Ready for crisp apples, a good beer and harvest celebrations? Before you head home for Thanksgiving, plan a long weekend in an affordable and unusual locale. Whether you want fall foliage, a fright fest or comfortable conditions and shoulder-season discounts, these outside-the-box autumn experiences and places are calling.
Roots N Blues N BBQ
Music comes before barbecue at the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 in Columbia. And it's no wonder why, with acts such as Leon Bridges, Emmy Lou Harris and The Bottle Rockets performing on multiple stages in Stephens Lake Park. Star in your own show at the Front Porch Stage, which is stocked with instruments, so visitors can perform for anyone who will listen. But make sure to act quickly and book one of the motel packages soon, as more than 30,000 spent the weekend rocking out and chowing down last year.
Harbor Springs Festival of the Book
Harbor Springs, Michigan
Feast on the latest reads of autumn at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book in northern Michigan from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. Leaves will be turning as the shores of Lake Michigan welcome 50 visiting authors to share their work. Some meal sessions encourage attendees to dine on seasonal specialties as writers read aloud. Expect to hear excerpts of anything from cookbooks to mysteries to children's picture books. There are lodging options at all price points in the Petoskey area, including many with golf and Mackinac Island sightseeing packages that offer fun outdoor activities after trivia contests and book signings.
Bandelier National Monument
Los Alamos, New Mexico
On National Public Lands Day on Sept. 30, more than 200,000 people are expected to volunteer for 2,500 scheduled projects at federal lands, state parks and the 417 National Park Service sites and monuments, which will all be open and free to the public. Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, for example, will host Opera Alta's "Mozart at Bandolier" in partnership with the Santa Fe Opera. Not far away, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge will give volunteers nets to catch and tag monarch butterflies to study migration patterns. Homewood Suites by Hilton Santa Fe-North offers accommodations that include breakfast, dinner and weeknight cocktails from just $154 for two. For a staycation, enter your zip code on the National Environment Education Foundation website to find events near you, and receive a voucher for future entry to a national park.
Cambria Scarecrow Festival
Halloween frights are mild at the Cambria Scarecrow Festival in California, a quiet coastal town near Hearst Castle where hundreds of creative scarecrows are displayed outside local shops throughout October. If you arrive in late September, the state's declared California Wine Month, drop by Camp Scarecrow, the wood shop where old scarecrows are repaired and new ones are mounted. The charming Olallieberry Inn offers nightly rates starting at around $160 for two that includes breakfast and deducts $50 for two-night midweek reservations.
Atlanta Warbird Weekend
Relive the courage of the famed Tuskegee Airmen from Oct. 7-8 at the Dekalb-Peachtree Airport. This weekend celebrates the first U.S. Army Air Corps pilots who graduated 75 years ago from Tuskegee, a historically black private university in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881. Through meet-and-greets with WWII veterans (including Tuskegee Airmen at a special dinner), authors and reenactors, visitors are inspired by African-American pilots who overcame prejudice to accomplish impressive feats. Aviation buffs will be fascinated by the display of WWII airplanes, along with historic aircraft, including the FG-1D Corsair, SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber, T-6 Texan and Stearman biplanes. Fans can even ride in a B-17 Flying Fortress.
Cranberry Harvest Celebration
For an autumn event to remember, head to Massachusetts Oct. 7-8 to the Cranberry Harvest Celebration. This old-fashioned festival teaches spectators everything about the fruit, with educational displays, harvest demonstrations, cooking classes and helicopter tours. In addition to perusing items on display from 40 artisans and food vendors, visitors can stand in a cranberry bog or participate in a variety of kids activities. If you can't make it Columbus Day weekend, 90-minute bog tours are held Sept. 21, Oct. 19 and Oct. 28 at the A.D. Makepeace Company headquarters.
Fall for Greenville
Greenville, South Carolina
Visitors to one of South Carolina's trendiest cities -- Greenville -- can catch free entertainment on seven stages from Oct.13-15. The annual Fall for Greenville event drew 200,000 last year because of its focus on food, serving 200 menu items from 40 top restaurants, accompanied by wine tastings and cooking demonstrations. The festival's stylish host hotel, Aloft Greenville Downtown, has rooms with nightly rates starting from $179.
Windsor Pumpkin Festival and Regatta
Windsor, Nova Scotia
While foodies associate Nova Scotia with salmon, the region of Windsor is actually known for fall foliage and enormous pumpkins. So big in fact, that the 19th-annual Pumpkin Regatta & Children's Wish Parade takes place on Oct. 15, giving locals a chance to paddle across Lake Pisiquid in hollowed-out pumpkins. Spectators will also enjoy food, music and motorized pumpkin races; all funds raised support the Wish Foundation. At the Sept. 30 pumpkin weigh-off challenge, participants will attempt to trump the 2016 winner, Gerard Ansems' 1,415-pound gourd.
Sauce Magazine's Harvest Festival
St. Louis, Missouri
Autumn in St. Louis ushers in an extensive calendar, including the Renaissance Festival on weekends from Sept. 16-Oct. 15, Brew in the Lou (Oct. 14) and a day of sculpture, hay and sampling St. Louis' best restaurants at Sauce Magazine's Harvest Festival in Laumeier Sculpture Park on Oct. 15. Nosh at a farmers market, meet artisans, pick up local crafts and catch folk and bluegrass from several indie bands. Laumeier, founded in 1976 with a bequest from local artist Ernest Trova, showcases 60 major works on a 105-acre campus and uses festival proceeds for arts and education programs. If you're with family, stop by The Magic House children's museum, an award-winning cultural institution, where you can board a replica of the PBS kids series "Dinosaur Train" to explore a dinosaur nest and fossil footprint. What's more, Halloween parties take place the last two weekends in October.
Great Mississippi River Balloon Race
For a bird's-eye view over the antebellum mansions of Natchez, climb into a tethered basket at the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race from Oct. 20-22. Held at the historic Rosalie Mansion, the annual even includes music, beer and sports as 50 hot air balloons fly silently overhead. To catch a takeoff or landing (typically at dawn or dusk), register at NatchezDemocrat.com for SMS updates. Then, settle in with an Oktoberfest beer, a collaboration by local craft breweries for the Blufftoberfest biergarten, where you can savor German food and party games. Worried about missing a big game? Take your plates to the sports tent, where current games are broadcast live.
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