Now that fall is full-on upon us, there's much to celebrate -- and to distract us from the shivering we feel while stepping out into increasingly chilly days. For Chicagoans, welcoming the fall means a load of apples, pumpkins, scarecrows, costumes, haunted houses, dark brews and everything else that makes autumn fun. While we're still able to get out without facing a foot of snow in the street, the Chicago area has plenty of fall festivals for us to embrace. Look out for these five:
Scarecrows on Parade and Clark Street Halloween Spooktacular: One scarecrow had a pumpkin for a head and streamers of red, white and blue for its body. Another, a pale young woman, had long locks of curing hair made of paper. Prosaic, rural-inspired sculptures like these are part of a three-year-old Clark Street tradition called Scarecrows on Parade, which runs from Sat., Oct. 15 through Halloween on Monday, Oct. 31. Scarecrows made by businesses along Clark Street in Lincoln Park, from roughly Armitage to Diversey, will vie for public votes, which can be cast from Oct. 16-Oct. 28. On the last weekend of October, the winning scarecrows will be announced at the Clark Street Halloween Spooktacular, a free festival on Sat., Oct. 29 that'll be filled with balloon artists, jugglers, street magicians and characters in costume. At the Spooktacular, puppies have been known to dress as bumblebees while humans dressed as mummies take their baskets to go trick-or-treating at businesses up and down Clark Street.
Scarecrows on Parade runs from Oct. 15-Oct. 31 on Clark Street in Lincoln Park. The Clark Street Halloween Spooktacular runs 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 29 and is free. For more info, call 847-677-8273.
Sycamore Pumpkin Festival: If you really want embrace that iconic, squash-like autumn fruit that is the pumpkin, you might want to make the hour-long drive west out to Sycamore, Ill. This year, Sycamore holds its 50th Pumpkin Festival, which has become the annual hallmark of the town. The festival has become so enmeshed with Sycamore that a bank is offering temporary license plates that can be displayed during September and October just to commemorate the festival's 50th anniversary. Started by a Sycamore denizen named Wally Thurow, also known as Mr. Pumpkin, the event has grown into a five-day extravaganza that will start this year on Oct. 28 with a cutting ceremony for an enormous cake. The festival continues with scary stories, a pumpkin display on the courthouse lawn, a carnival for the kiddos, a craft show, beef burger luncheon, pie-eating contest, giant pumpking weigh-in and Pumpkin Festival Parade.
Festival events begin at 4 p.m. Oct. 26 and run through 5 p.m. Oct. 30 in Sycamore, Ill. For more info, call 815-895-5926.
Long Grove Apple Festival: It's harvest time for the McIntoshes, the Empires and the Granny Smiths, and the Long Grove Festival will boast apples in all forms to prove it. In its 19th year, the festival will serve apple pies, apple-cider doughnuts, caramel apple lattes, apple cider, apple martinis and of course, bushel upon bushel of crunchy apples. About a 40-minute drive from Chicago, the picturesque suburb of Long Grove, with its fountain square, covered bridge and mill pond, will host bands in four locations throughout the festival, from this Friday morning through Sunday afternoon. At 10 a.m. Sunday morning, the Apple Fest gets a little spiritual injection with a Gospel sing-along for all.
Entertainment runs from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Fri., Sept. 30, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m .Sat., Oct. 1 and 10 a.m. - 4 p.m .Sun., Oct. 2 in Downtown Long Grove, 847-634-0888
Riot Fest: So it's not as blatantly autumn as pumpkins and squash, but you know it's October when punk bands descend en masse on Chicago clubs and theaters for Riot Fest. Headlining the performers are punk legends Weezer, Social Distortion, Descendents and Danzig. Rockers X, Helmet, Youth of Today, Suicide Machines, Chinese Telephones and Neutron Bombs will also be playing the 5-day event. Single-day passes and multi-day passes, which range from $85 and $135 and give holders entry to the headlining shows at the Congress Theater, are still available. In addition to the Congress Theater, venues include the Bottom Lounge, Double Door, and Cobra Lounge.
Riot Fest runs from Ot. 5-Oct. 9; Headliners will perform at the Congress Theater: 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Oktoberfest Celebrations: Though several Oktoberfest celebrations have already ended -- the impending cold weather and timing of beer releases induce several celebrations to take place in September -- there are still Oktoberfest parties in October. Among the festive is the annual Oktoberfest inside of Naper Settlement, a living history village in Naperville. Meant as an annual fundraiser for the Naperville Heritage Society and a celebration local German heritage, Oktoberfest features more than six hours of entertainment this Friday, Sept. 30 and at least 11 hours of music on Saturday, Oct. 1. Die Musikmeisters, a proud German-style oom-pah band, will perform on both days of the festival. While listening to the music, Oktoberfest-goers will have the choice of at buying at least three German Oktoberfest beers distributed by Villa Park-based Schamberger Brothers. Also throwing an Oktoberfest party is the Village of Vernon Hills, whose family-oriented bash will lure kids with free hay rides, a petting zoo, crafts and pumpkin painting.
Naperville Oktoberfest: 4 p.m. - 10 p.m. Fri., Sept. 30, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Sat., Oct. 1, $8 per person in advance (until Thursday) and $10 per person at the gate. 523 S. Webster in Naperville; 630-420-6010
Vernon Hills Oktoberfest: 3 p.m. - 10 p.m. Sat., Oct. 1; 75 U.S. Route 45 (accessible by Metra) in Vernon Hills; 847-367-3700