Home EVERYDAY LIFE A 50-State Guide To Fall 2018’s Best Family-Friendly Events

A 50-State Guide To Fall 2018’s Best Family-Friendly Events

August 24, 2018
A 50-State Guide To Fall 2018’s Best Family-Friendly Events

As days get shorter and the air gets crisp, fall is a fabulous time for family-friendly events across the country. Here are our favorites by state, listed alphabetically.

Alabama

Event: National Shrimp Festival

When: October 11-14, 2018

The skinny: It’s hard not to think about Forrest Gump during this annual Gulf Shores party that pays homage to shrimp. The festival—set to celebrate its 47th year—serves up more than 200 pounds of shrimp a day, as well as live music, singing contests, and a sand sculpture showdown. There’s even a village where kids can do arts and crafts.

Why go: Two words: GULF SHRIMP.

Alaska

Event: Alaska Bald Eagle Festival

When: November 7-10, 2018

The skinny: Every November about 4,000 bald eagles flock (see what we did there?!) to Haines, Alaska, to feast on salmon swimming up the Stikine River, and locals throw a party to welcome the birds back. The party comprises bird-watching, interpretive guiding, free dinners at a local schoolhouse, and an art bazaar. There’s also an open-mic reading for original poetry about birds.

Why go: Technically speaking, the migration creates the largest congregation of bald eagles in the world.

Arizona

Event: Arizona State Fair

When: October 5-28, 2018

The skinny: Every state has a state fair, but what makes the annual Arizona bash so special is the attention it pays to traditions from rural parts of the state. There’s a petting zoo with local animals, performances by Native American spirit dancers, and a turkey stampede. There’s also car racing and live music with some pretty major bands.

Why go: Between funnel cake and livestock shows, there’s nothing like a state fair.

Arkansas

Event: Arkansas Apple Festival

When: October 5-7, 2018

The skinny: October is harvest time across the Arkansas Apple Belt, and this festival, in Lincoln, celebrates the milestone. The three-day party offers lots of opportunities to eat local apples, as well as participate in arts and crafts and kids’ activities, enjoy fair food, and, of course, watch an apple-themed parade.

Why go: Freshly picked applies are delicious, even if you don’t put them in a pie.

California

Event: California Avocado Festival

When: October 5-7, 2018

The skinny: “Peace, Love, and Guacamole” is the slogan for this annual festival, held in downtown Carpinteria along the Central Coast. The party boasts hundreds (if not thousands) of options for avocado-based food, including what’s purported to be the world’s largest vat of guacamole. The party also usually sports a number of tents with kid-oriented arts and crafts, live music, and shopping.

Why go: It’s hard to pass up the opportunity to sample from the world’s largest vat of guacamole.

Colorado

Event: Kids Halloween Parade and Party

When: October 25, 2018

The skinny: Halloween comes early at Union Station in downtown Denver with this annual festival that includes a live DJ, stilt walkers, a magician, a parade through the Great Hall and around nearby Wynkoop Plaza, trick-or-treating at station merchants, and costume contests galore. Local bars also offer drink specials for adults.

Why go: The more trick-or-treating you can squeeze into one year, the better.

Connecticut

Event: Connecticut Renaissance Faire

When: Weekends from September 1-October 14, 2018

The skinny: Jousting contests, fairies, archery displays, minstrels, and princesses are among the highlights of this annual Lebanon event, which today is among the biggest gatherings of its kind anywhere in the United States. In particular, kids love the Knight School and the birds of prey shows. Events and attractions change every year; the 2018 event is the 20th annual.

Why go: Everybody should experience eating a giant roasted turkey leg with their hands by age 15.

Delaware

Event: Sea Witch Halloween & Fiddlers’ Festival

When: October 26-28, 2018

The skinny: This annual party in Rehoboth Beach celebrates Halloween in style—with a costume parade and a citywide hunt for a creature called the Sea Witch. There’s also live entertainment, dozens of food trucks, and a program for dogs (preferably dogs in costume). As the event title suggests, there’s also a program for fiddle players, and a contest to crown a champ.

Why go: When you’re close to the coast, what’s Halloween without a sea witch?

Florida

Event: Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

When: August 31-November 13, 2018

The skinny: Upon first glance, this annual food and wine event inside Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort may seem like it’s geared toward grown-ups. It turns out that adventuresome kids have a blast, since they can basically experiment with a host of new foods and essentially eat for free. New for 2018: A dance party, kids’ play area, and more.

Why go: There’s no binging quite like foodie festival binging. For growing kids, this means good snacks.

Georgia

Event: Family Fall Festival

When: October 13, 2018

The skinny: The Family Fall Festival, held at Mistletoe State Park in Appling, is an old-school type of family affair. Think hayrides, crafts, storytelling, and more. There also usually are a host of children’s games to be played. The fair sits on the shores of Clarks Hill Lake near Augusta, and there are cabins for families to rent if they want to spend the weekend.

Why go: Hayrides are going the way of the dodo bird, so seize the opportunity while you can.

Hawaii

Event: Annual Waikiki Hoolaulea

When: September 22, 2018

The skinny: Put simply, this annual event is Hawaii’s largest block party. Entertainers, food vendors, and more take over Kalakaua Avenue in downtown Honolulu to offer revelers a carefree day of strolling and partying. Kid-friendly activities include Hawaiian crafts such as lei-making, as well as classes in Hula-dancing.

Why go: The best way to appreciate other cultures is to learn about them first-hand.

Idaho

Event: Fall Harvest Festival

When: October 6-7, 2018

The skinny: Live music, games, and catered food highlight this annual event at the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise. While kids are getting their faces painted or exploring the straw maze, moms and dads can shop in an artist market full of crafts from local artisans. There’s even something called the Scarecrow Stroll, which is a sort of line dance.

Why go: Every attendee also gets a free pumpkin.

Illinois

Event: Pierre Marquette State Park Apple Festival

When: September 23, 2018

The skinny: This annual fall festival is set in Grafton, right in the heart of Illinois apple country. Festivities include an apple pie walk (which is similar to a cake walk), a pumpkin roll, and other kid-oriented games. There’s also lots of apple-centric food—everything from apple fritters to caramel apples and more. Kids love the handmade crafts, live music, and games. Parents enjoy the apple wine-tasting.

Why go: Not only is the event fun, but everything about it is free.

Indiana

Event: Conner Prairie’s Festival of Machines

When: September 15-16, 2018

The skinny: This event, in Fishers, celebrates Indiana’s transportation history by enabling kids (and parents) to get up-close-and-personal with airplanes, helicopters, and vintage fire trucks, to name a few. There’s a tractor parade, as well as a “petting zoo” with other heavy-duty machinery. Kids even have the opportunity to take new go-karts for a spin.

Why go: You had us as machinery “petting zoo.”

Iowa

Event: Anamosa Pumpkinfest and Ryan Norlin Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off

When: October 6-7, 2018

The skinny: Anamosa is the unofficial pumpkin capital of Iowa, which means the town’s annual Pumpkinfest is chock-full of giant orange gourds. The shindig features food and craft vendors, a grand parade, kids’ games, pumpkin-picking, and a weigh-off that crowns the largest pumpkin of the bunch. The pumpkin pie-off also is pretty tasty.

Why go: Pumpkins the size of small cars!

Kansas

Event: American Royal Livestock, Horse Show, and Rodeo

When: September 2018

The skinny: Kansas City’s biggest festival of the year comprises a host of events, from livestock sales to horse shows and, of course, rodeos. The Youth and Pro rodeos are held September 25-29 and include some of the most talented ropers and riders in the state; the barbecue competition—the American Royal World Series of Barbecue—is September 13-16, and guarantees every participant a heaping plate of food.

Why go: Whichever events you attend, the culture of the Wild West reigns supreme.

Kentucky

Event: Spoonbread Festival

When: September 21-23, 2018

The skinny: Sure, this annual festival in the town of Berea boasts hot-air balloon rides and a parade, but the biggest draw is the bread from which it draws its name—a souffle-type bread that’s eaten with a spoon. All told, organizers make hundreds of pans of the bread, and families come together to cheer on participants in the spoonbread-eating contest. There’s also a kids’ play area with games and crafts.

Why go: Spoonbread is a delicacy in these parts, and the goodies at this party don’t disappoint.

Louisiana

Event: Beignet Fest

When: October 6, 2018

The skinny: Every kid loves beignets, those light and fluffy squares of sugar-covered fried dough made famous by Café du Monde in New Orleans. With this in mind, it’s safe to assume kids will enjoy Beignet Fest, too. The event features more than 20 different kids of beignets, including both sweet and savory options. The free party also boasts live music, a kids’ village, and more.

Why go: Proceeds benefit the Tres Doux Foundation, which helps kids with developmental disabilities.

Maine

Event: Rolling Slumber Bed Races

When: November 10, 2018

The skinny: Silliness is the name of the game in this Brunswick event, during which competitors race down the town’s main street in—you guessed it—beds on wheels. Only adults can participate, but the environment is perfect for kids, especially since the associated festival has child-oriented activities (bouncy houses, craft tables) and kid-friendly food.

Why go: See who wins prizes for speed, creativity, and team spirit.

Maryland

Event: Kinderfest

When: October 7, 2018

The skinny: Who needs Oktoberfest when there’s Kinderfest? This free festival, held at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, is a beer-free celebration of autumn and harvest. Activities include live music, bouncy houses, pony rides, face-painting, train rides, arts and crafts, and more. The park also brings in food vendors from all over the surrounding area.

Why go: Because the festival is geared toward little ones, every activity is kid-focused.

Massachusetts

Event: Cranberry Harvest Celebration

When: October 6-7, 2018

The skinny: Put on a pair of waders and wander out into a bog of cranberries at this annual event, held at a bog in Wareham, near Cape Cod. In addition to enabling kids to get first-hand experience with a cranberry harvest, the festival features live music, games, pony rides, food vendors, and more. Kids also can take paddleboat rides available on scenic Tihonet Pond.

Why go: Bogs in this part of the country usually aren’t open to the public, so this is a real treat.

Michigan

Event: Hobo Fest

When: September 15-16, 2018

The skinny: This festival, sponsored by the Port Huron & Detroit Railroad Historical Society, is designed to teach kids about railroad history and Port Huron’s role as an important transportation center. The event features a Spam-carving contest, live music, games, and arts and crafts for kids. Attendees also will have the opportunity to climb aboard some old trains and see how hobos would have lived.

Why go: You’ll be amazed at how real experts can carve Spam.

Minnesota

Event: Sever’s Fall Festival

When: September 7-October 28, 2018

The skinny: One of the largest family-owned farms in Shakopee hosts a rollicking fall festival every year. Historically, the event has included a giant corn pit, an expansive corn maze, bouncy pillows, live music, and more. This year, organizers also expect to host a petting zoo, magic shows, a zip line, and face-painting. There’s also a pumpkin patch to make sure noone leaves empty handed.

Why go: The corn maze alone is one of the most challenging in the state.

Mississippi

Event: Cruisin’ the Coast

When: September 30-October 7, 2018

The skinny: Throwback cars, throwback music, and old-school entertainment are in full effect during this event that unfolds in Gulfport, Biloxi, and other Gulf Coast towns in early autumn. Main events include auto parades, races, and engine repair demonstrations. There also are dozens of activities just for kids, including bouncy houses, arts and crafts tables, oil change contests, and more.

Why go: Classic cars never go out of style.

Missouri

Event: National Crafts & Cowboy Festival

When: September 12-October 27, 2018

The skinny: Branson is a popular tourist spot year-round, but the city comes alive during this annual event, which celebrates both cowboy culture and crafting. The craft component assembles a cornucopia of artisans. The cowboy component features wild mustangs, an old-fashioned barn dance, chuck-wagon cooking, and more—all stuff kids will be talking about until next year.

Why go: 2018 is the final year for a Wild West Show inspired by Buffalo Bill.

Montana

Event: McIntosh Apple Day

When: October 6, 2018

The skinny: Locals in Hamilton think of McIntosh Apple Day as the biggest bake sale of the year. In reality, the event is a bit like a farmers’ market multiplied by 100s —hundreds of vendors selling different baked goods that feature that signature local product: the McIntosh apple. Other items for sale include caramel apples and apple butter. When they’re not chowing down, kids can bob for apples, too.

Why go: There’s no better way to sample local flavor than to visit a local farmers’ market.

Nebraska

Event: AppleJack Festival

When: September 21-23, 2018

The skinny: This annual festival in Nebraska City marks the start of the annual apple harvest, which means it comprises lots of celebrating and lots of apples in lots of different forms. Apple cider. Apple pancakes. Apple fritters. Apple pies. You get the idea. The event also has six different craft fairs, a classic car show, live music, and a three-day carnival.

Why go: Every harvest should start with a party.

Nevada

Event: Great Reno Balloon Race

When: September 7-9, 2018

The skinny: More than 100 hot-air balloons take flight during this three-day event that unfolds in the skies above Reno. So long as the kids can get up early (like, 4 a.m.), watching the early-morning ascent is, quite literally, spectacular. A festival with live music and local food vendors corresponds to the balloon events.

Why go: A sky dotted with dozens of hot-air balloons is something your kids will remember forever.

New Hampshire

Event: Warner Fall Foliage Festival

When: October 5-7, 2018

The skinny: There’s nothing quite like the explosion of color produced by fall in New England; green leaves turn red, orange, yellow, and just about every shade in between. This phenomenon was the impetus behind the Fall Foliage Festival in Warner, established more than 70 years ago; it remains a focus today. Kid-friendly activities during the festival include a dance-off and a fun run.

Why go: Parents will love the lobster-and-chicken barbecue.

New Jersey

Event: Lakewood Lions 37th Annual Renaissance Fair

When: September 15-16, 2018

The skinny: Everything about this party is a throwback to the 16th century. There are knights with armor. There are princesses with Rapunzel-length hair. There’s just about everything in between. There’s also a “country village” with artists, musicians, storytellers, and magicians. Then, of course, there’s the food: roasted turkey legs, dragon dogs, and funnel cakes, to name a few.

Why go: You don’t get many chances to hunker down in a sleeping bag; seize the opportunity!

New Mexico

Event: Festival of the Cranes

When: November 14-17, 2018

The skinny: Capitalizing on various bird migrations through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, this shindig is all about the crane. Some sources indicate that 5,000 birds participate every year—a number that appears to be growing from year to year. Organizers provide kiddos with binoculars and scavenger hunt-style paperwork to complete while they’re out there.

Why go: Rush hour in the sky is way more appealing than rush hour on the streets.

New York

Event: Adirondack Balloon Festival

When: September 20-23, 2018

The skinny: The year 2018 is the 46th annual running of this balloon festival, held in Queensbury. There are more than 100 balloons every year, and the site of these behemoths rising quietly against the backdrop of the Adirondacks is a sight to behold. The surrounding festival also features live music, great local food, and a variety of games for kids to play.

Why go: Nothing captivates the imagination of a little one quite like a slowly climbing hot-air balloon.

North Carolina

Event: Wooly Worm Festival

When: October 20-21, 2018

The skinny: Kids who love playing with insects will love this silly festival, which essentially revolves around wooly worms racing each other for the title of speediest. The winning worm nets its owner $1,000 cash and supposedly predicts the winter weather for the High Country of North Carolina. In addition to the races, the event features a craft fair, food vendors, and games.

Why go: There aren’t many places where you get to race worms — much less for the chance to win $1,000!

North Dakota

Event: Uffda Day

When: October 7, 2018

The skinny: Scandinavian heritage is on full display in this Rutland celebration that honors the heritage of many local townspeople. The festival features a communal breakfast, a race, and a craft fair afterward. Ethnic foods available include Abelskievers (Danish pancake balls), Uffda (which means “scalloped”) potatoes, and bratwurst.

Why go: You’ve gotta love a festival that teaches a history lesson, too.

Ohio

Event: Ohio River Sternwheel Festival

When: September 7-9, 2018

The skinny: This festival is all about sternwheel boats, which dock in Marietta every year starting around this time (and continuing well into December). The party begins on shore, where kids’ tents provide spacious shelter for engaging in arts and crafts. The bash continues on the boats themselves, many of which have been outfitted to accommodate additional passengers.

Why go: Sternwheelers are a dying breed; this could be your last chance to see them in the wild.

Oklahoma

Event: Honobia Bigfoot Festival & Conference

When: October 5-6, 2018

The skinny: Legend has it that the Sasquatch—a.k.a., Bigfoot—frequented the area around Honobia, so the townspeople got together a few years back and organized a festival to celebrate the claim to fame. Today, the festival offers helicopter rides, a kids’ zone with bouncy houses, and face-painting and food options. Oddly enough, the only thing missing is Bigfoot himself.

Why go: It’s a party to celebrate Bigfoot. Drop the mic there.

Oregon

Event: Portland Book Festival

When: November 10, 2018

The skinny: One of the biggest festivals of the year in Portland is an event dedicated to books. The festival, which used to be called “Wordstock,” puts audience members right up in front of writers who wish to read from pieces or books they’ve worked on recently. There’s a children’s program, which is very exciting for kids who attend.

Why go: If nothing else, attending this event gives you a reason to check out the justly famous Powell’s Books.

Pennsylvania

Event: Apple Butter Frolic

When: October 6, 2018

The skinny: The “Frolic,” as it’s known locally, is a great opportunity for families to get a glimpse into Mennonite culture, a prevalent way of life in and around Harleysville. The festival offers horse-drawn wagon rides, cooking demonstrations, a harvest baking contest, and an apple foods tent where kids can sample some of the baked goods for which Mennonite bakers are famous.

Why go: Short of reading a textbook, the event is a crash-course in becoming familiar with Mennonite culture.

Rhode Island

Event: WaterFire Salute to Veterans

When: November 10, 2018

The skinny: Downtown Providence is home to WaterFire, a spectacle that incorporates dance and boats to make it seem as if fire is moving on the basin and the harbor. While WaterFire takes place throughout most of the summer and fall, this particular event commemorates Veterans Day, and is somber but powerful. In addition to flames, the celebration includes a giant American flag.

Why go: No matter how many times you see it, fire dancing on water seems like an illusion.

South Carolina

Event: South Carolina Pecan Festival

When: November 3, 2018

The skinny: Pecans are the stars of the show at this annual event held in Florence. Festivities include art demonstrations, amusement rides, an antique tractor show, a car show, a chalk art competition, races, and more. Every year there are at least 30 food vendors, as well as a free Kids’ Zone with games, crafts, and refreshments.

Why go: You haven’t tasted pecan pie until you’ve sampled at least some of the 10 varieties here.

South Dakota

Event: Black Hills Powwow

When: October 5-7, 2018

The skinny: Native American cultural events aren’t usually on the national radar screen, but this is one of the biggest and best. Held annually in Rapid City, the powwow attracts tribes from all over the West. Participating groups engage in native dances that celebrate individual cultures. The event also includes the He Sapa Win pageant, which crowns a queen each year.

Why go: The driving beats and colorful regalia of Native American dances are a thrilling sight.

Tennessee

Event: Cheekwood Harvest

When: September 23-October 29, 2018

The skinny: Cheekwood Estate and Gardens is one of Nashville’s most beautiful places to witness native flora in all of its glory. Naturally, then, harvest time at the estate is a spectacle worth seeing. For starters, the property’s 5,000+ chrysanthemum bushes explode with color every fall. Second, the place puts on quite a show for kids, complete with art programs, story time, and a pumpkin patch.

Why go: Every year, Cheekwood expands its collection of custom-made scarecrows.

Texas

Event: East Texas Yamboree

When: October 17-20, 2018

The skinny: Forget about Dallas, Houston, and Austin in the fall—the real party is in Gilmer, home of the East Texas Yamboree. As the name suggests, this festival pays homage to the yam, which grows in abundance nearby. In addition to baked goods incorporating yams, the festival features a beauty pageant, square dancing, a livestock show and sale, and a carnival.

Why go: Because just saying “Yamboree” makes you feel happy.

Utah

Event: Snowbird’s Oktoberfest

When: August 18-October 21, 2018

The skinny: Yes, we know that Oktoberfest is all about beer. But this particular Oktoberfest, held on weekends at the ski resort in Snowbird, has plenty of kid activities, too. Like games. And arts and crafts. And dancing. There’s even a kid-friendly food pavilion, with goodies such as maple-bacon waffles on a stick and schnitzels of various flavors.

Why go: Men’s Journal ranked this particular bash as one of the 10 best Oktoberfests in America.

Vermont

Event: Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival

When: September 29-30, 2018

The skinny: If an animal produces fiber, you’ll find it at this annual event in Tunbridge. Kids will love the petting zoo and fiber arts (read: knitting) classes; grown-ups will love the craft fair and the workshops about life as a shepherd. There’s also live music, on-site camping, and dozens upon dozens of food vendors.

Why go: You never know when you might need to know how to herd a bunch of sheep.

Virginia

Event: Manassas Fall Jubilee

When: October 6, 2018

The skinny: More than 100 crafter and community booths are expected to be on hand at the annual Manassas Fall Jubilee, a big party to celebrate harvest season. The event offers live music, games for the family, and educational opportunities on the front lawn of the Manassas Museum. For the grown-ups, there’s also a tent serving local wines and beers.

Why go: Manassas has colorful history; the Jubilee offers a fun way for kids to connect with that past.

Washington

Event: One Sky, One World Kite Festival

When: October 14, 2018

The skinny: The Kite Museum in Long Beach is the backdrop for the local installment of this worldwide event to commemorate peace. As part of the effort, families are encouraged to launch their kites on the beach and fly them in solidarity. Local kite experts offer workshops for families to design and/or decorate their own kites. Historians also are on hand to talk about the history of the kite.

Why go: Kites! Flying by the hundreds on a strand of beach! Need we say more?

West Virginia

Event: Roadkill Cook-off & Autumn Harvest Festival

When: September 29, 2018

The skinny: Squirrel gravy over biscuits and teriyaki-marinated bear are among the options at this quirky annual event that really does reveal new and exciting ways to prepare roadkill. The event, held in downtown Marlinton, also features crafters, local food, and a variety of games for kids. Bonus: a giant square dance in which families can participate as one.

Why go: The “Eww!” factor will give your kids something different to write about in that back-to-school “What I did on my summer vacation” essay.

Wisconsin

Event: Warrens Cranberry Festival

When: September 28-30, 2018

The skinny: Warrens bills itself as the “Cranberry Capital of Wisconsin,” so it’s fitting that the town’s annual cranberry fest is one of the most rollicking parties around. All told, the party attracts more than 1,300 booths of arts and crafts, antiques, tchotchkes, and food items featuring cranberries. Families also can take tours of the marshes.

Why go: You never can learn too much about cranberries and how they’re harvested.

Wyoming

Event: Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival

When: September 5-16, 2018

The skinny: This annual shindig is fun for the whole family, with food trucks and a craft tent for kids to make their own art. The 34th annual event is expected to have exhibits from more than 50 local artists, as well as a “quick draw” competition to see who can make the most beautiful painting in five minutes or less.

Why go: Art is worth celebrating in all forms, especially when it’s made by your kids.

Matt Villano is a family travel writer and journalist based in Healdsburg, California. To learn more about him or read some of his work, visit whalehead.com.

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