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Fall Food Finds

The only thing better than seeing fall is tasting it.

Fall foliage brings travelers out in throngs, flocking to destinations that boast brilliantly colored woodlands during the autumn season. But if your groups only admire the colors from the highway, they’re missing out on the wonderful flavors of fall, which are a big part of what makes autumn an ideal season for travel.

From pumpkins and cider to chili, maple syrups and signature Oktoberfests, fall brings distinctive seasonal foods, celebrations and culinary experiences. And travelers will find opportunities to experience the bounty of the season all around the country and the world, not just in areas known for fall colors.

Here are five food and drink experiences to seek out as you plan your group’s travel, as well as multiple ideas about where you can experience each.

All Things Pumpkin

Few things say “fall” like pumpkins, the brilliant orange gourds that are used for decoration as much as for cooking. Pumpkin patches abound in destinations all over the country, but some local farms take the seasonal celebration up a notch with large-scale festivals that offer an abundance of pumpkin products.

Walters’ Pumpkin Fest: In eastern Kansas, not far from Wichita, this pumpkin festival is a combination of food and inventive experiences. Visitors can sample pumpkin salsa, pumpkin chili and pumpkin soup, as well as other farm-fresh foods available in the on-site shop. They can also watch as a PumpGun cannon blasts pumpkins hundreds of feet into the air.

The Great Pumpkin Farm Fall Festival: A short drive away from Buffalo, New York, the town of Clarence is home to the Great Pumpkin Farm, which hosts a daily festival during the fall season. In addition to seeing and shopping for pumpkins themselves, visitors can take part in pie-eating competitions, pumpkin-decoration classes and other programs, as well as sampling from a wide array of pumpkin foods.

South Jersey Pumpkin Show: Beyond its urban centers, New Jersey is a fertile farming state, and the South Jersey Pumpkin Show in Woodstown focuses on the abundant pumpkins and other fall produce in the area. Groups can check out the state’s largest pumpkin pie, taste dessert contest entries and see prize-winning pumpkins that weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

Chili Throw-Downs

Fall brings out the competitive spirit in home cooks across the country, who travel great distances and go to great lengths to win chili cook-off competitions. As the weather begins to turn cool, groups can enjoy some of the world’s best chilis, as well as festive environments, by visiting some of the top chili festivals and competitions around the country.

World Championship Chili Cookoff: The International Chili Society hosts the godfather of all chili competitions each October, moving the event to cities and towns in various parts of the United States. Hundreds of competitors and thousands of guests come to celebrate traditional red, green and salsa varieties that make up America’s rich chili tradition, with the top prize in each category worth $25,000.

Connecticut State Chili Cookoff: Travelers may venture to New England more for foliage than for flavor, but groups in the area during October should make plans to attend this one-day event in New Haven, Connecticut. Guests taste anywhere from 25 to 30 chilis in three categories — red, green and salsa — and vote for a People’s Choice winner. Professional judges also pick a winner to send to the world championship.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Chili Cook-Off: Travelers won’t find the colors of autumn along the Pacific Coast in Santa Cruz, California, but groups in the area during late October can still get a traditional fall experience by visiting this beachfront festival. The competition attracts amateur chili enthusiasts and professional chefs alike, who compete to make the best chili con carne and vegetarian chilis. Prizes also go to the entries judges deem most creative.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.