioned games.
Welcome the harvest moon in Eureka Springs at the annual Hillberry Harvest Moon Festival, an extravaganza of live music, flame throwers, and bonfires in a family-friendly setting. On a crisp autumn morning in Arkansas, there’s nothing better than an award-winning brunch! Stop at the Mud Street Cafe for that late-morning meal after staying out late with the moon.
Art walks in South Florida cities aren’t just on first Fridays. The Miami Metro area hosts several art fairs throughout each month. Enjoy the amazing autumn weather and local masterpieces in downtown Miami and Coral Gables on the first Friday, and in South Beach and Coconut Grove each first Saturday. Stroll the Design District Art Walk or the Wynwood Art Walk—the biggest art walk in Miami—every second Saturday. Traveling at the end of the month? Fort Lauderdale’s ArtWalk takes over FATVillage on the last Saturday of each month. If you want to go big before you go home, Downtown Hollywood hosts a regional art fest each September.
March with Atlanta Pride. Although most of the country’s Pride events happen during the summer, Atlanta’s main LGBTQ celebration takes place in October. Marches include the Annual Trans March and the Annual Dyke March. Grab a pink, blue, and white flag or wave the rainbow overhead, and walk proud through A-Town.
Stay sunny in California and the Hawaiian Islands
Like the Southwest, these coastal destinations aren’t the first places that come to mind when you think of your favorite things to do on a fall day, but you might be surprised! Just don’t forget your sunglasses.
Eldorado County, CA
Wander 50 acres of fruit orchards, pick your own fresh apples, and enjoy the great outdoors at Apple Hill. is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range just southeast of Sacramento. The area is also home to award-winning vineyards, including Lava Cap Winery, and sites of California’s Gold Rush. A trip to Apple Hill might have you convinced the Golden State got its nickname from the bright fall foliage, and rightly so.
Go to the beach! Located directly on the north side of San Diego County, Solana Beach is within easy reach to things to do in America’s Finest City, and it’s right on the waterfront. Ask a local and they’ll tell you, late September is actually one of the best times to hit the Pacific in Southern California. The water has warmed up all summer, and summer vacationers have gone home.
Celebrate Thanksgiving the “old fashioned” way in Eureka at Sharing Our Traditions – Elders’ Honoring Ceremony. In 2016, more than 4,500 people attended the event to learn and experience the area’s Native history and culture, and over 2,000 stayed to share the traditional meal. While you’re in Humboldt County, hike the backcountry of Redwood National Park. The tallest tree in the country, named Hyperion, has its roots somewhere in this national park.
Take a coffee tour of Hawaii Island. Not sure where to start the caffeinated pilgrimage? Attend the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival during the first two weeks of November. The festival is in its 48th year! No matter how warm or cold the climate may be, nothing says “hello, fall” like sipping local brews in a cozy coffee shop—or at the beach, because you can.
Find out why they call Oahu the Gathering Place at festivals across the island. This Hawaiian destination welcomes autumn with the Aloha Festivals—a series of celebrations that showcase plenty of hula dancing, Polynesian history, and tropical treats like you’ve never seen before. Come get your lei on all September! If you’re planning a trip for October, taste your way through the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival—two weeks of the region’s top chefs and winemakers wooing you with amazing flavors.
Taste the flavors of fall in the Northeast
Bundle up if you’re going to be in this corner of the country. Maple groves and warm farmhouses await in this picture-perfect fall destination. The Northeast is definitely the place to be for crunching frost-covered leaves and getting cozy with a slice of hot apple pie.
When we picture ourselves in the Hudson Valley in October, of course we want to sip sangria while picking apples in a beautiful orchard. That experience can be yours at Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery, one of the orchards on the famed Warwick Valley Apple Trail. Can you say, “Living my best life?” See more of the trail at Warwick Applefest 2018, scheduled for October 14.
If your first words to a fresh doughnut are, “Get in my belly,” then you definitely need to stop at Cider Bellies Doughnuts next time you’re in Meredith. These old-school apple cider treats hit the spot with tried and true flavors, like cinnamon and sugar and spiced glaze. Order that doughnut to go and catch a ride on one of the Fall Foliage Trains that depart from the Meredith Station—the colorful commutes include onboard dining, but go ahead and eat dessert first.
Got a serious sweet tooth? Tour Happy Hill Maple Farms and stock up on maple cream, glass-bottled syrup, and maple candy. The sugaring season is in the spring, but locals and travelers usually wait till the fall to indulge. You aren’t the only one who thinks autumn tastes like Grandma’s famous pancakes smothered in syrup. After a delicious breakfast, drive along Darling Hill Road between Lyndonville and East Burke, considered one of the prettiest places in Vermont.
You want an amazing view of the changing season? Take a hot air balloon ride over Tioga County with Southern Tier Balloon Tours to see the fall foliage from the sky. The stripes and swirls of the balloons are the perfect complement to the bright yellow leaves of autumn. Plan your excursion in early October for a first Friday like no other: Binghamton’s annual First Friday Zombie Walk, to be exact.
You’ve been to fall pumpkin festivals before, but have you been to a pumpkin fest with boat races? We didn’t think so. Cross that off your autumnal bucket list in Damariscotta at the Pumpkin Fest and Regatta. Check out the giant pumpkin contests, cheer on the pumpkin boats, and don’t miss the pumpkin derby. Oh, and there’s plenty of pumpkin pie!
Speaking of perfect pairings, Canton is home to the beloved Apple & Cheese Festival, complete with chainsaw carving demos, wood turning, cider pressing, apple butter making, and of course, cheese and apple tastings. 2018 marks the 29th year of this delicious event, and they’re expecting over 40 food vendors to tempt your senses.
Have an autumn adventure in Northwest
If your idea of the perfect day includes a misty morning with artisanal coffee followed by outdoor adventures and vibrant cultural fests, the Northwest is the place to be! Pack your lederhosen!
Row down the Clearwater River Canoe Trail. It’s not too cold, we promise, but if you chill easily, shimmying into a wetsuit is totally worth it for the gorgeous views. Refuel after working your arms and core at Seasons Restaurant with mouthwatering Risotto de Mare. It’s fine dining at its most rustic.
You don’t have to journey all the way to Munich for an authentic Oktoberfest experience. Instead, make your way to a real-life Bavarian village in Leavenworth, Washington. When September rolls around, it comes into its own with three weekends full of beer, dancing, lederhosen, and lots of fun. Shuttles are available, too, making it one of the easiest and safest fall festival events to navigate post-beer garden.
Bundling up for the brisk Northwestern weather is one of the best ways to spend the season, but there are other ways to stay warm, too! Over in Lava Hot Springs, the name says it all. Ward off any chill with a soak in real lava hot springs pools, lava not included.
On the southern side of the Willamette Valley, you’ll find more than stunning vineyards, though even those are impressive enough. When you aren’t tasting tannins at the 17 wineries in the Eugene area, drive south from the city toward Cottage Grove to walk the planks of the Covered Bridge Capital of the West. There are six, yes six, historic covered bridges in this lovely small town, so bring your walking shoes.
Roll through history in the Midwest
The American Midwest is autumn central. We all know it. There are apple orchards, vineyards, and colorful trees on every corner. But there’s even more! So, come for the wagon rides and stay for the rescue dogs. Yes, rescue dogs.
Hike or bike Scotts Bluff National Monument in the off season. Prairie View Trail is open during the fall before 8 a.m. until after 5 p.m. The weather can be a bit brisk after September, but sunrise and sunset are spectacular. Plus, the trail is less crowded. Feeling fancy? Dine on locally harvested eats in an upscale but still rugged setting at The Monument Grill. Their bloody mary is a full meal!
Travelling with your canine companion? Take Fido to Woofstock 2018 in October, the largest annual fundraising event hosted by the Kansas Humane Society. Howl with live bands, and let your pooch strut their stuff on the Wichita Eagle Woofstock Walk. After the four-legged fun, stop for a sweet treat at Hurts Donut, on nearby Woodland Boulevard. The salted caramel and chocolate ring is the ultimate fall pick-me-up.
When you like a little tartness to pair with all those apple pies, start the season at the 46th annual Cranberry Festival. It’s three days of a unique and tart harvest in lush Warrens. Cheer for the parade as locals make their way down Main Street, and let the shuttle take you around town, from the food carts and cranberry craftsmen to arts vendors and wine tastings. Don’t forget to stop by the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center, where DnA Vintners pours flights of their famous cranberry wines.
Take a ghost tour on the Lantern Light Wagon Rides at Bonnybrook Farms. Saturday nights for the first week of October, roll past the stomping grounds of historic visitors and wander through the corn maze by candle light. It’s a little eerie, but that’s half the fun! Once you’ve found your way back to the wagon, enjoy a dinner made from scratch by the Farm Kitchen Cafe.
Grand Rapids is brimming with history…of the haunted variety. Join a Ghosts of Grand Rapids tour to get an inside scoop on the city’s spook scene, or explore the haunted spots on your own terms. Startled along the way? Sip some Pumpkin Spice Latte Ale at Atwater Brewery Grand Rapids or stick with the ghostly theme and grab a pint of Spooky Action from B.O.B’s Brewery.
What’s on your list of must-have fall experiences?
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