The Best Fall Festivals in America
When it comes to fall festivals, most people think of hay bales, hot cider, and corn mazes. Fewer think of littleneck clams, 19th-century air travel, or an actual world-record breaking amount of lit jack-o'-lanterns. That's why we've scoured the nation, from the Adirondacks to Sonoma wine country, to round up some of the top fall festivals and activities so you can have a perfect autumn getaway.
Classic Harvest Festivals
New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival | Laconia, NH
For 25 years, the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival has been setting and obliterating the world record for most lit jack-o'-lanterns in one place. The harvest fest established its first record back in 1991 when a group of schoolchildren toted 600 pumpkins to Central Square in Keene, its original home. From there, we were off to the races. The centerpiece of the fest, though, is its nearly three-story tower of fire-filled jack-o'-lanterns.
When: October 13–14, 2017
Must do: Hop aboard the Pumpkin Express as it embarks on a scenic train journey around the area's lakes.
Nearby: Check out the stunning fall foliage in White Mountain National Forest, which has over 1,200 miles of trails.
Where to stay: Black Bear Lodge in the White Mountains or similar
The National Apple Harvest Festival | Biglerville, PA
The National Apple Harvest Festival in Biglerville, Pennsylvania, has been going strong for over 50 years, but it doesn't look like it's aged a day. The quaint and incredibly family-friendly apple festival embraces Americana to a Rockwellian degree with everything from huggable Johnny Appleseed mascots to an antique auto show. And don't miss out on the harvest-themed treats, such as apple pancakes, candied apples, and fresh kettle corn.
When: October 7–8 and 14–15, 2017
Must do: Check out the Industrial Revolution–era cider mill in action before grabbing a cup of the sweet stuff for yourself.
Nearby: Get ready for Halloween by checking out Hersheypark's Hersheypark in the Dark, which includes a trick-or-treat trail and special entertainment, held weekends October 13–29, 2017.
Where to stay Red Lion Hotel Harrisburg Hershey in Harrisburg, PA or similar
Columbus Oktoberfest | Columbus, OH
For 50 years, the good people of Columbus, Ohio, have been dusting off their dirndls and lederhosen in preparation for the Columbus Oktoberfest. Housed under 100,000 square feet of historic, 100-year-old pavilions, there's more than enough room for craft beer and wine gartens for the adults and a massive Kinderplatz complete with jugglers, puppet shows, and bounce houses for the kids.
When: September 22–24, 2017
Must do: Stop by on Sunday for one of the 30-minute food demonstrations, where you'll get to try cheese and beer pairings, sample pumpkin cookies, or learn the subtle distinctions between rieslings.
Nearby: Take a stroll through Columbus's German Village neighborhood, which has been a home to German immigrants since the mid 1800s.
Where to stay: Sheraton Suites Columbus or similar
Sonoma County Harvest Fair | Santa Rosa, CA
The Sonoma County Harvest Fair gives folks with a love of fall festivals and a suspicion of fried food a chance to embrace their inner sophisticate. To get a feel for what the comparatively high-brow fest has to offer, it may help to know that last year's professional food winners included a roast chicken, quinoa, and farro salad and fresh thai summer rolls.
When: October 6–8, 2017
Must do: Give yourself a crash course in wine tasting at a seminar led by local experts before heading back to the pavilion to test your new skills on more than 500 local Sonoma County wines.
Nearby: If you haven't had your fill of wine, you're right in the heart of California wine country so you can tour one of the dozens of nearby wineries and vineyards.
Where to stay: Best Western Garden Inn or similar
Wellfleet OysterFest | Wellfleet, MA
There are limits to how many pumpkin-spice lattes and apple fritters a person can tolerate. That's where Wellfleet OysterFest comes in. The Cape Cod festival ditches pumpkins for oysters on the half shell, quahogs, live lobsters, and conch fritters in a display of true New England bravado. Sample street snacks from the nearly 30 different raw-bar, seafood, and indie vendors. Pair Nantucket clam cakes with locally sourced conch fritters, or try out the fair–inspired fried lobster tails on a stick.
When: October 14–15, 2017
Must do: Check out the oyster-shucking competition to see if anyone can beat the 2015 record of 24 oysters in 1 minute and 45 seconds.
Nearby: Take an incredibly scenic drive around the Cape to admire the fall foliage before arriving at historic Plymouth Rock.
Where to stay: All Seasons Resort in Yarmouth or similar
Hollywood Forever Presents Día de los Muertos | Los Angeles, CA
Now in its 18th year, Hollywood Forever Presents Día de los Muertos is a cyan- and fuchsia-splashed LA mainstay thanks to its sky-high altars and mix of authentic and whimsical costumes. Spend your time soaking in the baroque beauty of the more than 100 community-created ceremonial altars. While you're there, take in a show by any number of Latin Grammy–nominated artists.
When: October 28, 2017
Must do: Find your way to the center of the grounds for the Procession—a ghastly spectacle filled with Calaca skeletons, impossibly ornate headdresses, and, of course, women and children in traditional calaveras makeup.
Nearby: The famous and iconic Griffith Observatory (seen in films like Rebel Without a Cause and most recently La La Land) is just a 15-minute drive away.
Where to stay: Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys or similar
Adirondack Balloon Festival | Glen Falls, NY
There's something downright Victorian about the Adirondack Balloon Festival in Glen Falls, New York. Maybe it's the reliance on 19th-century technology that lends the event so much charm—but probably it's the hundreds of hot-air balloons. You can even charter your own balloon pilot to take you on a one-of-a-kind tour of the area.
When: September 21–24, 2017
Must do: Feast your eyes on the gravity-defying parade of balloons that is Walter's Mass Ascension. More than 100 airships, including novelty-shape balloons, transform the sky into a surreal patchwork of primary colors.
Nearby: Hop aboard a steamboat on Lake George for a lovely cruise around the lake, where you'll get stunning views of the Adirondacks.
Where to stay: Best Western of Lake George in Lake George or similar