If you're looking to celebrate Halloween in a big way — or brave some eerie attractions in the off-season — California's cities and towns have lots to offer. Year-round, you can explore the state's haunted houses and hotels, try a ghost tour, take a cemetery tour or visit a genuine ghost town. In the fall, make time to check out the state's many festivals and events—including a jack o'lantern fest with some 5,000 hand-carved, glowing pumpkins.
The theme parks in the entertainment capital go all out for Halloween.
Disneyland gets all dressed up with Halloween decor, and the Haunted Mansion begins its run as the "The Nightmare Before Christmas," which will last until the end of the year. Also at Disneyland, everyone's favorite cartoon mouse hosts Mickey's Halloween Party.
For a truly creepy, screaming good time, 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).
After dark, Knotts Berry Farm becomes Knotts Scary Farm. Once a somewhat mild Halloween diversion for families, this festival now includes 10 haunted mazes, five "scare zones" with wandering zombies and creepy clowns, and two specialty shows.
If you'd rather party than scream yourself silly, the West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnaval is sometimes billed as the "World's Largest Halloween Street Party." Some 500,000 people flood Santa Monica Boulevard in costume; live music and DJs play on multiple stages throughout the night, and nearby bars offer up drink specials.
For a legitimate scare, go aboard one of California's most authentic haunted attractions. The Queen Mary in Long Beach becomes the Dark Harbor, a frighteningly good time with six mazes, a Happy Haunting Hour, rides, nightly shows, and if that wasn't enough to get you screaming, a 4-D Panic Experience.
For tamer fun, you can enjoy the holiday along the harbor side of Newport Beach's Balboa Island, where residents decorate their homes —it's a quiet way to enjoy a bit of the season.
If you like your Halloween fun with a lot of fake blood and gore, try the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. For 2016 the story centers around the "Secret Society of Samhain," bringing riders through a suspenseful initiation—and, for the first time, requiring riders to get off of the truck and explore some of this haunted world by foot.
At the Los Angeles Zoo, you and the kids can enjoy some daytime Halloween fun during the Boo at the LA Zoo event. Every day in October, the zoo hosts themed activities, such as "creepy caves" (home to snakes and reptiles), Halloween dance parties, and pumpkin carving demonstrations. It’s a fun, non-scary way to celebrate the holiday.
Delusion (The Haunted Play) returns to Los Angeles in 2018. Delusion is an interactive horror play, usually staged in an old house that fits the theme. Audience members are a part of the experience, as they wander around the set, interact with actors and watch the story unfold. The first run sells out quickly, but an extension is always possible.
Escape (The Pyscho Circus) in San Bernardino is a two-day electronica festival held the weekend before Halloween. Performers on four stages play house and techno music, while haunted mazes and eerie installations add to the theme.
Goings-on planned in San Diego include a Halloween Monster Bash in the Gaslamp, when 20 DJs play across eight square blocks of the city for a massive dance party. Bonus: The winner of the annual costume party earns a cash prize.
Haunted Trail at Balboa Park turns the iconic green space into a creepy, outdoor haunted house. For 2018, expect scenes from Stranger Things and The Purge to come to life
For thrills any time of year, the Whaley House is reputed to be one of the most haunted in the country. Several theories exist: Some say the house is haunted by Yankee Jim Robinson, who owner Thomas Whaley watched hang to death on the premises before he built the home. Others say that Violet Whaley, who committed suicide on-property in 1855, haunts the building.
Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County
Gilroy Gardens offers month-long seasonal themes and a Halloween Camp Night, which allows families to camp overnight in the park.
Even though tour guides make a point to tell you it's not haunted, Winchester Mystery House offers special Fright Night evening tours in October and some extra seasonal activities, too.
In the Santa Cruz Mountains, Roaring Camp Railroad runs a Thomas the Tank Engine and Percy Halloween Party.
California's Great America in Santa Clara hosts the Halloween Haunt.
The Point Sur Lighthouse between Big Sur and Carmel offers a special Halloween Ghost Tour the two weekends before Halloween. Tour the lighthouse with a paranormal investigator, who will discuss the results of her studies, then enjoy dessert and warm drinks post-tour. The tour is limited to 40 people, on a first-come, first served basis.
Calico Ghost Town
In Calico Ghost Town east of LA, you can carve pumpkins, play carnival games or explore nine haunted houses during the annual Halloween event. For an even creepier experience in the abandoned town, make an overnight camping reservation.
Half Moon Bay
To kick the season off, Half Moon Bay's Pumpkin Festival (held in mid-October) includes a biggest pumpkin contest as well as other fall-themed activities. Sip on Half Moon Bay's Pumpkin Harvest Ale, marvel at the world's largest pumpkin sculpture (a 5-ton mosaic), and feast on locally harvested Brussels sprouts and seafood.
You'll have to join the Wine Club at Castello di Amorosa to get in, but the annual Halloween Pagan Ball is worth the price. Held in an Italian castle with an atmosphere closer to Venice's Carnevale than anything we've seen this side of the ocean, a dungeon full of horrors, good wine, and food, we think it's more fun than all those Southern California theme park events put together.
The St. Helena Historical Society sponsors an annual "Spirits of St. Helena" Cemetery Tour, which is more fun than creepy, with characters dressed in period costume.