This article was updated September 2018.
Colder weather, turning leaves, light jackets, Panthers football and PSLs can only mean one thing: Fall is here.
Or it’s close, anyway, with an official start date of September 22, so break out the flannel because with it will return everyone’s favorite cliché dates.
Here are some of the best ones.
(1) Visit a local fair or a festival
Good for: First date
The weather cools and the fairs and festivals, filled to the brim with great food, questionable rides and games you know you won’t win come crawling out of the woodwork. A few you can’t miss:
- Festival in the Park (September 21-23): With the best the city has to offer when it comes to local artists and makers, plus live music, kids’ activities and county fair-esque foods like funnel cake, there’s something for everyone. Pro tip: Go on Friday or Saturday night to see it lit up next to the pond for the full effect.
- Carolina Renaissance Festival (September 29-November 18): Expect to lose yourself in an immersive experience packed with 1,000+ artists and characters, performances, an artisan marketplace and food that includes a giant turkey leg.
- Apple Harvest Festival (October 20): Now in its 25th year, Windy Hill’s annual festival welcomes the season with open arms during a day full of cider sipping, kids’ activities and more.
Want more? See 5 you can’t miss this year.
(2) Sip your way through a flight of hard cider at Windy Hill
Good for: Pairs that want to hang out outside without getting dirty
For $14, each flight comes with 6 samples of the homemade cider (flavors include Gala Peach, Hoppin Johnny and Rusty Gold) and, should you find one you like, you can grab a bottle at the farmstand. The perfect accompaniment to your flight, by the way, can’t be skipped – grab a box of the homemade apple cinnamon doughnuts to get the full experience ($10/dozen).
Make a day of it and celebrate all things fall with BBQ, hayrides, scarecrow making, live music and more at the orchard’s 25th Annual Apple Harvest Festival, happening Saturday, October 20.
(3) Get the daylights scared out of you at SCarowinds
Good for: The thrill-seekers
If you venture to Carowinds this fall, be wary of what might be lurking just around the corner when the sun goes down and the park transforms into SCarowinds, an immersive horror experience complete with haunted houses, roaming characters and jumpscares. It’s the perfect excuse to hold on to each other.
This year’s installment includes attractions such as CarnEVIL, Dark Harvest, The Hollow and Slaughterhouse: The Final Cut and plenty of designated scare zones to navigate as you venture from ride to ride. Needless to say, it’s not for the faint of hearted. You can catch it every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through October 28.
(4) Spend the day on the farm
Good for: Anyone that wants to knock out their fall bucket list in one fell swoop
Once it cools off, find your way out of a corn maze before handpicking the produce that you’re putting into your seasonal desserts. Want more? Check out our guides to local pumpkin patches and apple orchards.
- Hall Family Farm: In addition to the pick-your-own pumpkin patch ($0.64/pound), you’ll find hayrides, a corn maze and apple cider doughnut sundaes ($2.75). Open September 21-23 and September 28-October 31.
- Windy Hill Orchard & Cidery: The season runs through early October, but keep an eye on conditions here. Worst comes to worst, hang out with a flight of hard cider and an apple cider donut. PYO hours are Friday (1-6 p.m.), Saturday (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) and Sunday (12-5 p.m.).
- Wise Acres Organic Farm: You have from September 21-November 4 to find that perfect, must-carve pumpkin. When you’re done, try your hand at the free corn maze or take a wagon ride through the woods ($3).
(5) Enjoy a pint of locally brewed, fall-inspired beer on the patio
Good for: The laid-back, go-with-the-flow couple
Watch out for these seasonal staples (and the parties that go along with their return):
- Gordgeous, brewed with 50 pounds of pumpkin and 42 pounds of brown sugar at NoDa Brewing (6.4% ABV)
- Gourd Have Mercy, a pumpkin amber brewed with fall spices by Sycamore (6.2% ABV, available through October; don’t miss Pumpkin Fest)
- Mecktoberfest, a Märzen lager available at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and winner of the European Beer Star Gold (5.4% ABV; don’t miss Mecktoberfest)
(6) Go on a hot air balloon ride
Good for: Fearless couples
Most rides last around an hour and a half or less, but that’s plenty of time to take in unparalleled, sweeping views of North Carolina and an experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Yes, you’ll likely be riding with other passengers, but places like Eagle’s Wings Hot Air Balloons and AirTime Balloon Company do offer private basket packages.
Want to experience the childlike wonder of a hot air balloon without having to do it 3,000 feet in the air? Head to Statesville’s Carolina BalloonFest, October 19-21. Pro tip: Friday tickets cost just $5.
(7) Head up to Asheville for incredible views and an even more incredible food and drink scene
Good for: A first romantic or ‘just because’ getaway and adventurers
Just two hours from Charlotte and tucked under the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a day trip as easy as it is necessary. Alongside the Parkway’s scenic views, you’ll find plenty of hiking, leaf peeping, art, more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city and a food scene that’s often recognized as one of the best in the country.
Explore everything to do in this Agenda guide.