Visitors (and even residents) sometimes forget that Florida is such a sprawling state that fall means a far less dramatic change of season than found up north. Fall is the "Subtle Season" in Florida. It certainly gets cooler. But never really north-like cold.
Areas throughout the state gear up for anticipated visitors in the fall, which is second only to winter in popularity.
Statewide activities are varied, but many share an outdoor theme.
Some fall events are well-known, but others you may not have heard about.
But all of our top 15 of the best fall activities to do in in the state share one element: They can only be found in Florida.
If you really love Halloween, which includes getting scared, there is perhaps no more fearful place than Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. In September and October, the theme park's streets come alive with hordes of horrible creatures, including those zombies from "The Walking Dead." Also haunted houses and creature-filled "scare zones." Monsters and maniacs everywhere. Original scares and authentic horror movie moments, including haunted houses. Scary things that go bump in the night appear in the most unexpected places. But keep in mind this event is separate from ticketed entrance into the thrill ride-dominated theme park.
St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city, is always an attractive place to visit but never more so than during the Nights of Lights. The small city's best-known event this year runs from Nov. 19 to Jan. 31. More than three million lights adorn every corner of the historic district. Every night, from dawn to dusk. Businesses stay open longer. Photo opportunities range from the lights along the bay to the Christmas tree in the downtown center's main plaza. Trains and trolleys offer special seasonal tours. Or you can simply pace yourself by taking a walk through the downtown area.
You don't have to own a motorcycle to join the 100,000+ people who descend on Daytona Beach for the annual Biketoberfest. There are shows, rallies, live music and scenic rides along historic AIA twisting past the Atlantic Ocean. There's also racing at the world-famous Daytona International Speedway. And while beach driving areas are dwindling, it's still easy to find places to enjoy the area's famous year-round pastime: driving on the beach.
Mild weather in Florida allows two growing seasons for produce: fall and spring. Farmers' markets' abound but one of the best is in downtown Sarasota on Lemon Avenue and State Street which is open every Saturday, year-round. Produce and services from dozens of farmer style vendors in a 5,000 square foot setting. Everything from bountiful crops of broccoli and tomatoes to everyday house plants.
"U-pick it" season starts in September at Hunsader Farms in Bradenton but most visitors choose October dates because that's when the annual Pumpkin Festival takes place. There's over 100 craft vendors, tons of food, music, shows, hay rides, petting zoo, face painting, a corn maze, and more. The place got its start in 1967 when three brothers left their Wisconsin farm for the sunnier south. Their 80-acre tomato field prospered and grew. Hunsader today is a big farm with a feed store, a produce market, tours, a petting zoo, picnic areas and u-pick vegetables.
It's not as famous as Boston's version, but Pensacola has a mud run and a more serious marathon. The six-mile run for serious joggers takes place in a distinctive area: pristine beaches, so white in color that children sometimes mistake them for sugar. The marathon is held in November, but a more entertaining event for visitors is certainly the fourth annual mud run, which involves almost two dozen obstacles, including rope climbing, ice pits, and a haystack climb. Mud everywhere. But also kid activities, music and food.
Some of the country's best festivals are held in small towns. One good example is the Florida Seafood Festival, often dubbed the state's oldest maritime event. It draws tens of thousands of visitors during the first weekend of November to small town Apalachicola. Attractions include highly competitive oyster eating and shucking competitions, carnival rides, a 5K run, a parade, fireworks and musical entertainment. This year's headline entertainer is country singer Rodney Atkins.
Yes, Florida's outdoors is the highlighted element this time of year but there are also some indoor events of note. Florida's capital city hosts the Tallahassee Writers Conference and Book Festival at Florida State University. The headliner this year is Jeff Lindsay of "Dexter" fame. Workshops and other speakers are also on the agenda. A good place for writers and would-be writers to network.
The tiny town of Micanopy near Gainesville is sometimes referred to as the town that time forgot. But not during its annual fall festival. The quiet little town fairly bursts with activity on normally laidback Choklokka Boulevard. Local artists, crafters and musicians come from all over the southeast. The main stage hosts a variety of musical entertainers. Micanopy is located just 12 miles from Gainesville and the University of Florida. It was named after a Seminole Indian chief. It also offers antique and used book stores and a handful of first-rate bed and breakfast inns.
Where else might you find the best boat show in the U.S.? At the self-styled "Yachting Capital of the World," of course. Fort Lauderdale hosts the 57th Annual International Boat Show. A wide variety of boats including cabin cruisers, sailing yachts, bowriders, fast or high performance boats, catamarans, ski boats, inflatables, and even canoes.
There may be no other place to explore South Florida's Hispanic market than the Coral Gables Hispanic Cultural Festival in the shadow of Miami in October. There's art, culture, live dances and folklore performances. Original artwork is featured. Food shows off various Hispanic cultures. For children, there's a pavilion with bounce houses that also offers face painting. The pet-friendly event even has a doggie booth to give out water and snacks.
Not so long ago, it was just another minor gathering with little-known artists. But the Winter Park Autumn Art Festival in the trendy Orlando suburb has grown to be recognized as one of the best in the U.S. In addition to drawing famous artists, there are furniture makers and other craftsmen. Also live entertainment and a variety of food, though lines can be long. A children's art workshop is also among offerings.
Here's another reason to stay indoors despite the lure of fall weather: The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. Held during October…where else? Key Largo. That was the Florida setting of the classic 1948 John Huston film starring Bogie and Lauren Bacall. Since their son founded it several years ago, it has emerged as one of Moviemaker Magazine's Top 10 "Outside the Box" film festivals. It's all Bogart films. But for some fans, that's reason enough to view it.
Just about everyone knows about EPCOT's famous International Food & Wine Festival at the Walt Disney World Resort, which runs for six weeks from early October through mid-November. But many of the wineries and food providers are also on hand at the five-day and lesser known St. Pete Wine and Food Fest in downtown St. Petersburg. There's wine pairings, tastings from wine all over the world and food from some of Tampa Bay's best restaurants.
Birders of all kinds flock to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables for the annual Bird Festival. South Florida is a bird haven during the fall and winter months, welcoming dozens of migratory species to its warm climate. One of the best ways to see them is a guided birding tour. In addition to two days of on-site tours at Fairchild, the Tropical Audubon Society will lead two days of off-site tours before the festival (registration required). To see the amazing diversity of bird species, visitors can stop by the festival booths of local organizations presenting encounters with birds from around the world.