Halloween may have originated from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain in Ireland, but in the 21st century, the United States celebrates it with more vigor than perhaps any other country in the world. Halloween in the U.S. comprises over-the-top costumes, homes dripping in skeletons and jack-o'-lanterns, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, street parties, and parades from Los Angeles to New York. Every city puts its own spin on the classics, though, of course.
In 2020, many events have been altered or canceled. Check the websites of organizers for updated information.
Creatures of the night flock to the "City That Never Sleeps" for nighttime Halloween revelries. The metropolis is known for putting on a legendary (and participatory) Village Halloween Parade—a Greenwich Village tradition since 1973—along Sixth Avenue. This procession is the largest Halloween parade in the world and the only night parade in New York City. Anyone in costume can join in with the estimated 50,000 marchers, or simply watch from the sidelines alongside 2 million spectators. In 2020, Spectrum News NY1 will provide a televised look back at past parades in lieu of a physical event. Tune in on October 31 at 7 p.m.
Additionally, New York City also puts on a dog parade featuring hundreds of costumed canines in Tompkins Square Park. It will take place virtually on October 24, 2020, from noon to 3 p.m.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine hosts an annual Procession of the Ghouls, a party featuring macabre puppets and silent films accompanied by the organ. Otherwise, Halloween-goers can seek out their own thrills at New York City's supposedly haunted bars and buildings, such as Merchant's House Museum, Ear Inn, and The Dakota of "Rosemary's Baby" fame.
Chicago, with its famous howling winds and occasionally orange-dyed water at the Daley Plaza fountain, provides a festive setting in which to celebrate Halloween. Horror film enthusiasts may want to tuck into the Music Box of Horrors 24-hour movie marathon in Southport (reimagined as a nostalgic drive-in in 2020) whereas families may rather marvel at the more than 1,000 artfully carved jack-o'-lanterns that occupy the Chicago Botanic Garden. Night of 1,000 Jack-o'-Lanterns will be held from October 14 to 18 and 21 to 25, 2020.
At dusk, a unique spectacle of creative floats, fanciful puppets, and characters march along State Street as part of the Arts in the Dark Halloween parade produced by LUMA8. In 2020, it will be an "upside-down" procession in which spectators drive through a stationed display of floats and characters.
The Lincoln Park Zoo puts on an annual Spooky Zoo Spectacular where kids can come dressed up to eat candy and learn about the animals. In 2020, the zoo is offering haunted history tours in lieu of the Spooky Zoo Spectacular. These virtual walkabouts—October 6 to 31 at 7 p.m.—"dig into the zoo’s cemetery roots and locations from throughout its allegedly haunted history," according to the zoo's website.
The country's entertainment capital is simply crawling with Halloween festivities, starting with the enormous West Hollywood Halloween Carnival. Every year, some 500,000 people flood the streets of WeHo—aka Boystown—in risqué costumes to drink and dance to DJ acts. It's one of the biggest Halloween celebrations in the U.S., occupying most of Santa Monica Boulevard between North Doheny Drive and La Cienega Boulevard. In 2020, however, it's been canceled.
For the younger set, Los Angeles' theme parks provide ample Halloween entertainment. Disneyland in Anaheim hosts its annual Oogie Boogie Bash hosted by the villainous bug bag from "The Nightmare Before Christmas" himself. The after-dark party features a parade, roaming characters in costume, a special World of Color edition, trick-or-treat trails, and more, but in 2020, it's canceled.
Similarly, Universal Studios Hollywood puts on its all-ages Halloween Horror Nights featuring "scare zones" inspired by hit shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Stranger Things." And Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park becomes Knott's Scary Farm, featuring haunted mazes, performances, and "more than 1,000 horrifying creatures." In 2020, both have been canceled.
To close out the holiday, Angelenos end with a Day of the Dead celebration drawing on the city's long-standing Mexican heritage. One of the best places to get into the Dia de los Muertos spirit is at the Olvera Street Mexican market, which celebrates for nine straight days. In 2020, the festivities will take place from October 25 through November 2.
Voodoo, above-ground cemeteries, and a penchant for eccentric costumes make New Orleans, Louisiana, the primo Deep South Halloween destination. The city has been nicknamed the "Cities of the Dead" for its famous, sometimes centuries-old cemeteries. You can tour these—with so-called voodoo queens and the like—any time of year, but Halloween makes them extra spooky.
Similar to its world-renowned Mardi Gras bash (but not quite as big) is the city's official Krewe of BOO! Halloween Parade. Originated by Blaine Kern Sr.—Mr. Mardi Gras himself—the procession features more than a dozen of his signature papier-maché, puppet-inspired floats, plus a slew of marching bands and dance "krewes." In 2020, the parade has been canceled.
For kids, there's the Audubon Zoo's annual Boo at the Zoo event comprising mazes, a haunted house, festive treats, and interactive activities involving the animals. It typically takes place at night, but in 2020, it will be a daytime event on Saturdays and Sundays from October 17 through 25.
Then, for adults, there's the mystical Endless Night Vampire Ball. This masquerade taking place annually at the House of Blues enforces a strictly on-theme dress code and features live bands until 3 a.m. (plus a group howl at midnight). In 2020, it's been canceled.
Popular theme parks and warm weather make Florida a worthy Halloween destination. Ybor City in Tampa hosts a Latin-themed Guavaween with food, live music, a costume contest, and screenings of old horror films, but in the euphoric kids' paradise of Orlando, the parties are even more abundant.
Walt Disney World plays host to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party featuring a parade of Disney villains, a special gathering at Cinderella Castle, roaming characters in costume, themed games, rides, shows, and more. This event typically starts as early as mid-August and runs through October, but in 2020, it's been canceled. The Orlando version of Universal's Halloween Horror Nights—similar to the one held in Los Angeles—has been canceled, too.
SeaWorld puts on an annual Halloween Spooktacular featuring trick-or-treating with an oceanic theme (think: mermaids and other underwater wonders). In 2020, the event will take place on Saturdays and Sundays through November 1, plus Friday, October 30. Likewise, LEGOLAND's Brick or Treat (your average trick-or-treat, but with exclusive shows and costumed LEGO characters) will take place every Saturday and Sunday in October this year.
Whereas U.S. theme parks manufacture artificial thrills, Charleston, South Carolina, is authentically scary, as it's home to a number of old plantations, Civil War-era cemeteries, and a culture rife with eerie folk tales. You'll even notice that nearly every porch ceiling along Rainbow Row is painted blue to ward off evil spirits, as legend goes.
Ghost hunting is a year-round pastime in this historic city, with paranormal-centered tours happening nightly. The Old City Jail, which once held Civil War prisoners, pirates, and other criminals between 1800 and 1940, hosts one of its own. Other popular ghost tours include that of the Magnolia Cemetery, the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, of the city's oldest pubs, and the Old Exchange's spooky Provost Dungeon.
Additionally, one of the most well-known plantations, Boone Hall, celebrates its ghostly reputation with Fright Nights, a three-part haunted house event featuring a hayride through the woods.