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Halloween 2021: Happenings Around California

Scare zones, pumpkin festivals, and spooky parties have started around the Golden State

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Posted a month agoby Katrina Hunt

Whether you like your Halloween fun dipped in candy or surrounded by zombies, the holiday is poised to make a comeback in 2021. Across California, theme parks have brought back their seasonal offerings, while plenty of festivals, attractions, and spooky tours are back on too. And don’t worry about making it on the 31st—many of the celebrations stretch across both September and October.

Of course, it’s important to check the event/attraction’s website for any special protocols. Face coverings are still mandatory in some situations—and this time of year, a colorful costume is always welcome too. Here are 20-plus Halloween events worth planning a trip around:

Now through Oct. 31: Halloween Time and the Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland Resort, Anaheim

Both Anaheim parks kick off the season in a big way: Disneyland Park has the Main Street Pumpkin Festival, a blinged-out Haunted Mansion, and special fireworks. Disney California Adventure Park, meanwhile, has its own holiday-themed rides, such as Monsters After Dark at Guardians of the Galaxy and Mater's Graveyard JamBOOree. The Oogie Boogie Bash is already underway: You can collect goodies on the Treat Trail, see the Frightfully Fun Parade, and check out the villains lurking along the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, like Maleficent, Scar, and Captain Hook.

Now through Oct 31: San Francisco Ghost Tours

Walking tour operator Wild SF invites you to explore real scare zones—haunted sites around San Francisco associated with unexplained deaths, murders, cult leaders, even the Black Plague, all around the otherwise friendly City by the Bay. The operator boasts that this is not “just a ghost tour,” and that they’ve had guests experience strange sensations and presences.

Now through Oct. 31: Haunted Pathway, Nevada City

Take a self-guided Halloween walk underneath 130-foot towering pines at the Inn Town Campground. Stay overnight, too—the campground in this historic Gold Country town holds fireside chats this time of year, along with guided hikes to see autumn colors.

Sept. 9–Oct. 31: Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles theme park keeps finding new ways to freak out its fans during its annual evening scarefest of walk-through experiences inspired by Hollywood horror greats. This year’s lineup, under the theme of “Never Go Alone,” includes experiences inspired by The Exorcist, The Bride of Frankenstein and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. This year’s event also includes some Halloween-friendly rides (such as Revenge of the Mummy—The Ride), the Terror Tram, and upgrade options such as an RIP Tour.

Sept. 10–Oct. 31: All Hallow’s Eve at Winchester Mystery House, San Jose

The 160-room San Jose mansion built by an eccentric heiress already has plenty of weird vibes, but the spookiness always increases this time of year. Explore the mansion’s labyrinth of hallways looking for clues on the Lost in the House Tour, a “theatrical paranormal investigative adventure” meant for ages 13 and up. Or just stay outside for the family-friendly Jack O’ Lantern Trail through the Victorian gardens, which also includes the Lost in the House Light Show, projected against the house’s exterior.

Sept. 11– Oct. 31: Fright Fest, Valencia and Vallejo

The two Six Flags theme parks in California offer an array of haunted mazes, scare zones, and zombies who start roaming after dark. At Magic Mountain, in L.A. County’s Santa Clarita area, the fun begins Sept. 11. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, in Vallejo, kicks things off Sept. 25.

Sept. 16–Oct. 31: Knott’s Scary Farm, Buena Park

Most of the year, it’s all pie and Peanuts characters at this Buena Park theme park. But on select nights during Halloween season, Knott’s Berry Farm takes its creepiness mandate quite seriously, with more than 1,000 “horrifying creatures” waiting behind corners and amidst the fog at the dozen-plus mazes, fright zones, and thrill rides. Save by buying your tickets online ahead of time and consider upgrading to a line-skipping Fright & Fast Lane pass.

Sept. 17–Oct. 31: Howl O’ Scream and SeaWorld Spooktacular, San Diego

San Diego’s ocean-themed park debuts Howl O’ Scream, an event for teens and grown-ups with haunted houses, a Vampire Circus Show, and lots of zombies. The evening event also includes darkened coasters and themed cocktails in designated areas, such as the ElectroShock and the Bloodiest Mary. During the day, little kids will love the trick-or-treat-friendly SeaWorld Spooktacular (select days from Sept. 18–Oct. 31), where the scariest creature lurking will be The Count from Sesame Street.

Sept. 24–Oct. 31 Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America, Santa Clara

In between the rides at this Santa Clara County theme park, see shows and navigate creepy mazes with names like Roadkill Roadhouse and Tooth Fairy. Then, dance off the scaries at the Dia de Los Muertos Party. Buy your tickets online for the best rates.

Select Nights through Oct. 31: Haunted Houses, Modesto

The Central Valley town of Modesto has two big ways to terrify you this time of year. Start at Higbee Horror Haunt with its live actors lurking behind corners, with themes such as The Doll Maker and Ahhhhhh! Zombies!. Nearby, the Ranch of Horror has free movie screenings as well as several scare zones at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, including Bloody Lullaby, Rancher’s Revenge, and the Circus of Horror Haunted Hayride.

Oct. 1–31: San Diego Zoo HalGLOWeen

Party with the zoo creatures at this family-friendly evening experience with live music, performances, and interactive games and costume fun—all hosted at the Balboa Park property by the Zoo’s zany Dr. Zoolittle. At the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Park in Escondido, the Autumn Festival will feature bluegrass music, a focus on autumn plant life, and treats such as apple pie and pumpkin-flavored beer (select weekend nights from Oct. 16–31). Keeping with the spirit of October’s Kids Free San Diego, kids under 11 get in gratis at both events.

Oct. 1–30: Halloween at Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy

The little-kid-friendly theme park in Gilroy throws a party every weekend in October (Fridays–Sundays), with the not-too-scary theme of “Boo Alley.” Bring the kids in costumes for trick-or-treating, wandering creatures, and a live show.

Oct. 1–Oct. 31: Ventura County Fear Grounds, Ventura

Scream your way through the three open-air haunts—dubbed The Fright Train, The Terror Trail, and The Cage—at this scare zone at Ventura County’s fairgrounds. Afterward, collect yourself at the event’s Dead End region, with food and drink and an ocean view.

Oct. 2–31: Pumpkin Patch Express, West Sacramento

Take this seasonal ride on Yolo County’s River Fox Train. The weekend excursion on a vintage train lasts about two hours and includes time at a private park, your own pumpkin, trick-or-treating, and more. Kids ages 3–12 get a discounted rate and infants (2 and under) ride for just $10.

Oct. 2–30: Brick or Treat at LEGOLAND, Carlsbad

On Saturdays during October, LEGOLAND California invites kids to put on costumes and trick or treat around the Carlsbad park from 3–8 p.m. The experience includes character meet-and-greets, monster-building at Frankenbrick’s Lab, and a Midnight Monster Jam dance party. This year’s festivities include a digital Pop Badge Challenge, a scavenger hunt based on video clues around the park, and a not-too-scary LEGOLAND Scare Zone in the Adventure Club area that features ancient Egypt, the rainforest, and an ice cave.

Oct. 8–31: Boo at the Zoo, Oakland

Explore Oakland’s delightful zoo in a new way on this self-guided scavenger hunt to find all the trick-or-treating animals hidden throughout the grounds. Come dressed for the holiday and enter the costume contest by tagging the Oakland Zoo on social media.

Oct. 11–31: Carved at Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge

The Pasadena area may be famous for its rose-petal parade floats in January, but during autumn the area excels at carved pumpkins—as in 1,000 of them—along a one-mile walk in the park’s Camellia Forest. This year will also include the popular Pumpkin House, a hay maze, and giant sculptures created from sticks and other natural materials.

Oct. 21–24: Halloweekend at Homewood, North Lake Tahoe

The weeks before ski season bring their own kind of fun at North Lake Tahoe’s Homewood Mountain Resort: a trick-or-treat village, scary movie screenings, face painting, pumpkin decorating, and more. Be sure to take the spooky chairlift ride around dusk to enjoy haunted scenes along the mountainside.

Oct. 23–31: Sloth-oween, San Francisco

This year’s version of Boo at the Zoo at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens features a self-guided, sloth-themed “slow” stroll around the zoo—note the signs highlighting sloth facts—as well as a costume parade and an Octoberfest-themed food and beer garden. Don’t miss the sloth-themed haunted houses, like “House of Franken-sloth” and “Dracu-sloth Dungeon.”

Oct. 25–Nov. 2: Dia de Los Muertos, Los Angeles

The annual Day of the Dead remembrance for departed ancestors—rooted in Mayan, Pre-Colombian, and Aztec traditions—is celebrated on downtown’s historic Olvera Street. Come each evening for the processions, featuring blessings, dances, treats, and face-painting. Not far away, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery will do its own one-day festival on Oct. 30.

Oct. 30: Thriller Flash Mobs and Ghost Tours, Santa Barbara 

In this annual tradition, hundreds of fleet-footed zombies will perform the iconic “Thriller” dance at a variety of locations around Santa Barbara. Learn the moves ahead of time through Zoom or online videos, so that you can join either in person or from afar. To fill out the weekend, take a walking tour of spooky sites around town with Santa Barbara Ghost Tours, or practice a few more dance moves at the Fields of Funk costume party on Oct. 31 at scenic Elings Park.

Oct. 29– 31: Ghost Ship Experience, San Diego

Take a guided tour at the Maritime Museum of San Diego to hear about the unsolved mystery of the 282-ton brigantine named Mary Celeste. The famed “ghost ship” was abandoned in 1872 without any signs of fire or foul play, but theories abounded, from mutiny to conspiracy and alien abduction. Back in the day, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes) was actually called in to consult and he couldn’t solve it either.

Oct. 30–31: Scarium of the Pacific, Long Beach

This fun-meets-educational event at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach includes a children’s costume contest, magic shows, and spooky storytelling. Event is free with your admission.

Oct. 30– 31: Howl-O-Ween at the Living Desert, Palm Desert

Kids under 12 can trick or treat among the desert creatures and do a self-guided scavenger hunt at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in the Greater Palm Springs area. Pick up the schedule for Scales, Claws, and Teeth, Oh My! so you can see different animals enjoy a “special pumpkin enrichment experience” during the day.

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