Farmers once celebrated the harvest each autumn with festivals where food made from the year's crops was served in the fields during the final weeks of mild fall weather. Music, games and beverage consumption typically accompanied these celebrations. Well, fall festivals still exist, though most now celebrate hard work at the office rather than the pastures. And some are so festive—with food, beverages and fun galore, like these five—that they're travel-worthy.
Pumpkins in New England
Pumpkins will be stacked so high at the NH Pumpkin Festival (Oct. 13-14)—34 feet to be exact—it's almost scary. But no scarier than some of the faces carved on the festival's 20,000 jack-o'-lanterns, which will be lit at dusk during this event in Laconia, New Hampshire (50 miles from Manchester Boston Airport). Besides pumpkins to praise—and to eat as various pumpkin dishes after the pumpkin cookoff—the expected 40,000 celebrants will enjoy a pancake breakfast, 5K/10K run, zip line, hay rides, costume parade, beer garden, live bands, and as a finale, the lighting of the pumpkins in a Guinness world record attempt.
Pumpkins on the Pacific
The 47th annual Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival (Oct. 14-15) is celebrated just 17 miles over the coastal hills from San Francisco International Airport. In a beach town known as the “world pumpkin capital," $30,000 is awarded to growers of the world's largest pumpkins during festival week, with the gigantic gourds (a 2,624-pounder won in 2016) displayed for the quarter-million people who come to the free festival. Events include a big parade, pumpkin carving demonstrations, a haunted barn, pie-eating and costume contests, four stages of live music, and Halloween-themed goodies like pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin ice cream sold by community groups.
Cuisine in the Carolinas
The TerraVita Food & Drink Festival (Oct. 18-21) destroys any preconceptions that some foodies might have that the South is a not a top culinary destination. Situated in the university town of Chapel Hill (near Raleigh-Durham Airport), the festival is a sweet succession of lunches, dinners and workshops featuring the Carolinas' leading chefs. The climax is the Grand Tasting on the Green, where you'll savor fine foods and beverages from 47 North and South Carolina restaurants, bistros, bakeries, breweries, wineries, distilleries and chocolatiers.
Top Chefs in the Tropics
The Hawaii Food & Wine Festival (Oct. 20-Nov. 5) is making waves on the foodie scene—and not only in America's 50th state. The festival does some island hopping, with the first three events in Maui (including a global street food tasting), the fourth event on the Big Island of Hawaii (a six-course dinner prepared by six superstar chefs) and the final 13 events in Honolulu. Some of the lunches, dinners, tastings and cooking demonstrations highlight Hawaiian food, but most feature chefs and cooking styles from throughout the world of food and wine.
Seafood in New Orleans
Woldenberg Riverfront Park is an appropriate venue for the Louisiana Seafood Festival (Oct. 27-29) because the 16-acre park is right on the Mississippi River, where much of the seafood consumed at the festival is caught. Most dishes are prepared in ways that are uniquely Louisianan—think Cajun and Creole specialties that emphasize shrimp and crawfish—by chefs from 21 of Greater New Orleans' most beloved restaurants. Festival-goers are also treated to tunes by 17 bands ranging from funk to zydeco.