By Randy Yagi
As summer near its end, it might take just a wisp of a cool breeze or the slightest hint of fall colors to recognize that a vibrant new season is approaching. A great way to celebrate the advent of the fall months is to visit a great American city known for hosting harvest festivals and other great events. Here are a few suggestions for five of the best festival getaways to travel to this fall.
America’s largest alpine lake might be best known as a winter and summer playground. But even as the summer crowds begin to disappear after Labor Day, Lake Tahoe proves to be among the country’s best for outdoor activities, world-class entertainment, lodging and dining, as well as a superb fall festival getaway. For instance, South Lake Tahoe is poised to host such outstanding events like the Tour de Tahoe, described as America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, Sample the Sierra known as Lake Tahoe’s largest farm-to-fork festival, the Fall Fish Festival at Taylor Creek Visitor Center and the annual Oktoberfest at historic Camp Richardson. Many other leading events and festivals will be held in the North Lake Tahoe area, such as the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival through August 27 and the Lake Tahoe Marathon in addition to upcoming events at two of the finest ski resorts in the country – Northstar California and Squaw Valley Resort. The host of the 1960 Olympics, Squaw Valley will host such festive events like the 28th Annual Foam Fest, with unlimited tastings from more than 40 craft breweries, 29th Annual Alpen Wine Fest with premium wine tastings from over 40 wineries, the annual Oktoberfest in the Village at Squaw Valley and the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship, the premier event of obstacle racing. Northstar won’t host as many festivals but it offers the fabulous Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe – the only AAA Five Star resort in the entire region featuring the new lakefront experience at the Lake Club and upcoming events like the Summer Wine Maker Dinner Series through September 9 and a Chef’s Tasting Counter offered nightly with advance reservations at the stylish Manzanita Restaurant. Other events scheduled at Northstar California include the Northstar Cross Country Race, a Brewmaster Dinner with Northstar’s executive chef Steve Anderson and the 32nd Annual Autumn Food & Wine Festival, considered one of the premier food and wine events in Lake Tahoe.
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Visitors hoping to visit Madison for a fall festival will not be disappointed regardless of whenever they come to visit. That’s because a festival or spectacular event seems to be going on every single weekend through October and well into the holiday season. Home to some of America’s best festivals, including the world’s largest Brat Fest and the enormous Great Taste of the Midwest, Wisconsin’s capital city doesn’t let up in late summer, with many upcoming events like the Orton Park Festival and the acclaimed Taste of Madison, featuring exceptional food dishes from more than 80 restaurants and live entertainment across three stages over Labor Day weekend. But the fun doesn’t stop after the unofficial end of summer, with several more festivals and major events throughout September, such as the Quilt Expo at Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall, the renowned multi-award winning Ironman Wisconsin, Isthmus Oktoberfest and Wizard World Madison Comic Con, among others. Another of Madison’s most famous events returns the first week of October, with the World Dairy Expo, the largest and most important event of its kind in North America, with many more noteworthy events following. This includes the InDigenous Jazz Festival on the UW campus, the Freak Fest Halloween party on State Street, Midwest Ski and Snow Show and the Wisconsin Science Festival in November. Of course, Madison has many other fun things to see and do, with top attractions like the Wisconsin State Capitol, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s beloved Taliesin East in Spring Green. Suggested lodging in Madison include the Madison Concourse Hotel, Sheraton Madison, AC Hotel by Marriott and the AAA Four Diamond Edgewater. Lastly, vintage car lovers can enjoy Ariens Art on Wheels Weekend at Road America, known as America’s National Park of Speed in Elkhart Lake, about a two hour drive from Madison. For an overnight stay or more, the recommendation is the beautiful AAA Four-Star Osthoff Resort, featuring one of America’s finest spas, Aspira Spa.
Something special always seems to be happening in Nashville, such as recent high profile summertime events like the CMA Music Festival and high profile acts like U2, Lorde, Chance the Rapper and the Weeknd performing at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival just down the road in Manchester. But the capital and largest city of Tennessee has plenty more to offer as the summer winds down before dipping into the cooler fall months, with upcoming September events like the Tennessee State Fair, Wizard World Comic Con, Americana Music Festival, Nashville Shakespeare Festival and the Music City Food & Wine Festival, with appearances from several world-class chefs, including James Beard Award-winners Andrew Zimmern, John Besh and festival co-founded Jonathan Waxman. By October, the festivals and events keep coming, with crowd-pleasers like the Nashville Oktoberfest, the second largest of its kind in the country, Nashville Whiskey Festival at the Omni Hotel Ballroom, Nashville Beer Festival and the Nashville Jewish Film Festival through November 11. If that’s not enough to do, visitors can also enjoy a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the legendary RCA Studio B, Johnny Cash Museum, Tennessee State Capitol and of course the famous Nashville honky tonks and music venues around Broadway, such as Robert’s Western World, Honky Tonk Central, Legends Corner and the historic landmark Ryman Auditorium as well as the Grand Ole Opry House in eastern Nashville for a lively evening of world-class country music.
Each of the seasons has its own set of benefits when visiting San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area. But what may be the best time of year for a San Francisco getaway is towards the end of summer and into September, October and even well into November. Not only are there noticeably better rates across the board at local hotels, it’s also when the City by the Bay experiences its best weather, with typically clear blue skies and summerlike temperatures. It should then come as no surprise that many of City’s best festivals and events are scheduled then, with phenomenal end of summer events like San Francisco Comic Con, the Sunday Soul Jam with Mavis Staples closing out the acclaimed Stern Grove Festival season, the final performances of the eternal rock musical Hair at the Great Star Theater and the essential Eat Drink SF, the city’s premier food and wine festival at Fort Mason Center. Still many more festivals take advantage of San Francisco’s annual Indian Summer, with exciting September events like the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival in historic Ghirardelli Square, Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park, Oktoberfest by the Bay at Pier 48 near AT&T Park, the colorful J-Pop Summit in Japantown and the annual Autumn Moon Festival in Chinatown. Many other top area festivals arrive in October, most notably the gay-friendly Castro Street Fair, the enormous Fleet Week San Francisco and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival, the largest free music festival in the city in Golden Gate Park and likely the last event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. In addition to the prominent city events, there are other exceptional happenings not far away, like Taste of Sonoma in Sonoma County, Sausalito Art Festival, Russian River Jazz & Blues Festival and the world famous Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival.
It’s often said that the best time of the year to visit Santa Fe is in September and October when the weather is cooler, hotel rates are lower and mesmerizing fall colors abound. But the late summer and fall months are also an exciting time to visit the City Different because of its wonderful collection of festivals and civic events. For example the 93rd annual Burning of the Zozobra helps kick off the historic Fiesta de Santa Fe, described the oldest civic celebration in the country and includes events like the Mariachi Extravaganza with the Santa Fe Opera and the Fine Arts and Crafts Market. Among other notable festivals held in September are Santa Fe Pride, Santa Fe Renaissance Fair, the Harvest Festival, named one of the best in the country and the 27th annual Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, which will feature master sommeliers, acclaimed chefs like James Beard Award-winner Rick Bayless, 100 world-class wineries and 75 of the finest restaurants in the city. Named No. 1 in the world for Sense of Place by the National Geographic World Legacy Awards, Santa Fe has many more festivals and events in October, such as the Canyon Road Paint & Sculpt Out, Review Santa Fe Photo Festival and the acclaimed Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, named one of Moviemaker Magazine’s “50 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee” for four consecutive years.
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