California—abundant with playful cities, laidback beaches, adventure-laden mountains, and, of course, Disneyland—has been called the most fun state in America. There's rarely a shortage of things to do in this West Coast oasis, but during Halloween, especially, the Golden State goes all out. Whether you're looking to celebrate by running from chainsaw-wielding villains on a haunted excursion or by taking the kids for a PG-rated trick-or-treat jaunt, you're bound to find it amid the Halloween-happy places of California.
Many events have been canceled or altered in 2020, so check the websites of organizers for updated information.
Southern California's bounty of theme parks are a mecca for Halloween revelers of the juvenile sort. The most famous of them all (Disneyland, undeniably) kicks the spooky season off with an annual bash hosted by Oogie Boogie from "The Nightmare Before Christmas." The after-hours celebration would typically feature a nightly parade, shows, costumed characters, dance parties, and trick-or-treat trails, but in 2020, the Oogie Boogie Bash has been canceled.
For a genuinely thrilling experience, Universal Studios claims its Halloween Horror Nights are the scariest in town. Each fall, the park receives a grim makeover, with roaming zombies and nine haunted houses themed around Universal franchises (think: "The Walking Dead" and "American Horror Story"). In 2020, Halloween Horror Nights have been canceled.
Likewise, Knotts Berry Farm in Anaheim becomes Knotts "Scary" Farm for Halloween. Once a somewhat mild diversion for families, this festival now includes ten haunted mazes, five "scare zones" with wandering zombies and creepy clowns, and two specialty shows. The 2020 season has been canceled.
In San Diego, kids can enjoy spooky shows, a dance party, trick-or-treating, and character meet-and-greets at Sea World San Diego's Halloween Spooktacular. In 2020, the event will take place every weekend from October 2 to November 2, but advanced reservations are required.
The West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles—aka Boystown—has been known to put on the "world's largest Halloween street party." Its Costume Carnaval attracts some 500,000 people to Santa Monica Boulevard for DJs, dancing, drink specials, and plenty of racy costumes. The 2020 edition is canceled.
For a legitimate scare, board one of the state's most authentic haunted attractions, The Queen Mary. Now a hotel moored permanently in Long Beach, the ship becomes the Dark Harbor—featuring ghoul-filled mazes, nightly shows, and wandering monsters—for Halloween. In 2020, Dark Harbor has been canceled.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride has in 2020 been reimagined as a drive-up experience (a story projected onto a 40-foot screen) from September 25 to November 1.
For a tamer time, you can celebrate Halloween along the harbor side of Newport Beach's Balboa Island, where residents go to great lengths to decorate their homes for the eerie holiday.
San Diego's annual Halloween goings-on include the WCKD Village, a DJ-led dance party spanning eight square blocks of the Gaslamp district. The winner of the WCKD costume party earns a cash prize. In 2020, the event has been canceled.
The Haunted Trail at Balboa Park turns the iconic green space into an alfresco haunted house inspired by Hollywood films and series like "Stranger Things" and "US." It's by the same organizers of San Diego's longest-running haunted house, The Disturbance, a trio of mazes in the parking lot of a shopping center (trust that it's scarier than it sounds). Both have been canceled in 2020.
But Scream Zone, the area's biggest haunted experience, in Del Mar, will be offering a modified version of its usual House of Horror, dizzying Chamber, and the Haunted Hayride. In 2020, it will be a drive-through (theme: Road Kill) featuring a mile-long course packed with zombies, serial killers, and killer clowns. Scream Zone will be open October 1 to 31.
Thrills abound year-round at San Diego's Whaley House, which some say is haunted by the real-life ghost of Yankee Jim Robinson, whom owner Thomas Whaley watched hang to death on the premises before he built the home. Others say that Violet Whaley, who committed suicide on the property in 1855, haunts the building. In 2020, the Whaley House is replacing physical haunts with virtual ones with a series of online tours and Q&As with historians.
Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County
The family theme park Gilroy Gardens hosts Halloween activities all month long. One highlight is Halloween Camp Night, a rare opportunity for visitors to stay overnight in the park; however, Gilroy Gardens will remain closed for the 2020 season.
Even though tour guides maintain that it's not haunted, Winchester Mystery House gives into its spooky reputation and hosts a Halloween party anyway. Its immersive UNHINGED event—a suspenseful walk-through of the house—runs from late September through early November. For a less-frightening visit, try the trick-or-treat trail or attend a pumpkin-inspired afternoon tea. In 2020, UNHINGED has been replaced by a self-guided Hallowe'en Flashlight Tour through the dark halls of the mansion. Tickets are limited, so book in advance.
Roaring Camp Railroad in the Santa Cruz Mountains runs a "Thomas the Tank Engine"-inspired, 20-minute train ride featuring Percy the Small Engine, but in 2020, it has been canceled. Halloween Haunt, the festivity put on by California's Great America in Santa Clara, has also been canceled.
Calico is called a "ghost town" mostly because it's been abandoned—not so much for its spooks and haunts—but that doesn't deter the masses from celebrating Halloween here. This town in San Bernardino County, about an hour east of Los Angeles, puts on group pumpkin carving, carnival games, nightly ghost hunts, and adrenaline-pumping haunted houses each October. To up the fear factor, you can even make an overnight camping reservation. While Calico Ghost Town is open on a limited scale, all Halloween programming has been canceled in 2020.
You have to be a member of the Wine Club to get into Castello di Amorosa, but rest assured, the annual Halloween Pagan Ball is worth the price. Held in an Italian-style castle boasting an atmosphere closer to Venice's Carnevale than anything else you'd find on this side of the ocean, this extravagant party is a combination of good wine, scrumptious bites, and a dungeon full of horrors. In 2020, it's been canceled.
In 1864, Buena Vista Winery hosted the first masquerade ball in California’s history to celebrate that year’s magnificent harvest. It's still celebrating annually with the Buena Vista Winery Masquerade Ball, which will take place online in 2020. The virtual ball, October 31 from 6 to 7 p.m., will be a Zoom dance party featuring DJ Jeff.
The St. Helena Historical Society sponsors an annual Spirits of St. Helena Cemetery Tour featuring storytelling and actors from St. Helena High School's drama club dressed in period costume. However, there will be no tours in 2020.
A remote, abandoned mining town located on the California-Nevada border, Bodie is for the self-guided Halloween adventure. The town, now a State Historic Park, doesn't put on any festive events for the holiday because it doesn't have to; it's spooky enough on its own. One of the most famous ghost towns in the country, Bodie is riddled with legends surrounding murder, haunts, and curses. Anyone who takes something from the town is said to bring it back immediately because of the bad luck it brought.
Bodie is open for exploration year-round, but it becomes especially touristy in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Be sure to read the safety requirements from California's Department of Parks and Recreation before visiting.