From his father's lap, Marley Jones' eyes lit up. His mouth gaped with excitement. The 11-month-old took it all in: pumpkins, scarecrows, fields of fruit, and canopies of trees that towered above him on Linvilla Orchards' hayride.
When he saw a goat, one of many barnyard animals that call the Delaware County farm home, Marley "was hollering and yelling and flailing his little arms in the air," said his father, Rashard Jones.
Jones, 23, a Miami native who moved to Darby last month, and his fiancé, Jayna Baldwin, recently visited the Media orchards — in part to show Marley the attractions there, and in part to get an early taste of autumn for themselves. During the young family's mid-September trip, they sweated in summerlike temperatures. But around them, the orchards were already packed with apple- and peach-pickers and hayride-riders.
"We like to do things to get us ready for fall," Jones said, and their first trip to Linvilla "was an extremely fun experience."
Every fall in the Philadelphia suburbs, year-round attractions turn their focus to pumpkin patches, scarecrow contests, apple-picking, and corn mazes. In a culture obsessed with pumpkin spice lattes (not to mention a plethora of other pumpkin-flavored foods and pumpkin-scented products) and all things autumn — or at least posting about those things on Instagram — these regional spots know their fall offerings will draw in thousands of guests from across the region and beyond.
Meanwhile, other long-running destinations stick to more docile, fall-centric experiences that are also as sought after as ever.
In his past two decades as Linvilla's farm manager, Norm Schultz has seen their attractions grow in popularity. There are 600 to 700 more parking spots, and on the busiest October weekends, about 10,000 people visit the farm each day, he said. Yet customers want different things than they did 20 years ago.
"They just demand a much higher-quality experience," Schultz said. "You used to be able to put out an inexpensive piece of farm equipment, or have people jump on a hay bale. … Now, they want more of a 'Disney World' experience."
More than 40 miles away in Bucks County, Peddler's Village was packed on a recent weekday. The more than 60 restaurants and shops were bustling. Outside, people of all ages clamored to snap iPhone pictures of scarecrows that decorated the property as part of its annual scarecrow contest.
Diane Elshimy, 58, of Skippack, and her daughter Layla Elshimy, 21, were among them. The mother said she suggested the two visit Peddler's Village when she saw a forecast for sunny weather. She had not been there in maybe 20 years, she said, and remembered loving the scarecrows.
"We really hit it right, because this is awesome," Diane Elshimy said. "I can't stop taking pictures."
Fall is the busiest time of year at Peddler's Village, accounting for nearly 40 percent of its business, Chief Operating Officer Robert McGowan said as he strolled through the scenic 42 acres. With the village's open layout, it is difficult to pinpoint how many people walk through, but McGowan estimated tens of thousands visit on the busiest autumn days. The scarecrow contest received more entries this year than ever before, he said.
"Everyone loves the fall," McGowan said. "Our thing is trying to create an experience for whoever is thinking about going out shopping."
In the past, customers skewed older, but recently McGowan said he has noticed more millennials and older teenagers. As McGowan strolled, dozens of people took photographs of the scarecrows and autumn decorations. One young woman snapped a selfie in front of a new beef jerky store. If those photos are posted on Instagram or Facebook (platforms that didn't exist when the village opened in 1962), McGowan and his crew get free marketing. In that way, he said, Peddler's Village still has an edge over online shopping.
"You don't see anyone taking a selfie of themselves when they're alone, at home, shopping online," McGowan said.
"You can't get a beer at the King of Prussia Mall and walk around," McGowan said. In the future, he said he would love to see the bars expand and become a more lively spot for nightlife.
Back at Linvilla, Schultz said the orchards' "Pumpkinland," with its hayrides, barnyard animals, mazes, and pick-your-own-fruit opportunities, remains a signature attraction. The pick-your-own section is increasingly popular with visitors of all ages, but especially with local college students and young adults. Schultz said these groups seem to have more of a desire to know where their food comes from, and to eat organic and local.
In recent years, the orchards added an apple slingshot attraction and tents hosted by local wineries, Schultz said. Eventually, they would like to have their own winery on the property, he said.
"If you want people to keep coming," Schultz said, "you have to keep upping your game."