After a sweltering summer that felt as if it would never end, fall finally seems in reach. And fall is the season for festivals: being outside on an afternoon that is not too warm, not too cold, and perfect for picking pumpkins with the kids or sharing a bottle of wine with friends.
With summer vacations fading into the distance and the holidays on the horizon, the Washington area’s weekends are filled with festivals that invite us to explore the region’s seasonal bounty, and to spend time with loved ones. In the coming weeks, these are the events that should be on your calendar.
Fall Pumpkin Harvest Festival at Great Country Farms , through Oct. 31
The Fall Pumpkin Harvest Festival is a wonderland for children. Take a hayride around the farm. Pet and feed adorable baby goats and extraordinarily fat pigs. Race down huge slides. Dig in a corn crib. Bound around on pumpkin-shaped jumping pillows and run through mazes. Climb wooden structures shaped like castles and pumpkins, or a mountain of tractor tires. Meet a pumpkin-smashing animatronic “P-Rex.” It’s acre after acre of gleeful, barely constrained chaos.
But parents and childless adults who venture out to Bluemont, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, will also find ways to enjoy themselves. The vast corn maze, which honors the 50th anniversaries of Woodstock and Apollo 11, is challenging, even with trivia questions scattered throughout that put you back on the right trail. Shooting small pumpkins at targets with compressed air cannons and cheering for racing piglets are activities that appeal to all ages. A weekend afternoon is a chance for city dwellers to take a wagon to go apple picking, or find the perfect pumpkins and decorative gourds for home decoration. The “roosteraunt” sells fresh-pressed cider and sweet apple cider doughnuts, and there are veggies, sausages and housemade jams in the farm store.
Cap the day with a visit to the brand-new Henway Hard Cider, which uses the orchard’s apples to produce a handful of adult ciders. (They’re on the sugary side, but the Pip is the most balanced.) The farm is open daily, though some activities, such as the pumpkin cannons and “P-Rex,” only take place on weekends.
Takoma Park Street Festival , Sunday
The Takoma Park Street Festival is almost four decades old, and few large street festivals capture the spirit of a community as well. The half-mile of Carroll Avenue between the D.C. line and East-West Highway is filled with a quirky mix of hundreds of booths run by artists, gardeners, crafters, yoga studios, all-natural apothecaries, the Masons and the Boy Scouts. Reggae, blues and Afrobeat bands play from three stages all day. Kids can get their faces painted, make arts and crafts, and jump on bouncy castles while adults participating in “The Crawl” can duck into restaurants and bars, filling their eco-conscious reusable mugs with craft beer, wine, green tea or horchata. Vegan restaurants, art galleries and vintage stores are open. It’s Takoma Park, ramped up to “10,” and it’s not to be missed. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free; “The Crawl” mug is $10.
Mount Vernon Fall Wine Festival , Oct. 11-13
Fall is wine harvest season, but if you prefer to spend more time exploring regional wines than sitting in the car on the way to a vineyard, you might want to choose a wine festival over a wine tour. Case in point: the Fall Wine Festival at Mount Vernon. Now in its 23rd year, the three-day event hosts 19 wineries from around the commonwealth, each of which brings four to six different wines. (That’s a lot of tasting to be done.) Among this year’s participants are Barboursville Vineyards, which received four gold medals at this year’s Governor’s Cup, and Horton Vineyards, whose petit manseng was the overall winner of the statewide competition.
Mount Vernon may not have acres of vineyards to sigh over, but the view of the leaves and the Potomac from the estate’s lawn is as scenic as any drive into wine country. The evening also includes live music, a picnic (food costs extra), and tours of Mount Vernon and the wine cellar, plus a meet-and-greet with George and Martha Washington. 6 to 9 p.m. each night. $42-$48. Only tables for 12 ($1,300) remain for Saturday.
Snallygaster , Oct. 12
One year after rebooting Washington’s biggest beer festival with a move to a prime spot on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Snallygaster is introducing another landmark change and moving to an all-you-can-drink format for 2019. (Customers previously paid a low admission price, which went to charity, and then purchased individual beers using $1 tickets.)
You’ll still find about 400 great beers from some of the area’s most sought-after breweries, including Hill Farmstead, Other Half and Jester King, while the buzzy pFriem, Dewey Beer Co. and Hoof Hearted are joining the party for the first time. You just don’t have to worry about whether you’ve got enough tickets left for a sample of Fremont’s Barrel-Aged Dark Star stout, or stand in line to buy more halfway through the festival.
Unlimited pours are common at beer festivals that aren’t as sophisticated as Snallygaster, and beer director Greg Engert, who also picks the drafts for ChurchKey and the Sovereign, says his staff is taking steps to make sure this isn’t the kind of afternoon where people get sloppy after a couple of high-gravity stouts. Rare and stronger beers will be available in smaller-size pours, while others will be available in half-pints for those who’d rather savor an IPA or traditional German lager instead of rushing through it. There will also be more brewery reps to talk to people about beers, which should slow consumption.
Beyond the taps, Snallygaster remains one of the most impressive beer festivals going, with a family area featuring face-painting and a bouncy dragon; food from local restaurants, including Little Sesame and Hot Lola’s; and live music by Rare Essence, the Pietasters and White Ford Bronco. 2 to 6 p.m. $50.
Distillery Lane Explorer’s Festival , Oct. 12-13
The apples growing on 3,000 trees in the orchard at Distillery Lane Ciderworks aren’t the sweet Golden Delicious or Honeycrisps found at many pick-your-own farms. They’re heritage varieties, such as the tart Newtown Pippin, beloved by Thomas Jefferson, or the bittersweet Bulmer’s Norman, which are baked in pies or pressed into cider. During its annual Explorer’s Festival, Distillery Lane, which is located between Frederick and Harper’s Ferry, becomes an ambassador for these lesser-known apples. Guided and self-guided tours of the orchard are available throughout the day. Tastings of more than 20 varieties show off their different flavors, while cooking classes demonstrate why some types of apples taste better in pies, while others are best pressed for juice. (After the demos, you’ll have a better idea of what you want to pick in the orchard.) Distillery Lane is known throughout the region for its cider, and 16 different hard ciders will be available for tasting and purchase, in addition to “soft” nonalcoholic versions. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Free admission; hard cider tastings for an additional fee.
Middleburg Film Festival, Oct. 17-20
Washington cinephiles have no shortage of film festivals, with a busy annual schedule that includes Filmfest DC, AFI Docs, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, the Environmental Film Festival and the March on Washington Film Festival competing for attention. And yet the seven-year-old Middleburg Film Festival, held in a quiet horse-country town that doesn’t have a dedicated movie theater, has become an important stop on the national festival circuit: Emma Stone introduced a screening of “La La Land” in 2016, and Viggo Mortensen and Peter Farrelly hosted a Q&A last year after “Green Book” won the Audience Award. Founder Sheila Johnson and her team curate strong lineups that prominently feature female filmmakers and stars.
Chances are high that film fans will get an early look at at least one Next Big Thing. This year’s slate begins with the buzzed-about “Marriage Story” — director Noah Baumbach will be honored with the festival’s Spotlight Director Award — and concludes with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. In between, there are foreign films, documentaries, and the eagerly awaited “Harriet” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Don’t overlook films that you haven’t heard much about: Festival organizers boast that the 28 films that screened in 2018 earned 38 Oscar nominations, including all five finalists for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Middleburg Film Festival appeals to an audience that’s willing to spend a bit more than they might at the average multiplex: The Film Lovers and Film Lovers Plus passes — which include admission to all films and VIP parties and cost $2,700 to $3,000 per couple — were sold out weeks ago. Still, individual tickets are available for most movies for $10-$15, while admission to some of the bigger events, such as a Saturday night “centerpiece” screening of “Ford vs. Ferrari,” costs $50. Screening times and locations vary.
Loudoun Fall Farm Tour , Oct. 19-20
Loudoun County is the fastest-growing jurisdiction in Virginia, full of up-and-coming tech companies. It has the highest median income in the United States, according to the Census Bureau. And it’s easy to forget that, outside of the Dulles-to-Leesburg corridor, much of the county is full of working farms. Twice each year, the county’s farms, stores, museums and parks open their doors to the public for weekend-long self-guided driving tours.
“In the 26 years since launching our first Fall Farm Tour, we’ve welcomed several hundred thousand consumers to Loudoun’s agricultural businesses,” says Buddy Rizer, Loudoun’s head of economic development. “We’ve featured dozens of farms, and the tour reflects how agriculture has evolved in our community.”
In addition to tasting the artisan cheeses from George’s Mill Farm in Lovettsville, going on hayrides at Wegmeyer Farms in Hamilton or picking pumpkins at Virts in Purcellville, tours also include farms that raise sheep and alpacas for wool, farm breweries and wineries, and facilities that train Olympic-level dressage competitors.
This year’s additions to the Farm Tour include Hogback Mountain Pony Rides in Leesburg, which is offering visits and photos with its “unicorns,” and the New Ag School, a farm-training school in Leesburg, that invites visitors to try their hands at baling hay and other essential farm tasks. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Free admission; some activities have fees.
Kids Euro Festival , Oct. 26-Nov. 10
Every fall, the 28 member states of the European Union provide a gift to the children of the Washington area: a two-week festival of international arts and culture, held in schools and libraries, concert halls, and embassies. “The idea really is to provide accessibility to the arts for children no matter what their economic background, and to give them an opportunity to visit Europe,” says Christine Vest, the cultural affairs officer at the E.U.’s Washington delegation. “We know that’s not possible for everyone, so we’re bringing Europe to them.” Up to 10,000 children and parents are expected to attend 80 events this year, and to reach the widest possible audience, there is no admission charge.
Through the E.U.’s delegation, each country suggests a different artist, group or film they’d like to bring to Washington. While some activities are limited to school groups, the 12-year-old Kids Euro Festival is a classic only-in-Washington event. Parents can take their little ones to see an interactive German theater group at Strathmore, or have the whole family participate in an arts-and-crafts workshop at the Swedish Embassy’s House of Sweden. Preteens can attend a Tintin cartooning workshop at the Embassy of Belgium, or see new animated films at the French Embassy. Events are targeted at children ages 2 to 12.
This year’s featured event is at the Embassy of Finland on Nov. 3, which combines a Finnish theater performance about the importance of clean water; a nonverbal Estonian troupe that communicates with children through movement and facial expressions; and a Hungarian storyteller. This is the kind of immersive event that can introduce children to new worlds of art, travel and, though you might not want to tell them, learning. Locations and times vary. Performances are free, but may require reservations.