The Ultimate Bucket List for Fall in NYC

From pumpkin festivals to book fairs, don't miss these fun things to do in NYC this fall.

Darling | Photo by Nico Schinco
Darling | Photo by Nico Schinco

It’s always a little sad to say goodbye to summer, but we’ll let you in on a little secret if you’ve just moved here: September and October are low-key the coolest times of the year. Not only is the weather generally perfect, but it’s also high season for theater openings, new restaurants, marquee museum shows, and festivals of all kinds. If you’re not sure where to start, never fear. From pumpkin parades at the Botanical Garden to a massive book festival in Brooklyn, we’ve compiled all the best things to eat, drink, and do this September and October in NYC.

New York Coffee Festival
New York Coffee Festival | Photo courtesy of New York Coffee Festival

Food & Drink in NYC

Pig Island BBQ Picnic
September 9
Snug Harbor; tickets from $59.02 per person
One of the year’s best barbecuing events actually falls after Labor Day. Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden hosts Pig Island this September 9, when over 20 pitmasters and chefs grill up meats to compete for accolades like Best in Show and Best Whole Hog. There’s much more than burnt ends and pork belly: Put some fire on your taste buds at Hot Sauce Alley, and wash it all down with a local New York brew.

New York Coffee Festival
October 6 to October 8
Chelsea; tickets from $45 per person
Caffeine fiends, make sure you’re in town the first weekend in October when the New York Coffee Festival returns for three days of panels, competitions, and, of course, plenty of brew. This year, the event takes over the Metropolitan Pavilion with over 100 coffee, tea, and chocolate vendors, plus live music, latte art demos, and plenty of food. You’re on your own when it comes to how many cups you can handle.

Grand Army Bar Block Parties
Every Sunday through October; 2 pm to 7 pm
Boerum Hill; cocktails from $18
Possibly no neighborhood institution is more New York than the block party. This fall, Grand Army Bar is hosting a very cool one every Sunday through the end of October. To coincide with Hoyt Street’s closure for Open Streets, the Boerum Hill spot is setting up lawn games and extra seating and grilling up smash burgers. A rotating cast of live DJs will spin vinyl for that extra throwback feel.

Cocktails With a View At Darling Rooftop Bar
September and October
Central Park South; cocktails from $23
Sure, we know the leaves in upstate New York are pretty, but have you seen Central Park in the fall? For one of the best views of the city’s crown jewel park, head to the Park Lane New York, whose rooftop bar Darling boasts stunning views from high up on the 47th floor. Take it all in while sipping a Park Lane Old Fashioned with Piggyback Rye, Calvados, and Angostura Bitters.

Oktoberfest Celebrations in NYC
September and October
Locations vary; cost varies
While you don’t have to ask a New Yorker twice to hang out at a beer garden, the venue shines the brightest during the early fall when Oktoberfest celebrations are in full swing. Watermark NYC certainly throws the largest party, running from September 9 until October 29. It’s also worth strapping on lederhosen for the festivities at other spots, including the 20th anniversary Oktoberfest at Loreley Beer Garden (with free beer keg tappings and pig roasts) and Zum Schneider’s
party with an authentic oompah band, Mösl Franzi and the JaJaJas.

Blood Manor
Blood Manor | Photo courtesy of Union Square Advertising

Arts & Culture in NYC

보바 Gays Take Lincoln Center
September 9; 7:30 pm
Lincoln Center; free
We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to comedy shows in New York City, but it’s not often that there’s a lineup that’s all Asian and all queer. This September, though, producers Alex Kim and Kenny Park Yi do just that with the Lincoln Center debut of their show 보바 Gays Take Lincoln Center!and it’s free. This performance will be one of their biggest yet, and it’ll feature Jasmine Rice LaBeija and many other special guests.

Brooklyn Book Festival
September 24 to October 2
Downtown Brooklyn; free
Bookworms know that the fall brings one of the marquee literary events to New York City: The Brooklyn Book Festival. New York’s largest book festival brings together hundreds of national and international authors—ranging from fiction to poetry to graphic storytelling—for panel discussions and readings. It’s also an excellent time to pick up a new read—the festival’s Literary Marketplace is the Northeast’s largest.

20th Fall for Dance Festival
September 27–October 8
Midtown West; $20 per ticket
For two decades now, New York City Center has hosted one of the most inclusive dance festivals in the city. Fall for Dance brings some of the nation’s best dancers under one roof, all for the very reasonable ticket price of $20. This year, for the program’s 20th anniversary, look out for a world premiere from tap legend Michelle Dorrance and street dance artist Ephrat Asherie, as well as a collaboration between ballerina Sara Mearns, choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith, and bass-baritone Davóne Tines.

Spike Lee: Creative Sources at Brooklyn Museum
From October 7
Prospect Heights; tickets from $16 per person
Brooklyn’s own Spike Lee gets an exhibit worthy of his landmark films this October, when Spike Lee: Creative Sources opens at Brooklyn Museum. Lee donated many pieces from his personal collection for the show, which touches on everything from Black history and culture to sports to cinema history. Look out for art from major artists like Kehinde Wiley, Deborah Roberts, and Michael Ray Charles, as well as awesome pieces of sports and movie memorabilia.

Judy Chicago: Herstory at New Museum
From October 12
Lower East Side; tickets from $18 per person
One of the most eagerly anticipated museum shows this fall lands at New Museum with Judy Chicago: Herstory, the first comprehensive museum survey of Judy Chicago. Three floors will display six decades of the artist’s work (which spans painting, sculpture, photography, and needlework, among other media), highlighting her legacy to American art and of giving voice to other women artists.

October 31
Locations vary; price varies
New Yorkers love an excuse to wear a costume, and no holiday satisfies that itch better than Halloween, naturally. With the holiday falling on a Tuesday this year, there are five days (at least) to wear costumes since the parties will definitely start the Friday before. And while nearly every bar and restaurant will probably do something for the holiday, a few other seasonal events to keep an eye out for include the Bronx Zoo’s animal-filled Boo at the Zoo; famed haunted house Blood Manor’s 20th anniversary season, and plenty of thrills at Coney Island’s Luna ParkHalloween Harvest.

Fall-O-Ween at New York Botanical Garden
September and October
Bronx Park; tickets from $35 per person
Sure, Halloween candy is great, but can we talk about pumpkins? Gourd lovers: Don’t let this fall pass you by without a trip to Fall-O-Ween at the New York Botanical Garden. The massive green space will host pumpkin parades and pumpkin carving face-offs. Plus, in non-pumpkin, (but still exciting news) Bales & Ales weekend adds beer sampling to the fun. The hundreds of pumpkins and gourds scattered throughout the garden make for excellent photo opps.

Fall Musical Premieres
September and October
Theater District; price varies
For theater nerds, the fall season means one thing: Premieres galore. And, this year, NYC has a bevy of hotly anticipated musicals. Gutenberg! The (Best) Musical (Ever) reunites Book of Mormon’s Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad for a hilarious show that’s sort of about Johannes Gutenberg, but mostly about two friends writing a musical. Also premiering squarely in the comedy vein is Spamalot!, the show “lovingly ripped off from” the cult-classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And no show has more buzz right now than Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Lindsay Mendez, the musical charts the relationships of three friends over the course of 20 years.

Global Citizen Festival
Global Citizen Festival | Flickr/UN Women

Music & Nightlife in NYC

Electric Zoo
September 1–3
Randall’s Island Park; tickets from $119 per person
EDM fans know that only one electronic music festival rules them all: Electric Zoo. This year the festival lands on Randall’s Island the first weekend in September, with a lineup that includes six different stages and headliners like The Chainsmokers, Kaskade, and Marshmello. The festival is almost as well known for its afterparties as the concert itself: Check out a full list on the website.

September 23
Central Park; VIP tickets from $350 per person
Global Citizen Festival might be a music festival, but the experience is a unique one. Most people don’t even buy tickets (although there are VIP seats available for purchase); instead they earn them through the Global Citizen app, which aims to help people get more involved in ending extreme poverty, global warming, and inequality. Of course, the lineup is also pretty sweet: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and Meagan Thee Stallion are among the headliners for the show in Central Park.

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Juliet Izon is a contributor for Thrillist.