Even though it may not feel like fall in Florida, the locals know how to celebrate the season with autumnal festivals, pumpkin picking, corn mazes, and more throughout the Sunshine State. From Pensacola to Key West, the calendar is packed with culinary events, music festivals, and art fairs through Thanksgiving. As a bonus, you probably won't even have to change out of your shorts and flip flops.
Put on your beads and paint your body with glitter and greasepaint in preparation for 10 straight days of zany, bizarre, and hilarious fun: Fantasy Fest is a Mardi Gras-like street party involving over-the-top costumes, a masquerade parade, zombie bike ride, and ample booze. Participants take to the streets of Key West in a somewhat raucous style with circuses and sideshows—beware that some of the costumes are rather R-rated, but there are kid-friendly activities on the very last day. The prolonged block party typically kicks off with two days of revelry in the Bahama Village neighborhood, followed by a coronation ball, themed costume parties, and several parades throughout the week. The extravaganza is held during the last week of October, but all events have been canceled in 2020.
Held every September in downtown Pensacola, this celebration of all things seafood fills an entire weekend with coastal treats and live entertainment, but it isn't just about the food. There's a women's half marathon, and one of Northwest Florida's largest arts and craft fairs, too. The Pensacola Seafood Festival is spread across the entire city, from Seville Square to Fountain and Bartram Parks. The highlight of the festival is, of course, the gulf-to-table fare, so come hungry for some classic low-country boil or fried from-the-ocean goodness. The 2020 festival has been pushed back to November 6 to 8.
Williston, located in the northeastern part of Levy County between Ocala and Gainesville, plays host to a peculiar kind of culinary festival—one that centers specifically around the peanut, that is. During the annual North Central Florida Peanut Festival, you can sample the nut-themed treats (boiled, roasted, raw, or buttered and fried in a sandwich), watch kids compete for Little Peanut King and Queen, listen to live music, enter a horseshoe tournament, marvel at antique cars, and shop at nearly 100 vendor booths. Be sure to stop by the Peanut Industry Showcase for unique displays of peanuts and peanut products. The Central Florida Peanut Festival is normally held at Heritage Park on the first Saturday, but in 2020, it's been canceled.
The Winter Park Autumn Art Festival features musical entertainment, food, and hands-on workshops for kids along with artwork by more than 100 local artists. Held annually at Central Park—located along Park Avenue in downtown Winter Park—the community-oriented event is the only juried fine art festival that exclusively showcases Florida artists and it's always free to attend. It typically occupies a weekend in October, but in 2020, it's been canceled.
For more than 50 years, Floridians in the west-central city of San Antonio have celebrated all things rattlesnake on the third weekend of October at the Pasco County Fairgrounds. The festival features snake shows, hence the name, but also gopher races, live music, food, and arts and crafts. Presentations showcase the local history and wildlife, and if you aren't especially interested in seeing actual snakes, you can still participate in the festive 5-mile Rattlesnake Run. The 54th Annual Rattlesnake Festival will take place on October 17 and 18, 2020. Admission and parking are free.
Residents will don their 1890s clothing in an attempt to turn back the clock, but dressing the part hardly seems necessary in the living history exhibit that is McIntosh. Here, Victorian and Florida cracker-style homes are set among century-old oak trees, altogether creating the perfect backdrop for this popular festival.
The October tradition includes dozens of arts and craft booths, market stalls selling up old-school goodies, and live music. It's usually held along Highway 441 between Gainesville and Ocala, but in 2020, the McIntosh 1890 Festival will take place virtually. Between October 23 and 26, you can tune into the online party for free.
Antique shops, stately B&Bs, and historical landmarks are the perfect setting for a fall fair, Micanopy demonstrates. While upbeat tunes float through the festival from the main stage, artists from around the Southeast present their work in more than 200 displays. A Saturday afternoon auction of items donated by participating vendors is the highlight of the two-day gathering. Micanopy—"the town that time forgot"—is located just off Highway 441, 12 miles south of Gainesville. In 2020, the 46th Micanopy Fall Harvest Festival was canceled.
Florida's oldest maritime exhibit draws thousands of visitors to this small river port city at the mouth of the Apalachicola River each fall. During the Florida Seafood Festival, delicious seafood, arts and crafts exhibits, and other fish-related attractions come together in Battery Park. There are events for almost every interest, from a 5,000-meter Red Fish Run to an oyster eating and shucking contest. There's also an annual parade, a King Retsyo Ball, and live music by well-known artists like Jason Crabb in 2019. The event traditionally takes place in November, but the festival has been postponed to November 5 and 6, 2021.
Held at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville, the Riverhawk Music Festival is four days of nonstop jamming and camping in the woods. The lineup is characteristically eclectic, covering the genres of Americana, bluegrass, Cajun, Celtic, and more. The festival has three stages, plus all-day kids programs, song contests, craft brews, and great food. Performers in 2020 include Shiny Ribs, Dustbowl Revival, Mandy Harvey Band, High South, and at least a dozen more acts. It will take place from November 12 to 15.
One of the most well-known events to happen in Florida this time of year is the International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World Resort's Epcot. During the event, guests can enjoy meet-and-greets with celebrity chefs, attend cooking events, eat fine foods, and drink world-class wine. It's a celebration of the flavors of the world held in one of the most magical places on earth. The festival also includes a kids food festival, an Eat the Beat Concert Series, and an Active Eats event to teach about healthy eating and guilt-free desserts. The festival actually started in July and will continue through fall with the phased reopening of Walt Disney World. Guests should make reservations as early as possible (accepted up to 60 days in advance) as there will be limited seating in the participating eateries.