If it’s fall in New England, then one thing is inevitable — the northern half of the region is going to be on the receiving end of all the accolades for the eruption of color in the mountains that define the landscape.
Meanwhile, we who live in the lower trio of New England properties will be somewhat relegated to a leftover aspect of foliage season. “Yeah, there’s some color left on the Rhode Island coast, but you really should have seen it a few weeks ago in the Presidential Range.”
Granted, it’s difficult to compete with the likes of the White and Green Mountains when it comes to the calendar’s most breathtaking season, but Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island can still hold their own when it comes to creating autumnal attractions, areas still bursting with color while Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine already have started keeping an eye on the snow guns and when they might start blowing out the mice.
There’s plenty left to taste, see and hear as the fall season winds down toward the turkey and candy cane seasons. So, clear your weekends, hop in the car and set the course for these annual favorites throughout southern New England.
If it’s September, then that means one of the Bay State’s most popular fairs is taking place in Springfield. The Big E returns for another season of concerts, car shows, midway rides and the ever-popular butter sculpture. Competitions include dairy judging, Christmas tree wreath-making and a horse show. Dozens upon dozens of food vendors from the area and beyond will be on hand for a seemingly endless list of fair-food options. The Big E is an event not to be missed.
One of the tastiest ways to welcome the first official weekend of the fall is by heading to Somerville, Mass., for the popular “What the Fluff?” Festival, featuring music, contests, and, of course, Fluff-themed games, all in honor of the famous marshmallow creme, invented in Somerville’s Union Square 101 years ago. Think you’ve got an original Fluff recipe? Enter the cooking contest, where celebrity judges will put your dish to the test.
Then again, if your palate demands more refined options other than jarred marshmallow, perhaps the Newport Mansions would be more your style. One of Rhode Island’s most-renowned festivals arrives at The Elms, Rosecliff and Marble House from Sept. 20-23, featuring a host of events and attractions. There will be dinners, educational seminars, celebrity chef appearances and a two-day tasting including hundreds of wines. Event costs range in price.
The final weekend of September welcomes back a Massachusetts institution celebrating a landmark anniversary in 2018. A full 200 years since the Essex Agricultural Society decided to promote agricultural interest amongst the public, the Topsfield Fair returns this year with much more than just fruit and veggies on its plate. This year guests can expect swimming pigs, axe women loggers of Maine, a monster truck freestyle, human cannonball and even Chubby Checker. Approximately 300 vendors will be on hand offering their best in goods and services. And where else can you catch a glimpse of a one-ton pumpkin?
Meanwhile, over to the west a bit, Wachusett Mountain prepares for its upcoming ski season with the Great New England BBQ Fest, featuring some of the finest vendors in the area along with live music, farmers market and cooking demos.
Lay off every sample you can get your hands on though in order to save some room for a jaunt to Connecticut on the final day of September, when this year’s “Chowdafest” takes place in Westport. This rain-or-shine event boasts unlimited sampling from 40 award-winning chefs from throughout New England, offering their best takes on the regional classic dish. You’ll even receive a ballot and the chance to vote for your favorites.
It might be a little early for a little Halloween tomfoolery, but since you’re already in the Nutmeg State, maybe it makes sense to hoof over to Lake Compounce, where the amusement park’s annual Haunted Graveyard begins on Sept. 28. Seventeen rides will be open on these special-admission evenings, when guests are welcome to wear costumes, learn about lighting and sound effects, and visit a claustrophobic cornfield.
The first weekend in October welcomes one of Rhode Island’s biggest events of the fall with the Roger Williams Park Zoo’s phenomenal Jack O’Lantern Spectacular, featuring thousands of intricately carved pumpkins, lit up and creating a canvas of art along your walk through the spectacle. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for children on value nights, Monday-Thursday, $18 and $15 on prime nights, Friday-Sunday. Prime nights are sold online only. Getting tickets early is recommended based on the volume of visitors this event receives each year. Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I., www.rwpzoo.org/jols. Meanwhile, Bethlehem, Conn., celebrates garlic during its annual Garlic and Harvest Festival, which is a heck of a way to learn about new and exciting ways to use garlic in a variety of dishes. Deep-fried garlic? Garlic pork sandwiches? Garlic ice cream? This is the spot to try them.
What’s fall without some cranberries? The 15th annual Cranberry Harvest Celebration takes place Oct. 6-7 in Wareham, Mass. It’s a great way to learn about the harvest while sampling how the cranberry can be used in tasty dishes, even when not canned. Put on a pair of waders and stand in a bog, peruse the farmers market or take a wagon ride with your kids. Admission is $10.
Sadly, a local Cape Cod favorite, the Bourne Scallop Festival, celebrated its final edition in 2017, but seafood still gets its due on the Cape in October with the Wellfleet Oysterfest Oct. 13-14. Art, music, games, and, of course, oysters, are on the menu at this event celebrating the dish that made Wellfleet a common name uttered in seafood restaurants throughout the Northeast. Tickets are $10 per day. Fees may apply to cooking demonstrations. See wellfleetspat.org/wellfleet-oyster-fest-homepage for complete details. In Glastonbury Conn., apples get top billing at the 44th anniversary of the Apple Harvest Festival, which includes a 5K, vendors and food trucks, live music, and, we assume, apples.
Head back to Newport Oct. 13-14 for the 28th annual seafood festival held at Bowen’s Wharf. This rain-or-shine festival boasts free admission (purchase food and beverages at each booth), and fresh, local seafood wrapped up in fish tacos and lobster rolls, and served with signature cocktails. The Rhode Island Oyster Trail sponsors a fun scavenger hunt.
As October gets chillier and the foliage around Boston reaches its peak, the Head of the Charles is traditionally one of the busiest weekends of the city’s season. It’s well worth grabbing a spot early and settling in for the day, if only to immerse yourself in the excitement and pride that arrives to cheer on the rowers in the regatta.
Finally, with snow on the way in the wake of what seems like an endless flurry of raking jobs on the lawn, head to Plymouth the week before Thanksgiving for the town’s annual Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration. The occasion celebrates the history and heritage of the Thanksgiving holiday in the spot where the Pilgrims landed so many years ago. This year kicks off the 2020 Celebration Series, including special events leading up to Plymouth’s historic anniversary.