Which flavor of Halloween do you prefer—the holiday that includes candy and carved pumpkins, or the kind that makes you want to jump out of your skin? California has a nice blend of both, thanks to a deep inventory of theme park offerings, local festivals, and some historic sites with legitimately creepy backstories. Here are some Halloween events worth planning a trip around—and happily, plenty of them last well beyond Oct. 31.
Oct. 11–27: San Diego Zoo HalGLOWeen
Party with creatures from all over the globe on select nights at this family-friendly after-dark experience (keeping with the spirit of October’s Kids Free San Diego, kids under 11 get in gratis). The world-famous zoo stays open until 9 p.m. for partiers to enjoy music, cupcakes, bubbles, acrobats, and more—all under a spooky black light.
Oct. 19–20: Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival
South of San Francisco, the town of Half Moon Bay is surrounded by pumpkin patches—and hence has become the self-proclaimed “World Pumpkin Capital.” This beloved festival includes enormous pumpkins, sculpted pumpkins, a Great Pumpkin Parade, pie-eating contests, along with seasonal craft beer, pumpkin-infused ales, and cocktails.
Oct. 19–31: Thriller Flash Mobs, Santa Barbara
Hundreds of fleet-footed zombies will perform the iconic “Thriller” dance at a variety of locations around Santa Barbara, including dates at the Boo at the Zoo at the Santa Barbara Zoo and at restaurant and former stagecoach stop Cold Spring Tavern. Learn the moves to be a part of the mob, or simply sit back and enjoy the show.
Oct. 23–27: Carved at Descanso Gardens, Pasadena
Pasadena may be famous for its rose-petal-based parade floats, but in January, the L.A. County town excels at carved pumpkins—as in 1,000 of them—along a one-mile walk in the park’s Camellia Forest. You can also watch demos to learn how to better carve your own masterpiece at home.
Oct. 26, 31: Howl-O-Ween, Palm Desert
Kid under 12 can trick or treat among the desert creatures at this family event at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in the Palm Springs area. Festivities also include pumpkin bowling, a monster maze, and some friendly Quidditch. Now that the desert park is enjoying its regular season, it’s also a good time to take one of the cool behind-the-scenes tours at this fascinating attraction.
Oct. 25: Pagan Ball, Calistoga
Masquerade in style at Castello di Amorosa’s annual gala. Step inside the winery (built to look like a medieval castle) for an evening of fortune tellers, zombies, bites, a cigar bar, and lots of wine tasting.
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 Nov. 2, with the monarch butterfly as this year’s mascot.
Through Oct. 26: Brick or Treat Party Nights, LEGOLAND California
On select nights, the LEGO-loving theme park in North San Diego County invites kids to put on costumes and trick or treat around the park, with character meet-and-greets, shows, and a dance party. Entrance to the events also includes admission to the SeaLife Aquarium, where you can “splash” (virtually) in the Sea at Night area, which simulates a bioluminescent tide.
Through 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.
Through Oct. 31: Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween Party, Disneyland Resort
This Halloween season event on select nights features a new World of Color show (called “Villainous!”), trick-or treat stations, a dance party based on Disney’s Descendants movies, and meet-and-greets with villains like Captain Hook and Maleficent.
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 the historic Gold Country town holds fireside chats this time of year, along with guided hikes to see autumn colors.
Oct. 31: West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval
If you’re past the age for candy-gathering, come to what claims to be the world's largest Halloween street party, on Santa Monica Boulevard between North Doheny Drive and La Cienega Boulevard. The campy, mostly-for-grown-ups event is free, with several stages for live music and entertainment.
Through Nov. 2: Queen Mary’s 10th Dark Harbor, Long Beach
Experience the dark side of this stately ship liner that’s permanently docked in Long Beach. Wander the six mazes and you may encounter “Scary Mary” or any of the 200 ghoulish characters lurking about. The event also includes nightly live entertainment, pop-up bars, and carnival rides.
Through Nov. 2: Halloween Haunt at California Great America, Santa Clara
The theme park in Silicon Valley offers a long menu of scare zones this year, from a Dia de Los Muertos zone to the Wax Museum Blackout and Madame Marie’s Massacre Manor.
Through Nov 2: Unhinged at Winchester Mystery House, San Jose
The 160-room mansion, which was built by an eccentric heiress who thought she was cursed, already has plenty of weird vibes. But the spooky scene turns up a notch with this new projection-mapping light show during select evenings. Its café will offer Halloween treats and cocktails, and the mansion will also host a Trick or Treat event on Oct. 26 in the estate gardens. Or, check out the estate’s ongoing axe-throwing attraction for ages 18 and up.
Through Nov. 3: Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Studios Hollywood
The L.A. County theme park keeps finding new ways to freak out its fans during its annual scarefest of walk-through experiences inspired by Hollywood horror greats. This year’s terrain includes experiences inspired by Stranger Things, Ghostbusters, Creepshow, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
Through Nov. 3: Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia
The theme park in L.A. County’s Santa Clarita area —along with the Fright Fest at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, east of San Francisco—offers an array of haunted mazes, scare zones, and zombies who start roaming after dark.
Through Nov. 8: San Francisco Ghost Tours
Walking tour operator Wild SF invites you to explore real scare zones—haunted sites 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 more than “just a ghost tour,” and that they’ve had guests experience strange sensations and presences.