Fall Events in Florida
By Janet K. Keeler
Fall is a special time in Florida. Professional and major collegiate football are big draws in stadiums, sports bars and living rooms. But travelers cannot live by touchdowns alone and the calendar is crowded with many other things to do in the Sunshine State.
The big daddy of them all might just be the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which starts in August. For 75 days in all, Disney World’s Epcot transforms into a showcase of food and wine with tastings, seminars, celebrity sightings (yes, those are the foodies of The Chew) and a wide-ranging schedule of musical acts from Boys II Men to 10,000 Maniacs to Sister Hazel.
There’s the Stephen Foster Old-Time Music Festival in White Springs. Stephen Foster wrote the Florida state song, The Swanee River, as in “way down upon the …” It is said Foster never set foot in the state. He never knew what he was missing.
Talk like a Pirate Day is celebrated in Panama City Beach and Fernandina Beach. The Sarasota Chalk Festival in November has artists turning the city’s sidewalks into colorful canvases. And the Homestead Miami Speedway welcomes the roar of engines and massive audiences for its signature fall event, NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend.
There’s much, much more. Here are 15 events to put on the calendar.
All Things Women
Colorful Key West hosts the largest gathering of lesbians and friends on the planet. The five-day Womenfest Key West is an extravaganza of music and comedy shows, plus dance-your-booty-off parties, sailing and snorkeling adventures and a drag queen pageant. The party is happening at venues all over the island and you can bet that Duval Street will be bumping late into the night. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a friend with a Key West conch house, book accommodations soon.
Sept. 6-10, Key West
Praise Be to Music
Florida’s largest Christian music festival fills the air with rocking choruses of “hallelujahs” during the two-day Rock the Universe event at Universal Studio Orlando. Some of this year’s performers include Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, for KING & COUNTRY, Lauren Daigle and other contemporary Christian artists. The event will include a candle lighting ceremony plus a Sunday morning worship service.
Sept 8-9, 2017, Orlando
Cheers with a Glass of Vino
Where else to celebrate Spanish wines but in the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine? A Spanish admiral founded the Florida city in 1565 and ever since its inhabitants have embraced their Iberian roots. The St. Augustine Spanish Wine Festival, mostly at the St. Augustine Shipyard, includes seminars on wine and food pairings plus a grand tasting featuring more than 120 made-in-Spain wine. And prepare to get doused in the fruit of the vine if you so choose. The Batalla de Vinos, a tradition that comes from Haro, Spain, is a lively event in which participants spray each other with wine. Keep your mouth open to get the full effect.
Sept. 8-10, St. Augustine
Music, Music and More Music
The Island Hopper Songwriting Fest is an 11-day musical feast stretching over three cities in Lee County. Get your music-loving head around this: 100 live performances, 70 songwriters and 20 venues. Forget the hills being alive with music and get yourself to one of the loveliest coastal regions of Florida where even the palm trees will be swaying to the beat for this event.
Sept. 22-Oct. 1, Captiva Island, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers
An Underwater Celebration
The annual REEF Fest at various venues in Key Largo is an event with a mission and that’s to draw attention to the conservation efforts needed to maintain ones of the nation’s most beautiful underwater treasures. The four-day festival includes seminars led by prominent ocean experts, a kick-off event picnic and other social get-togethers plus silent and live auctions to raise money for conservation. Among the highlights of REEF fest are the guided dives that show off the coral reefs of the Upper Keys. All seminars are free, but registration is recommended.
Sept. 28-Oct. 1, Key Largo
Get Your Cowboy On
The 3,000 population of the Northwest Florida town Bonifay swells mightily each year for the Annual Northwest Florida Championship Rodeo. Some 25,000 people crowd into the stands at Memorial Field to watch competitors rack up the points, hoping for a spot in the national finals. The theme of this year’s 73rd rodeo is “Grab the Bull by the Horns” and that’s just what competitors will be doing if not literally then in spirit in bull-riding, cattle-roping and barrel-racing events. There is a parade and someone gets named Miss Rodeo.
Oct. 5-7, Bonifay
Nature in All Its Florida Glory
Sanibel Island’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge turns on its considerable charms for the weeklong “Ding” Darling Days. The refuge is named for Darling, a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist in the early part of the 1900s, who was also a staunch conservationist instrumental in forming the National Wildlife Federation. The 5,200-acre refuge that bears his name celebrates the beauty that is Sanibel with a week of eco-activities including free tours via tram, foot, kayak or paddleboard. There are bird watching outings plus activities for kids and many more lecture and events. The website has the full slate of activities.
Oct. 15-21, Sanibel Island
Time to Get the Binoculars Out
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables might be better known for tending things that sprout from the ground than highlighting creatures that soar overhead. But the Annual Bird Festival is expanding that earth-bound focus. The eighth annual event kicks off with two days of bird watching tours at the best South Florida avian habitats then heads back to the Fairchild for bird walks and talks, plus an amateur photographer contest featuring photos of fine-feathered friends. The festival is being held in conjunction with the 79th Annual Members’ Plant Sale.
Oct. 5-8, Coral Gables
City Walls as Canvas
St. Petersburg continues to grow its reputation as an arts city with the third annual Shine Mural Festival. Walls through the city’s vibrant downtown and adjacent areas become blank canvasses for local, national and international mural artists. About a dozen artists create wall art during the week while visitors watch the works take shape. Walking and tram tours are offered to the various work sites with stops at murals from years one and two. The city’s lively night scene becomes even livelier with other events celebrating the Shine Mural Festival.
Oct. 5-14, 2017
It’s Time to Veg Out
The Central Florida Veg Fest touts itself as one of the biggest and best in the country, drawing hundreds of food and product vendors and presenters from around the world. Bring your dog, attend a seminar, take a yoga class and sample creative and delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes. There is an animal haven where your four-legged companions can get a drink, plus there will be representatives with many animal rescue organizations. Be warned: You might be going home with a puppy and instructions on how to feed her a veg diet.
Oct. 28, Orlando
Books Lovers Live Here
If you have favorite authors with new books out, it’s a good guess that they’ll be attending Miami Book Fair 2017. Some of the nation’s biggest authors and names are often the schedule for talks and book signings, and this year the schedule includes former Vice President Joe Biden as part of his America Promise Tour. The Wolfson campus of Miami Dade College is crawling with authors and readers for the weeklong author fest that also include a giant street fair. Watch the website as the organizers release the names of authors, and book early for “Evening With” sessions.
Nov. 12-19, Miami
Meat and Music on the Waterfront
Thousands of people flock to the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront for the annual celebration of meat and music for Ribfest. Meat-meisters from around the country show off their rib-tastic talents while competing for top prizes. Vinoy Park rocks for the musical shows that begin in the early afternoon and continue through the late night. This year features ZZ Top, the Charlie Daniels Band and Orleans, among others. And it’s not just ribs you can sample. The perimeter of the park is dotted with vendors selling hot dogs, funnel cakes, Texas fries and other tempting carnival food. (Can you say everything deep-fried?)
Nov. 10-12, St. Petersburg
Hot Rod Heaven at the Beach
Get ready for a blast from the past as polished chrome and engine roars of yesteryear take over Panama City Beach for Emerald Coast Cruizin. The four-day car-lover extravangza features 125 auto vendors (need a new pair of fuzzy dice to dangle from your rear-view mirror?), a swap meet (you know you want a 12-pack of chamois) and the car corral (yes, that is my mint 1957 Thunderbird). The big attraction though is the thousands of hot rods, custom cars and vintage trucks to ogle over. Music, carnival food plus activities for the kids.
Nov. 8-11, Panama City Beach
It’s More than Football
Fall in Gainesville is synonymous with Gator football. But the University of Florida isn’t the only game in town every fall weekend. The Downtown Festival & Art Show provides some diversion with about 240 artists showing their works along the streets of the historic city center. This year, the Gators will be on the road playing the Gamecocks of South Carolina the weekend of the festival, giving art lovers plenty of places to park, plus hotels to stay in. The artwork spans all mediums from painting to jewelry to ceramics. There will be music and food, too.
Nov. 11-12, Gainesville
Another Kind of Championship
The Petanque Amelia Open draws players of this unusual game from around the country to Amelia Island to complete for $10,000 in prizes. Petanque (pronounced pay-TONK) has its roots in France and is a bit of a cross between horseshoes and bocce ball. The Amelia Open is the largest tournament in the United States. Amateur and experienced teams (about 30 are expected) are invited to register and compete, but it’s fun for spectators too. There are plenty of other fun things to do on Amelia Island, northeast of Jacksonville. Conde Nast readers voted it one of the nation’s top islands.
Nov. 10-12, Amelia Island
To see more Florida happenings, check out our Events page.