Things to Do

Fun is in the Air: More Fall Festivals

Five nearby celebrations that promise bountiful harvests—from apples to oysters—plus fantastic foliage and lots of fun.

Fairest of Fairs

What: 65th Waterford Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit.

Where: Waterford, Virginia, an hour from DC.

When: October 3, 4, and 5.

Why go: Waterford, population 300, looks a lot like the village that grew up around a mill on the banks of Catoctin Creek in the 1700s. For this longstanding event, which supports preservation, the hamlet is filled with activity.

You might want to wear walking shoes for the hilly terrain, which is covered with more than 160 basket makers, quilters, furniture makers, and folk artisans showing off traditional crafts. There’s a changing background of string bands, chamber musicians, and folksingers. Houses open for touring range from modest Quaker dwellings to Victorian classics. Reenactors from the Colonial-era Maryland militia set up camp on a slope near the mill, adding to the period atmosphere.

If you stay the night: To make it more than a day trip, the best bet for lodging is in Leesburg, five miles from Waterford. The six-room Norris House is an elegant 1760s bed-and-breakfast (800-644-1806;; $140-$190).

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Riding the Rails

What: 25th Annual Railroad Days.

Where: Brunswick, Maryland, just over an hour from DC.

When: October 4 and 5.

Why go: Back in the 1890s, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad put Brunswick on the map with the biggest and busiest train yard in the world—a heritage they honor each October with Railroad Days.

One of the highlights is the Railroad Museum. MARC commuter trains offer one-hour rides between Brunswick and Frederick at 10, 1, and 3 each day (return rides are an hour later). Craftspeople and antique vendors show off their wares, while clowns, magicians, and puppeteers entertain the kids. On Saturday, Frederick adds its own festival, offering more food, music, and crafts.

More information:; click on “tourism.”

Pick of the Apples

What: 44th National Apple Harvest Festival.

Where: South Mountain Fairgrounds, Arendtsville, Pennyslvania, about two hours from Washington.

When: October 4, 5, 11, and 12.

Why go: More than 5 million bushels of apples are harvested each year in Adams County, so it’s no wonder the harvest is marked with an apple extravaganza. For two weekends, the fairgrounds, ten miles northwest of Gettysburg, are filled with fun—apple-related and otherwise. 

Besides pie-eating contests and bobbing for apples, there are antique- and classic-car displays, pony rides, and 300 craft vendors as well as live music, puppet shows, and a petting zoo. Add to the usual festival foods a lineup of apple delights: pancakes, desserts, cider, applesauce, jellies, apple butter, candied apples, and apples for taking home.

If you stay the night: A scenic ten-minute drive south is Hickory Bridge Farm, a bed-and-breakfast in Orrtanna. Rooms in a new wing of the 1700s farmhouse offer double whirlpool baths; cozy creekside cottages in the woods have Franklin stoves. Family-style dinners are served on weekends in a 1790s barn (717-642-5261;; $125 to $165 a night double occupancy).

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Reds, Whites, and Balloons

What: 12th Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon & Wine Festival.

Where: Historic Long Branch House, Millwood, Virginia, about an hour and 20 minutes from DC.

When: October 17 through 19.

Why go: Hot-air balloons add to the color as they sail above the foliage-filled Shenandoah Valley. Visitors can toast the balloons with samplings from 21 Virginia wineries and with a tour of Long Branch, one of Virginia’s most elegant manor houses. The columned mansion boasts fine18th- and 19th-century furnishings and lavish English gardens. Craftspeople, live entertainment, and exhibits of antique cars and fire engines are on the agenda. Balloons rise early morning and evening, weather permitting.

If you stay the night: Millwood is ten miles east of Winchester, off Route 50 on Route 624—easily reached as a day trip. Or plan a stay in nearby White Post at L’Auberge Provençale, a luxury bed-and-breakfast with a very good French dining room (800-638-1702;; $155 to $295 a night). 

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Oysters ‘R’ Us

What: 42nd St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival.

Where: Leonardtown, Maryland, about an hour and 20 minutes from DC.

When: October 18 and 19.

Why go: The best entertainers at this popular event are the speedy competitors from all over the United States at the National Oyster Shucking Championship. There’s a National Oyster Cook-off, in which contestants re-create their recipes for spectators and judges. Stands offer oysters raw, steamed, stewed, or fried, not to mention clams, crab, shrimp, and scallops. 

The music onstage is nonstop—from jazz to folk, rock to barbershop quartets. Carnival games and rides, kids’ activities, crafts, and a silent auction fill out the fun. 

If you stay the night: Make your headquarters the Brome-Howard Inn in St. Mary’s City, an 1840s plantation manor on 30 acres beside the St. Mary’s River. The inn has the area’s best dining room (301-866-0656;; $145 to $185).

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