It’s a bittersweet moment, isn’t it, when we trade in the beach towel—or the street fair or the restaurant patio or the road trip—for other, paler pursuits, and in places with central heating. In what seemed as abrupt and surprising as this week’s record temperatures, galleries who’d had quiet summers just opened dozens of new shows; soon dancers, actors, and their like will take to stages to kick off performance seasons that’ll last until, can you believe it, 2014. Classic-rock cover bands finally get a breather, movies shave a few bucks off their special-effects budgets, book releases tend toward the high-brow and literary. This is it.

Though we might be headed indoors, this fall we find artists taking bold imaginative leaps: to far-flung places, sure, but also to specific moments in time. Call it the Next Restaurant effect, only cheaper. Herein we find ourselves pointed in the direction of early-70s California conceptual art; to the height of the 80s AIDS crisis in New York City; to the debut of The Rite of Spring, which provoked a riot 100 years ago in Paris; to film’s blaxploitation era; to the 1993 founding of a Chicago indie record label; onward to a couple Korean artists’ plans for the future; hell, even to the frontier of Twitter, which serves as a sort of joke lab for a few local comics we talked to.

Read on for all this and more—interspersed with Best Bets in every category are longer features, Q&As, and, oh yeah, a calendar suggesting one thing to do every day until December 1. After that you’re on your own. Sam Worley