When the leaves start to trickle down from the trees and the humidity wanes (even if just slightly), it’s a cue to bring out the pumpkins, take in a tune, tour the area amusement parks and even try to finally solve that tricky corn maze. Florida offers a huge variety of autumn amusements as well as some tricks and treats. Page on and earmark some special fun this fall.
Fun Local Fairs & Fests
If you want to keep it close to home, these events are all convenient to Ocala.
28th Annual Central Florida Fall Harvest & Peanut Festival
Heritage Park, Williston
This great event is one day only (9am-4pm), so don’t miss out on this famous fest where you can go nuts for peanuts. Sample and purchase boiled, baked, roasted or fried peanuts—and if you’re fortunate, bump into Mr. Peanut himself! The festival also features rides, music, and arts and crafts booths with a peanut theme.
Rev It Up
10th Annual GM Octoberfest
Silver Springs State Park, Ocala
This General Motors enthusiast event is strictly for fun, with judging and awards by popular vote—as David Letterman used to joke, no wagering. GM owners and fans mingle in the relaxing garden, enjoying all the great vehicles on display.
(352) 861-8701 x4227
12th Annual Ocala Cultural Festival
Citizens’ Circle, Ocala
The Cultural Festival is Ocala’s celebration of diversity in the community, “a kaleidoscope of fun, food, music and dance.” Also enjoy cultural demonstrators, ethnic or world arts and crafts, and children’s activities and entertainment.
19th Annual Jeeptoberfest
Market of Marion, Belleview
If a tagline like “three levels of off-road Jeep mayhem!” captures your fancy, you know where to visit in mid-October. This annual fundraiser for the Ocala Jeep Club is one of the largest Jeep-only events in the entire Southeast. The Show & Shine Jeep competition, held on the square in downtown Ocala, takes place on opening night and is limited to the first 100 Jeeps that register. There are also three competitive courses and a ramp for off-roading.
The Carnival Is Coming!
Blessed Trinity Carnival
Blessed Trinity Church and School, Ocala
Talk about a huge weekend: At least 40,000 people attend the carnival every year, enjoying to dozens of rides, playing games and traipsing through the fun house. When the munchies set in, enjoy food from local restaurateurs (past chow has come from Mojo Grill, Carrabba’s and Ocala Ale House) and traditional carny fare.
Turn Back The Clock
McIntosh 1890s Festival
5835 Avenue G, McIntosh
Dive deep into the past 120 years, and stroll through 280 vendor tents and the historic Old Train Depot. Between 35,000 and 50,000 visitors are expected. Don’t turn your clock too far, though: The festival, which traces its roots to 1974, runs just one day, from 8am to 5pm.
Great American Cooter Festival
Liberty Park, 286 N. Apopka Ave., Inverness
You wouldn’t think so much craziness could be packed into little ol’ Inverness. The festival, active since 2004, features a barbecue cook-off, kayak racing, live entertainment and groovy music, children’s activities, carnival rides, food and craft vendors—and, of course, the Cooterween costume contest.
Ocala Pumpkin Run
Castro Farms, 7700 Old Blichton Road, Ocala
Castro Farms boasts 400 acres, and they need every one of them to pack all the motorized fun into this weekend. The run features monster truck rides, classic and custom car shows, a NASCAR simulator, FMX Motocross bikes, BMX bike riders and Marion County Therapeutic Riding Association horses. The festivities also feature live music, Frisbee dogs, beekeeping, chainsaw exhibitions, a magic show and obstacle courses. The children’s area—where kids are encouraged to arrive in costume—features bounce houses and slides, hay rides, pony rides, a huge pumpkin patch, face painting, pumpkin decorating, games and trunk-or-treating (parking lot trick-or-treat).
Marion County’s 35th Annual Chili Cook-Off
Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, 2232 NE Jacksonville Road, Ocala
Tickle your taste buds with 40 varieties of chili, crafted by flavor masters. This is some serious spice, buster. Cool off with music from The Band 4Play and others. Rain or shine, the chili will be piping hot from 10am to 5pm.
Riverhawk Music Festival
Sertoma Youth Ranch, Brooksville
Sertoma Youth Ranch is a campground that will accommodate at least 2,500 attendees as well as overnight camping. Delta Rae headlines a roster of 13-plus national and local music acts, including the Travelin’ McCourys, Solas, Driftwood, Cornmeal, Shiny Ribs, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, and Grandpa’s Cough Medicine. It’s not just an adult event, however; there is a kid’s parade and children’s vendors as well as hayrides, piñatas, arts and crafts, games, ping-pong ball race and face-painting.
Rockin’ Good Times
3rd Annual Harvest Fest Music & Food Truck Festival
Tuscawilla Park, Ocala
The best live music fest in Ocala returns again with a national headliner and eight regional music acts across two stages for daylong tunes. Getting hungry dashing between stages and dancing up a storm? A dozen food trucks will supply the feast.
Farm City Festival
Liberty Park, 286 N. Apopka Drive, Inverness
This festival is a celebration of local farmers, growers and ranchers, as part of the national Farm City Week. Come see local food and natural product vendors, representatives of University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), and 4-H clubs—and don’t forget about the live music, tractor parade and petting zoo.
Lake of Fire
Lake Hernando Dragon Boat Festival
Who knew such an awesome boat race could be tucked away in the modest hamlet of Hernando? Last year’s competition featured 58 teams—including the Blazing Paddles, Brannen Bank Assassins, Citrus Crazies, Jazzy Paddlers and This Boat Rocks—competing in 11- or 21-person teams. The festival also boasts a dozen or more food vendors, live music, 50 arts and crafts vendors, and youth games. For one day, Hernando becomes the boat-racing capital of Florida.
Ready, Steady, Go
6th Annual Inverness Grand Prix
The Grand Prix Motorsport Festival is a high-speed, five-turn street kart race through downtown Inverness. November 18 marks the Street Party, with the all-day races taking place the next day. This family-friendly event also includes car shows and vendors.
Let There Be Light
33rd Annual Light Up Ocala
Historic Downtown Ocala
Light Up Ocala is more than just a tree lighting ceremony. The 4-9pm event includes live entertainment, crafts, children’s activities, ice-skating, food, the Junior Sunshine parade and a Santa visit. But the highlight, of course, is illuminating Ocala’s 42-foot tree.
Fall is the perfect time to wind your way through a puzzle made of corn!
Search for the Great Pumpkin!
Dunnellon Pickin’ Patch
Fridays through Sundays, October 1-30
The Pickin’ Patch has a heady claim as Florida’s “only true pumpkin patch.” The patch itself is a sort of marvel, because pumpkins normally thrive in cooler conditions than Florida offers. Besides, why choose from a farm or grocery’s selections when you can get into the field yourself and cut your perfect jack-o-lantern pumpkin right off the vine? The 13-acre farm also offers gourds of all sizes as well as sunflower bouquets. And the whole family can be entertained by a corn maze, hayrides and a hay fort.
11000 Rolling Hills Road, Dunnellon
Scott’s Maze Adventures and Corn Maze
Long & Scott Farms, Mount Dora
October 1-November 14
Long & Scott’s truly amazing fall complex is sure to please families. Founded in 1963 and carving mazes out of cornfields since 2003, 30,000 visitors will take the challenge this fall. The maze is actually two: a six-acre challenge and a one-acre mini-maze. Not up for meandering through corn? Check out a 60-foot super slide, labyrinth/rock maze, rope maze, playground, children’s zip line, jumping pillow, mist maze, three-acre tree maze and tire sand pile.
Coon Hollo Corn Maze
Fridays through Sundays, October 7-November 6
You can’t beat the fun at Coon Hollo, which is much more than its storied crop maze. Other activities include a hayride to feed the cows, pony rides, a farm train, pasture putt-putt, a burlap sack slide, hay bale obstacle course and farm scavenger hunt. For a small fee, pick your own sunflowers. And when your stomach gets empty, stop by Nana’s Country Store and The Feed Trough concession stand.
Pick Up a Pack of Pumpkins
Druid Hills Pumpkin Patch
Druid Hills United Methodist Church, Ocala
October 8-28 (Monday-Saturday 9am-8pm, Sunday noon-6pm)
Every fall season, the church rolls out pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and colors. There are cutouts for photo ops, a storytelling circle for children and wonderful spirit throughout.
Harvest moon driving some wanderlust? Here’s a statewide survey of fall fun.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
Epcot Center, Orlando
Through November 14
Thirty unique food kiosks provide the foundation of this fest, but there’s much more. The Eat to the Beat concert series features nightly concerts, including Living Colour, Blues Traveler, Los Lobos and Chaka Khan. There’s a festival stage hosted by ABC-TV’s The CHEW, and various one-off and continuous exhibits, including dessert and drink specials and book signings.
St. Augustine Greek Festival
Francis Field, St. Augustine
Looking for a celebration of all things Greek? Look no further than St. Augustine in October, where Greek food, music, dancing and heritage run throughout the weekend. Delicious homemade foods (including lamb and souvlaki) and pastries (baklava, anyone?) are keystones, as is traditional Greek music (from the Hellenic Band) and dance. But Greek Fest additionally offers an arts and crafts-based outdoor marketplace and a Kids’ Center (featuring a rock-climbing wall) with carnival rides and games. Winding up a second decade of Greek celebration, this year St. Augustine promises festivities at Francis Field that are as fun as ever.
Biking By The Waves
24th Annual Biketoberfest
Hop on your hog and head east to the beach and a fall Daytona tradition, under sun, in warm breezes and listening to great live music. Pro riders will compete in the Daytona International Speedway’s Motorcycle Races—always a thrill. And don’t forget about the motorcycle vendors, set up to supply needs and answer questions from riders and wannabes alike.
Shake, Rattle and Reptile
50th Annual Rattlesnake Festival & Run
San Antonio (near Tampa)
There aren’t many fall celebrations with as much history behind them as San Antonio’s Rattlesnake Festival & Run. True to its name, the rattlesnake show is a core element. However, there is a lot more to do, whether taking in Cowboy Tom, Nerdy Noah’s juggling show, the Family Bike Ride, gopher races, kid’s games, food trucks, or arts and crafts vendors. Stretching back to 1979, the Rattlesnake Run takes competitors through hills, sidewalks, groves and over a bridge in Pasco County’s fresh country air; this year, there are five- and one-mile races as well as a human/dog one-mile race. Music will be provided by the Beaumont Family Bluegrass Band.
47th Annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival
Move over New England, Florida’s second-oldest city is coming after your famous clam chowder! Cedar Key’s long-time seafood extravaganza runs from 9am to 5pm on both days and features local clam chowders, smoked mullet dip, raw and fried oysters, and corn on the cob. The fest also sells local crafts: boxes made from nearby cedar trees, egret lawn art and preserved/mounted lobsters and crabs, all from more than 200 local artists. As a bonus, this is the only time of year visitors can tour Seahorse Key, three miles away and now part of the protected Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge; a shuttle boat travels to the island and lighthouse, which dates back to before the Civil War.
Pumpkins by the Bay
8th Annual Sarasota Pumpkin Festival
The centerpiece of this fun fest is the pumpkin patch and maze, fun for kids and adults alike. The Sarasota Pumpkin Festival also boasts live bands and street performers, pie-eating contests, a carnival area with rides, “inflatable land,” face painting, a petting zoo and pony rides. Naturally, there is also a beer garden, food vendors and craft stands. Kids are encouraged to enjoy a free hayride and trick-or-treat in the vendor area.
7th Annual Stone Crab Festival
MasterChef Season 6 finalist Derrick Peltz kicks off the festivities on Friday night, and the weekend is packed from there. Enjoy tons of live music (including Little Eddie and the Fat Fingers), and activities as varied as military tributes, water cruises, Segway and trolley tours, and Everglades expeditions. Every day is centered around a block party and, of course, mind-blowingly good seafood.
53rd Annual Florida Seafood Festival
It’s hard to imagine a prettier site for a festival than this one, at the mouth of the Apalachicola River, under the oak trees of Battery Park. Noteworthy events include oyster eating and oyster shucking contests, blue crab races, the 5K Redfish Run, and tonging for treasure. Also enjoy delicious seafood (of course), arts and crafts exhibits, live music, photo contests, a parade and a festival history exhibit.
Lights, Camera, Action
31st Annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Through more than three decades, the internationally acclaimed FLIFF has seen an amazing who’s who of superstars grace its red carpet: Martin Scorsese, Michael Caine, Tony Curtis, Vincent Price, Kevin Spacey, Richard Attenborough, Matt Damon, Ben Kingsley, Ed Harris and Michael Moore. This year’s fest will host more than 150 films from American independent and world cinema. The Florida Arts Council rates FLIFF as the best in the state—and at 17 days, the Guinness Book of World Records names it the Longest Film Festival in the world.
Boo! For You
If Halloween is your fall highlight, don’t miss these tricks and treats.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
Magic Kingdom, Kissimmee
Through October 31
A kid-friendly take on Halloween features Disney characters in costume and Mickey’s nightly Boo-To-You parade, led by the Headless Horseman. There’s also a nightly Happy HalloWishes fireworks show, where families can sing along to remixes of Disney villain theme songs.
Busch Gardens, Tampa
Thursdays through Sundays through October 30
For more than 15 years, Busch Gardens has been scaring the pants off of visitors with Howl-o-Scream. This adult feature assaults guests with terrific illusions that spill into emotional bursts and adrenaline rushes. Plus, you can ride roller coasters in the dark!
Halloween Horror Nights
Through October 31
The streets of Universal Studios come alive with monsters, maniacs and hordes of horrifying mutants. Sound like your bag? Well, then stop in to see how nightmarish a Halloween event can get. The grounds are marked with terrifying haunted houses and punctuated with original frights and authentic horror movie moments. Want scare zones? Universal’s got ’em in bunches, with creatures lurking around every turn. Additionally, live shows, rides and attractions will be active for the event.
Building Up Tension
Weekends in October, plus October 31
Legoland calls Brick-or-Treat “spooky, kooky fun for kids,” and that sums it up well. The entertainment gets no more frightening than light scares, with children picking up treats on the Brick-or-Treat Trail, huge LEGO models, build activities, the world’s largest LEGO jack-o-lantern, a scavenger hunt and a fireworks show in Pirates’ Cove.
Frights Under The Sea
Weekends in October
Looking for a “fantasea” featuring trick-or-treating, sea-themed activities like arts and crafts, animal encounters and whimsical characters? SeaWorld’s Spooktacular celebration is a perfect fit for you, included with SeaWorld regular admission.