Smile Politely

Autumn is C-U at its best

One great American pastime is commodifying things that need not be commodified, like Fall, the season. Autumn has perhaps always been a thing, but it is now a Thing™ and we are jumping on the bandwagon:

Autumn is the best time of year in Champaign-Urbana.

We define autumn/fall by both the equinox (September 22nd), the start of the academic year, and the general vibes of summer fading away. Now let us tell you some of the reasons why we think it’s the best.


There’s plenty of early fall warmth and vibrancy, and on average we’re getting less rain than in August. Though there may be a few hot days, average temps are in the mid- to high-70s, a generally comfortable range, and by the end of October we are enjoying days where it’s not too hot, not too cold, and all you need is a light jacket.

Fall sunsets and colorful leaves

A tree with yellow leaves is surrounded by prairie grasses and flowers, all in tones of browns, whites, and greens. Photo by Anna Longworth.

Photo by Anna Longworth.

Prairie sunsets are beautiful, and the angle of the sun and the earth at this time of the year make for really dramatic vistas. All you need to do to enjoy the sunset is drive about 15 minutes toward the western edge of Champaign to a place like Porter Park, which has uninterrupted views of the horizon. Don’t forget about all the beautiful colors on the trees — leaf peeping might seem silly, but the color changes are gorgeous.


This is the best time to shop at the farmers’ markets, because you can still grab some “summer” produce like peaches or corn or zucchini, and you’re able to grab winter squashes and mums and dark, leafy greens.

School is back in session

Champaign-Urbana is not the same without students, specifically the tens of thousands who come to the University of Illinois. They bring liveliness and enthusiasm. They bring economic opportunity. They are the reason many of us live and work and survive here, and we are grateful for them. 

Unfortunately, they have also brought a lot of COVID, so please take this gentle reminder that the pandemic is not over. You should continue wearing your masks, even in crowded outdoor spaces, and go ahead and get your vaccine booster scheduled as soon as possible. (You can schedule through CVS and Walgreens right now.)  

In addition to the start of the academic year, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and Krannert Art Museum have their big, seasonal commencements. These two cultural institutions showcase incredible artists, and we are truly so lucky to have these sorts of engagements available to us. They absolutely enhance and legitimize the vibrancy and cultural vitality of C-U. 


Now that the fall semester is underway, sports are underway, too. High school sports, Parkland sports, U of I sports — you have options. Parkland and the U of I have incredible women’s volleyball teams; tickets are very affordable, so take an opportunity to see them in person. It’s fun. 

And if you are very into sports, then you already know about high school football and U of I football. We’re guessing you also have an eye out for U of I basketball, but don’t sleep on Parkland’s men’s basketball team. They had a pretty good season last year. (And yes, technically the start of their season is in the fall.) 


There are so many festivals in the greater C-U area this time of year. You can take your pick of culture festivals and arts festivals. There are festivals for pork and apples, cheese, Black and African arts, folk music, balloons, and more than one Oktoberfest

As members of the Editorial Board, we are particularly excited for PYGMALION (September 22-24) and C-U Pride (October 1st). Smile Politely will have plenty of preview coverage of PYGMALION in the next two weeks, so watch this space. C-U Pride is honoring educators by making them the grand marshalls of the parade, and the organization is hosting a Queer Homecoming dance party that very same night (tickets required). 

PSL and other Fall Aesthetics  

A metal wagon filled with pumpkins and other fall gourds. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Surely you have seen the endless #PSL ad campaigns that rolled out in mid-August from all sorts of companies. Maybe you’ve even already had your first pumpkin spice latte of the season. We applaud you — no judgements here. 

More locally, though, we are excited about: apple cider doughnuts (both Curtis Orchard and Harvest Market have excellent ones), Art Mart’s pumpkin cookies, apple cider, apple picking, pumpkin picking. We know you love posing in front of giant pumpkins and haystacks and apple trees, too. We say embrace the most basic urges to look cute in fall boots and flannel. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

Top photo by Jessica Hammie.

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