Fall into Fun with these Family Friendly Festivities

Fall is a great time to hit the road. It’s Colorama nearly everywhere you go. This year, instead of heading for the Northwoods to catch the many shades of gold, why not go metro and discover how big city dwellers celebrate the changing of the seasons? Here are a few cities to enjoy.

New York City

Everything’s big in the Big Apple. And now that the US Open is over and done with, you can relax and enjoy yourself all around town. There’s the New York Film Festival, running from September 29 to October 15, with all the stars roaming around town waiting to be noticed, not to mention the movies themselves. If movies aren’t your thing, try the Brooklyn Book Festival (9/24-10/2) or the BAM Next Wave Festival for an odyssey of creativity, starting on 10/29. There’s also Cider Week, the New York Coffee Festival and the New York Comedy Festival.

But if you’ve been waiting to celebrate Oktoberfest in grand style, head for the Watermark on Pier 15 every weekend for a 2-month celebration of all things German; entertainment, food and many of the same beer choices “volks” would get in Munich.

Of course, if Fall colors and pumpkins are a must, you can’t beat the 49-minute train ride up the Hudson River Valley to Croton-on Hudson to see more than 7,000  pumpkins on display at the Van Cortland Manor. For a full listing of what’s going on this Fall in and around New York City, check out nycgovparks.com.


Chicago is a city of neighborhoods — at least 77 by official city count — and you can expect to find some form of Fall festival going on in every one of them. For a thorough listing and description, head for choosechicago.com.

If Fall color is a goal, there are many parks right in town offering red and gold hues galore. Downtown gives you Millennium Park, which also provides a blue lake water view, too. There’s also Fall Fest at Lincoln Park Zoo for harvest-time fun in the city all through October. For more Halloween festivities besides Howl-o-ween nights at the Zoo, there’s Boo! At the Zoo at the Brookfield Zoo, Night of 1,000 Jack-o-Lanterns at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Scarecrow Trail at the Morton Arboretum, or the annual Guinness Record-Breaking Pumpkin Festival in Highwood, all fairly easy train rides out of town.

But Chicago’s largest Fall festival is claimed by Jack’s Pumpkin Pop-up on nearby Goose Island (yes, there’s an island in the middle of the Chicago River, sort of) which has tons of activities, food trucks and photo ops, plus 10,000 of those big orange gourds.

One neighborhood event to consider would be all the activities surrounding Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). A great place to start your exploration is the National Museum of Mexican Art. Also, if your timing is right, you might be able to catch the 35th celebration of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Apple Fest with lots of kids’ activities, musicians, jugglers, and of course, apples, located a few miles north of downtown near the Old Town School of Folk Music.


Well, imagine that, there’s another Boo at the Zoo! Only this one might have slightly warmer weather for your evening ghostly train ride around the animals. There’s even a haunted mansion, if you can get a reservation in time for the all-October event. Other fresh air activities to hold off Winter would include numerous Oktoberfest celebrations at outdoor restaurants and breweries, even a paddle board experience on Lady Bird Lake.

But, if you really want to get into the spirit of the season, don’t miss the free annual Murder, Mayhem and Misadventure Walking Tour at Oakwood Cemetery for very “lively” presentations from the grave sites about several famous past Austinians (October 28).

And if you have a taste for pumpkin, you can start your day with pumpkin pancakes, snack on a pumpkin muffin, have pumpkin ravioli for dinner and finish up with some pumpkin pie. Check local listings for restaurant options. On weekends you can check out a UT football game, with screens lit up all over town. Or head out to the Hill Country for a wine tour. You’ll find even more Fall activities at austintexas.org.

Los Angeles

There’s not much Fall color around LA. But there’s still plenty to do for celebrating the change of seasons. Since the city is so spread out, you can plan on spending a little time driving to catch all the fun and activities.

A trip to LA wouldn’t be complete without checking out Johnny Carson Park. Their annual Fall Festival features the 30th anniversary of The Nightmare Before Christmas with an outdoor film after lots of activities (September 30). But the largest Fall festival in the area is the LA Fall Fair, with 12 acres of amusement rides, carnival games and live music. Lots of food and fun, and free parking, too. (Amazing for LA, right?) It runs from 10/20 through 11/5.

Described as Orange County’s Biggest Party Since 1977, the Oktoberfest at Old World in nearby Huntington Beach could be grandest beer fest of them all. Cobblestone streets and authentic German brews and bands flown in for the party will keep you “oom-pah-pah-ing” every Wednesday through Sunday until November 5.

The annual Dia de los Muertos celebration on Olvera Street is another scene that shouldn’t be missed. The festival runs 10/29 to 11/2, with nightly candle parades, altar displays, and lots of daytime activities for everyone, including a nightly theatrical production.

And since you’re so close to Hollywood, try and catch a movie star or two. If your timing and budget allow, check out Will Ferrell’s Best Night of Your Life 2 benefit for Cancer for College at the Greek Theatre (10/21). The A-list of entertainers should be amazing. The following weekend, watch the Bride of Frankenstein with live music from the LA Opera. For a month-by-month listing of everything LA offers, go to timeout.com.

San Juan

Every day is Festival Day in Puerto Rico, whether you’re in San Juan or out in the countryside, Fall is a great time to visit this passport-free paradise. Every third Saturday during October you can dive into the island’s arts and culture scene at the Paseo de Los Artistas in Caguas. You won’t find a better indoctrination into the island life.

You might still be able to catch some of the several week celebration of the music of Tito Puente, the King of Salsa Music. There’s a huge schedule of events, including concerts and dance contests. If salsa isn’t your style, take a listen to Femijazz, every last Thursday of the month at the C Note Jazz Club.

You won’t find many pumpkins in Puerto Rico, but you can fill your appetite island-style with the National Plantain Festival in Corozal every mid-October. The end of November has the Festival Nacional Indigena in the town of Jayuya, celebrating the Taino culture from the 1500s.  However, the biggest festival on the island doesn’t happen until January for 4 days in old San Juan at the Fiestas de la Calle de San Sebastián. Worth the wait.


If Fall means apples and apple picking to you, Hartford is the place. A short trip out of town is the South Windsor Apple Festival with over 100 vendors, train rides, live music, and more. Even hot air balloons. For your next apple bite, there’s the Glastonbury Apple Harvest and Music Festival, a longtime Connecticut must-do for the season, with carnival rides and local musicians. Apple recipes galore!

Let’s say you have a hunger for something that’s not apple-based. How about garlic? You’ll discover everything you’d ever want to know about this unique vegetable at the Connecticut Garlic and Harvest Festival. Plenty of cooking demonstrations and lectures, plus lots of music, crafts, and things for kids. Each one of these Fall food fests has its very own website for details.

But, if you’re in Hartford, you can’t pass up the Mark Twain House. Lucky you, Fall is when they feature their Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours, as seen on national TV. Spoooooky Victorians! Check out other Hartford happenings at ctvisit.com.

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