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Falling for Festivals

Falling for Festivals

By Kendra Gemma

Some residents, especially recent transplants, may argue that we don’t have fall here. But that doesn’t mean we pass up the chance to celebrate the season and its traditions. Fall festivals in Manatee County feature pumpkins, hayrides, German beer, and – to keep things Florida-style – a haunted fish camp. So, pretend the air is crisp, pull on your favorite sweater (or costume), and head out for some autumn fun!


The pumpkin, the season’s most versatile vegetable, shows up everywhere from front porches to pies. You can also find it on local farms and pumpkin patches every October.

In its 32nd year, the Hunsader Pumpkin Festival draws visitors to its varied selection of its star attraction, naturally. The pumpkin display makes an adorable photo backdrop, and all the gourds are for sale. Bradenton’s Hunsader Farms has other fall fun on offer, like hayrides, kids’ pumpkin games, chainsaw sculpting, and a corn maze. Live music and performances, a craft show, and a petting zoo are among the additional activities that will keep you busy all day.

The festival takes place during the last three weekends of October. Admission is $15 for ages 11 and up and parking costs $5. Bring plenty of cash. It’s the only accepted method of payment for entry and parking.

Do your kids love trains? Instead of just driving to a store to pick out a pumpkin, hop aboard a locomotive at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish. The annual Pumpkin Patch Express transports passengers to and from the museum’s patch on its train. Choose from four ticket options – from first-class to coach. Once at the pumpkin patch, everyone will have an opportunity to participate in Lincoln Log Building, hayrides, games, and arts and crafts. Bonus – every child goes home with a pumpkin! Food and drink are available for purchase.

The Pumpkin Patch Express runs the last two weekends of October, with two rides per day.

The end of October doesn’t mean the end of all things pumpkin. Pumpkin Spice Fest will honor the orange vegetable on November 18 from 9 a.m. until noon. Parrish’s Gamble Creek Farms, an organic, 26-acre farm, is the location of the free family event, where everyone can savor pumpkin-flavored baked goods and paint pumpkins. The festival will also feature live music and fall activities.


You don’t have to travel to Germany to celebrate Oktoberfest. From October 13 to 15, Motorworks Brewing and New World Celts will host their unique Celtoberfest 8 Celtic Music & Beer Fest, a mashup of Germanic and Celtic cultures. So, slip into your lederhosen or kilt and gear up for a weekend unlike any you’ve experienced. Seven live bands and bagpipers will provide the entertainment, and Motorworks will serve up food specials and, of course, craft and imported beers. Shop the vendors and add a new stein to your collection. Kids – even your four-legged ones – are welcome.

Halloween and Day of the Dead

Creepy, kid-friendly, or creative, Manatee County’s Halloween and Day of the Dead events suit any taste.

You’ve probably visited a haunted house or two in your life but you’ve likely never been to a Haunted Fish Camp. Jiggs Landing Outpost invites you to get spooked by their cast of characters: the Ghost Pirate of Ward Lake, the Creepy Camper, and the half-man/half-fish Fisherman. You’ll also encounter a few costumed critters, such as Evers Alligator and Cackling Crow. Take a guided tour to the end of the fishing pier where you might meet your host, the ghostly Old Man Jiggs, along with his faithful dog. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, treat yourself to s’mores over the campfire.

The Haunted Fish Camp runs October 27-29 from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission costs $5 per person. Children under 12 can attend for free.

The only scary thing about Lakewood Ranch’s BooFest is getting your kids fully dressed in time. The free festival gives families a safe way to trick or treat, with sponsors and merchants handing out goodies along Main Street. The children’s costume parade is the highlight of the night. Plan to stay awhile for the entertainment and food and drink vendors.

BooFest is on October 27 from 6 to 9 p.m.

The Village of the Arts celebrates the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, every November. The Festival of the Skeletons Artwalk puts its own twist on the traditional Mexican holiday by honoring deceased artists with shrines and altars. The village also erects a memorial fence to commemorate loved ones who have passed. Living up to the festival’s name, skeletons roam through the streets, and you can take your own skeleton-related craft home with you. Feast on Mexican food and community spirit both days of the festival, November 3 and 4.

While fall in Manatee County brings no autumn-colored tree leaves or brisk air, you’ll find no shortage of ways to indulge in the season’s best rewards.

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