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Halloween candy is popping up on grocery store shelves, pumpkin spice lattes have returned to Starbucks, and cooler nights are finally on the horizon. It’s official: fall 2021 is almost here.
With a new season come more opportunities to get out and explore the city—and beyond. In May, the City of Toronto cancelled all major in-person events through to Labour Day. Now that Ontario is in Step 3 of its reopening, events are beginning to come back. It started with concerts in August, and now the fall calendar is slowly filling with outdoor festivals—including plenty for food lovers.
Fall BeerFest T.O.
“We’ve all gone through a really tough period of time and everybody’s just looking forward to getting out and being with friends and seeing some live music and some live events,” says Les Murray, president and founder of the Toronto Festival of Beer.
The festival was slated to celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer until COVID-19 restrictions canceled the annual July event. However, by the time July rolled around, Murray and his team found out they’d be able to host the festival later in the year. They quickly started planning.
Fall BeerFest T.O. will run from September 24-25 at the CNE Bandshell with approximately 40 Ontario and international brewers, ready-to-drink cocktail brands, and plenty of local food purveyors, including Oyster Boy, Harry’s Charbroiled and Joybird Fried Chicken (A.K.A. perfect beer food).
To accompany the eats and drinks, there’s a full entertainment lineup. Shaggy (yes, that Shaggy) headlines on Friday and beloved local cover band Dwayne Gretzky will take the stage on Saturday, with more acts to be announced.
“We took that opportunity to get people back to work,” says Murray. “Obviously, it’s been a challenging 16 months and we’re looking forward to getting something off the ground this year,” he continues, noting how the event will look a little different than previous iterations.
Capacity will be reduced and vendor tents will be more spaced out to allow for physical distancing. Along with screening and contact tracing, all guests will have to show proof they’re fully vaccinated (two doses) to attend.
Fall n’ Leaves Toronto
Come October 1, don’t be surprised if you see a pumpkin patch and 10,000 pounds of hay sitting at the corner of Bathurst and Richmond. For the second year in a row, the team behind Let’s Do Summer, Sweater n’ Snowflakes and El Mercado will transform a giant downtown patio into an autumnal escape.
“People have to travel to where pumpkins and hay bales usually are, but what was really exciting last year was that we brought it to the middle of the city,” says a representative from Fall n’ Leaves, which right now is scheduled to run from Oct. 1-17.
Returning are plenty of cozy, photo-worthy features, like a hay bale couch, plus fireside wine tasting and pumpkin painting (both are reservation-only experiences). Due to last fall’s COVID-related restrictions, the all-outdoor event operated more like a restaurant. This year, the team plans to host live music (both acoustic and DJs), an Oktoberfest-themed weekend, and drag shows all Halloweekend.
Of course, there will also be lots to sip on and taste, including food served in pumpkins, Thanksgiving poutine (fries topped with turkey and stuffing), apple pie churros and more. Seasonal cocktails include a pumpkin spice Moscow Mule, a Thanksgiving Margarita and new for 2021: spiked apple cider for those chilly fall days.
Fall n’ Leaves is a TTC-accessible escape from a team that has seasonal celebrations down pat. “We try to come up with the most creative, innovative fun thing you want to experience during this time of year,” says a representative. “And we just do it.”
Will Travel for Fall
If you’re itching to leave the city, fall is flush with events within an hour of the downtown core. For a family-friendly day trip, head to a pumpkin patch, like the one hosted during PumpkinFest at Downey’s Farm in Caledon, north-west of the city.
The family-run farm’s giant pumpkin-covered front lawn, beneath its jack-o-lantern barn, is now an iconic GTA spot, and the festival (primarily aimed at kids) features an eight-acre corn maze, entertainment and activities, plus foods like kettle corn, roasted corn and a weekend chip truck.
A trip to the on-site market comes with food and drink options too, including pumpkin doughnuts (and pumpkin doughnut ice cream sandwiches), farm-fresh produce and fruit wines from Downey's Estate Winery.
If you’re still hungry—or thirsty—after a trip to the farm, plan a pit stop at Spirit Tree Estate Cidery. Enjoy food on the patio and pack your trunk with made-on-site cider, available in many varieties, including the ultimate seasonal sipper: Pumpkin Spice Cider.
For a nostalgic night out closer to Toronto, there’s Halloween Haunt at Canada’s Wonderland, which runs on select nights from Sept. 24-Oct. 31. After being closed for the entire 2020 season, Wonderland finally opened its gates this summer.
A representative from Wonderland confirmed more details about Halloween Haunt 2021 would be available soon. However, this fall event that thrill seekers missed out on last year usually features a variety of haunted mazes and roaming zombies. Plus, many of the rides are open late—because is there anything more frightening than riding a roller coaster in the dark?
A trip to Wonderland is not complete without fair food, like the park’s renowned funnel cake. No matter how cold it gets on an October night, deep-fried dough topped with vanilla soft serve and strawberry sauce is always in season.