The Best Ways to Celebrate Halloween in California

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, explore the state's haunted houses and hotels, try a ghost tourtake 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. 

  • 01 of 08

    Theme Parks

    Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland in California
    ••• Disneyland gets a spooky makeover during Mickey's Halloween Party. Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

    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. 

  • 02 of 08

    Los Angeles

    Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns
    ••• The Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns in Los Angeles features more than 5,000 hand-carved pumpkins. Courtesy of Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns

    The Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns (now at the LA Convention Center and Fairplex in Pomona) is arguably more impressive than most Christmas displays. Imagine more than 5,000 hand-carved, illuminated jack-o-lanterns glowing in the dark, formed into a menagerie of animals or assembled into a dragon that’s more than 50 feet long. In California, the Jack O’Lanterns will be on display at the LA Convention Center and Fairplex in Pomona (a change from their previous locations).

    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 tamer fun, we especially enjoy the way folks along the harbor side of Newport Beach's Balboa Island decorate their homes for the holiday—it's a quiet way to enjoy a...MORE 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 2016. 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 is already sold out, but an extension is possible.

    Escape (The Pyscho Circus) in San Bernardino is a two-day electronica festival held the weekend before Halloween. Four stages play house and techno, while haunted mazes and eerie installations add to the theme. 

  • 03 of 08

    San Diego

    The Whaley House in San Diego
    ••• The Whaley House is reportedly the most haunted home in America. Alik Griffin/CC/Flickr

    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 $5,000 in cash. 

    Haunted Trail at Balboa Park turns the iconic green space into a creepy, outdoor haunted house. For 2016, expect scenes from Stranger Things and Krampus 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. 

     

  • 04 of 08

    Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County

    The Winchester Mystery House
    ••• The Winchester Mystery House hosts special Halloween tours each year. Mike Shelby/CC/Flickr

    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.

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  • 05 of 08

    Big Sur

    Point Sur lighthouse in California
    ••• Take a ghost tour of the Point Sur lighthouse, complete with input from a paranormal investigator. Frank Kehren P H O T O G R A P H Y/Getty Images

    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. 

  • 06 of 08

    Calico Ghost Town

    Calico Ghost Town in California
    ••• Calico Ghost Town hosts a family-friendly Halloween party each year. Maik Blume/Getty Images

    In Calico Ghost Town east of LA, you can carve pumpkins, play carnival games or explore nine haunted houses during the annual Halloween event (October 23, 2016). For an even creepier experience in the abandoned town, make an overnight camping reservation. 

  • 07 of 08

    Half Moon Bay

    California Growers Compete For Largest Pumpkin Honors
    ••• Giant Pumpkins at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin festival. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

    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. 

  • 08 of 08

    Napa Valley

    Castello di Amorosa in the fall
    ••• The Castello di Amorosa winery's annual Halloween party feels like something out of Venice. Courtesy of Castello di Amorosa

    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.