No matter how you want to celebrate Halloween in California, you'll find something that's just right for your style. You can spend your time running from chainsaw-wielding bad guys and side-stepping piles of fake blood and guts. Or you can go trick-or-treating in a less terror-filled environment.
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. The Disneyland Resort also hosts an after-hours celebration that includes trick-or-treating and seasonal entertainment. The party location change between the two parks, but is always fun. You can get this year's details in the Disneyland Halloween Party guide.
For a genuinely 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 in Anaheim becomes Knotts Scary Farm. Once a somewhat mild Halloween diversion for families, this festival now includes ten haunted mazes, five "scare zones" with wandering zombies and creepy clowns, and two specialty shows.
If you are in San Diego in October, you can celebrate Halloween Sea World San Diego. You can wear a costume to the party and go trick-or-treating. Or enjoy silly spooky shows, boogie on their interactive dance floor and get your photo taken with some wacky characters.
If you'd rather party than scream yourself silly, the West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnaval is sometimes called 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. It's a frighteningly good time with mazes, nightly shows, and plenty more to get you screaming.
For tamer fun, you can enjoy the holiday along the harbor side of Newport Beach's Balboa Island. That's where residents go over the top to decorate their homes for the season — 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. You can opt to just through this attraction, or get off of the truck and explore some of this haunted world by foot.
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 the WCKD Village in the Gaslamp. DJs play across eight square blocks of the city for a massive dance party. And there's a 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 2019, expect scenes from "Stranger Things" and "US" to come to life
The longest-running haunted house in San Diego is called Disturbance. It includes the Haunted Hotel, which regularly makes the lists of top haunted houses nationwide, along with two other experiences designed to make you scream yourself silly.
You'll have to go north of San Diego to Del Mar to experience the area's most massive haunted experience, Scream Zone. Their Triple Haunt favorites include the House of Horror, the dizzying Chamber, and the Haunted Hayride.
For thrills any time of year, San Diego's 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 hosts a Halloween party anyway. Their immersive, scary, Halloween-themed event called UNHINGED runs from late September through early November. For a less-frightening visit, try their trick-or-treat trail or go for their afternoon pumpkin and peppermints afternoon tea.
Roaring Camp Railroad in the Santa Cruz Mountains, runs a Thomas and Percy Halloween Party, featuring everyone's favorite Tank Engine
California's Great America in Santa Clara hosts the Halloween Haunt.
The Point Sur Lighthouse between Big Sur and Carmel offers a 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
You can visit Calico Ghost Town east of LA any time. To tell the truth, it's called a "ghost" town because it was abandoned and not so much for its spooks and haunts.
But that doesn't stop them from celebrating. During their annual Halloween event, you can carve pumpkins, play carnival games or explore nine haunted houses.
For an even creepier experience in the abandoned town, make an overnight camping reservation. Get more information about this year's events.
Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival
Half Moon Bay's Pumpkin Festival isn't exactly a Halloween party, but you can't celebrate Halloween without a pumpkin.
The festival kicks the Halloween season off in mid-October and 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.
At Castello di Amorosa you'll have to join the Wine Club to get in, but the annual Halloween Pagan Ball is worth the price. Held in an Italian-style castle with an atmosphere closer to Venice's Carnevale than anything you might find this side of the ocean. A dungeon full of horrors, good wine, and food all make it more fun than those Southern California theme park events put together.
In 1864, Buena Vista Winery hosted the first masquerade ball in California’s history, to celebrate that year’s magnificent harvest. They are still celebrating every year with the Buena Vista Winery Masquerade Ball.
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.
More Spooky Places to Visit in California
If you're looking for a different way to celebrate Halloween or if you want to brave some eerie attractions in the off-season, look no further. California's cities and towns have lots to offer.