Giant pumpkin sculptures
The Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival is Oct. 21-23 at The Stacks at 3 Crossings in the Strip. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival.

It may feel like summer outside, but hopefully not for long — autumn is finally here! The season I have waited all year for begins this week, and I’m ready with another seasonal bucket list.

In case you missed my summer edition, at the start of each season I make a list of 10 festive activities I want to do. Full disclosure: I only accomplished three out of the 10 items on my summer list, as life and my tendency to be a homebody got in the way.

But fall is my favorite time of year, so I’m trying to check off all 10 this time!

The temperatures and leaves are ready to drop — so it’s time to trade soaking up the sun for breathing crisp fall air. Grab your pumpkin spice latte and start making plans.

Visit the Asian Lantern Festival

Through Oct. 29 at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium

Despite the fact that I live just over the Highland Park Bridge from the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium, I have never visited during the Asian Lantern Festival. The annual display of lighted sculptures this year takes place on select Thursday through Sunday nights through Oct. 29. It’s one of the few things on my list that has nothing to do with pumpkins, costumes or foliage, but I can’t pass up a chance to walk through the zoo on a cool fall night. You can walk or drive through the sea of lights this year. A good way to celebrate the zoo’s 125th anniversary. 

Photo courtesy of Delmont Apple ‘n Arts Festival

I’ve been going to the Delmont Apple Festival since my high school days, and it never disappoints. Shields Farm fills up with craft vendors, artists, farmers, kids’ activity booths and more, all centered around the fall staple fruit. There are classic festivities including a straw bale maze and pumpkin painting, along with more apple-forward activies like the Baby Apple Cheeks cutest baby contest and an apple bake contest. 

The parade at Fort Ligonier Days in 2022. Photo courtesy of Fort Ligonier Days.

Celebrate history and autumn at Fort Ligonier Days

Oct. 13-15, Ligonier

Fort Ligonier Days is part history lesson, part fall festival. The festival coincides with the anniversary of a battle in the French and Indian War, which took place at Fort Ligonier on Oct. 12, 1758. The three-day event in Westmoreland County includes battle reenactments, fall foods and crafts, wine and spirit tastings, live music and a parade. It’s all set around Ligonier’s town square, which looks like it’s straight out of a New England postcard. 

Go pumpkin and/or apple picking  

This list could not be complete without another trip to a farm. I’m a city person through and through, but who doesn’t love traipsing through hay and a little mud to find the perfect porch pumpkin? I grew up going to Schramm Farms & Orchards in Jeanette, but since it closed in late 2021, I am on the hunt for the next best fall farm. Luckily, we’ve got a list of six farms to visit this fall from Soergel’s to Triple B. I can’t wait to don my best flannel and grab a warm apple cider. 

Ohiopyle State Park. Photo by Holly Riley via Unsplash.

Take a leaf-peeping hike through Ohiopyle 

There are many, many places to see great foliage in the Western Pennsylvania area — Ohiopyle is just one of them. I’m checking this fall foliage prediction map and heading out when it’s peak leaf-peeping season. I’m planning to take my dog, who is already obsessed with chasing the falling leaves. Ohiopyle is perfect for an autumnal bike ride or picnic. 

Go Halloween costume shopping

Half (or maybe more than half) of the fun of the fall season is Halloween and the run-up to it. I may be too old for trick-or-treating, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be dressing up. I’ve got a shortlist of ideas, and I’m ready to start shopping at Pittsburgh thrift stores for the perfect look. Right now I’m thinking maybe “Weird Barbie.”

Photo courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

I love Halloween, but don’t love the crowds of drunk people that can often accompany spooky events in bars and clubs. The Carnegie Museum’s Haunted Museum After Dark happening sounds like the sweet spot. The 21+ event takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Natural History Museum and includes info on “creatures that inspired the monsters that haunt our dreams,” and much more that is stranger than fiction. Costumes are allowed but cannot include “masks, weapons or weapon-like objects.” Tickets range from $24-$29.

If you’re not into slasher films (or you are), The Oaks Theater in Oakmont has spooky movie options for you. It’s playing “Scream” (1996) on Sept. 28; “Practical Magic” on Oct. 5; “Little Shop of Horrors” on Oct. 12; “Casper” on Oct. 14; “Carrie” on Oct. 19; “Hocus Pocus” on Oct. 22 (as a part of the Cinebrunch series); and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Oct. 27. The Cinebrunch event is not to be missed — your ticket includes a breakfast sandwich, hash browns, doughnuts and pastries, plus coffee, tea and juice. For movie fans more interested in classic horror films, the Carnegie Science Center will show “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) on Oct. 28 at The Rangos Giant Cinema. Lawrenceville’s Row House Cinema typically shows a few classics for its Row House of Horrors Week, but the films haven’t been announced yet. 

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival

Run (or walk) in the Costume Caper 5K during the Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival

Oct. 21 at The Stacks at 3 Crossings in the Strip District 

Once I’ve found the perfect costume, I’ve got to show it off. I’m hoping to wear a group costume with my husband and dog for the race so we can strut our stuff all the way through the Strip. The annual race and festival of gigantic gourds include pumpkin drops, pumpkin sculptures, hay bale artworks, glass blowing and more. Race registration is $30 per person and gets you an “everyone wins” goody package. Admission to the two-day Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival is free.

Get soup from Brothmonger

Once the summer heat has truly died, it’s time to shift into soup mode. Soup chef Sarah McAlee, a.k.a. Brothmonger, sells her soups from Deutschtown Deli on the North Side and The Thyme Machine and Linea Verde Green Market on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield. With flavors like pork pepper noodle, corn and crab chowder, white bean asiago bisque and more, the hype around Sarah’s soups is reaching a critical mass. I have to get in on the action. 

Cristina Holtzer is NEXTpittsburgh's Digital Editor. When she’s not laughing too hard at TikTok, Crissy can be found working on her novel or playing the Sims. Read her work in Everyday Health, The Kitchn, Pittsburgh Magazine, Inc and more.