If the end of summer has you craving everything related to autumn—from pumpkin-spiced drinks to horror movies—then head to a California theme park or zoo. These Golden State attractions love to start celebrating Halloween early—some beginning around the first week of September and continuing through October 31, or even a few days after.
Early fall is a great time to visit theme parks and zoos in California anyway, as the back-to-school season often means shorter wait times and more enticing deals. In San Diego, for instance, October brings Kids Free San Diego, when kids 11 and under get in free at most major attractions with a paying adult.
Peruse these terrifying haunts, delightfully tame parties, or candy-themed celebrations:
Sept. 2–Oct. 31: Halloween Time 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 has its own holiday-themed rides—such as Guardians of the Galaxy: Monsters After Dark—and a Plaza de la Familia with Coco-inspired decor and entertainment in honor of Día de los Muertos (through Nov. 2).
California Adventure also offers the separate-ticket Oogie Boogie Bash on select nights from Sept. 6–Oct. 31. Collect goodies on the Treat Trail, see the Frightfully Fun Parade, and check out famous Disney villains lurking along the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. Just outside the parks in the Downtown Disney District, you can play a scavenger hunt–style game, Pluto’s Pumpkin Pursuit, from Sept. 9 to Oct. 31.
Make sure to check out the resort’s various offers before you go: California residents can get a deal on three-day Hopper tickets, good through Sept. 15, and anyone can get up to 25 percent off Disneyland hotels through Sept. 29.
Sept. 8–Oct. 31: Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles
This year’s separate-ticket scarefest at the Los Angeles theme park features new walk-through experiences inspired by Hollywood horror films, including the original Halloween movie, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and a showdown among Dracula, Wolf Man, and The Mummy. This year’s event includes a haunted house based on The Weeknd’s After Hours album and a new Terror Tram that visits the sets of Jordan Peele’s Us and Nope. Halloween Horror Nights is meant for ages 13 and up.
For little-kid friendly fun in Los Angeles, head to the Boo at the L.A. Zoo from Oct. 1–31, with daily activities including special shows, education stations, and pumpkin feedings for the zoo residents.
Sept. 10–Oct. 31: Six Flags’ Fright Fest, Valencia and Vallejo
The two Six Flags theme parks in California offer an array of haunted mazes and scare zones, with zombies roaming after dark. At Magic Mountain, in L.A. County’s Santa Clarita area, the fun begins Sept. 10, while the party at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo kicks off on Sept. 24.
Sept. 16–Oct. 30: SeaWorld Spooktacular and Howl-O-Scream, San Diego
San Diego’s ocean-themed park offers two different Halloween experiences. During the day, little kids will love the trick-or-treat-friendly SeaWorld Spooktacular (select days from Sept. 17–Oct. 31), with a hay maze, mermaid meet-and-greets, and candy aplenty. After dark, teens and grown-ups can get their nerves frazzled at Howl-O-Scream (select days from Sept. 16–Oct. 31), with haunted houses, scare zones, and darkened coasters—as well as themed adult beverages, such as the Murder She Float.
Sept. 17–Oct. 30: Brick or Treat at LEGOLAND, Carlsbad
Come on Saturdays during September and October for this separate-ticket event at the Carlsbad park. The six-hour experience includes character meet-and-greets; a monster dance party; a new 4-D movie called The Great Monster Chase; and a special “disco” version of The Dragon rollercoaster. Runs on Saturdays plus Sunday, Oct. 30.
Sept. 17–Oct. 30: The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular at Sesame Place San Diego, Chula Vista
The Sesame Street–themed park in Chula Vista throws a Halloween party every weekend through the end of October, with the integer-loving Count playing host. Come in costume for trick-or-treating, a Halloween Parade, and a Spot-the-Ghost scavenger hunt. Don’t miss the dance parties, specials shows, and photo ops with the Count and other Sesame Streetcharacters donning their own costumes.
Sept. 22–Oct. 31: Knott’s Scary Farm, Buena Park
During the Halloween season Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park transforms into Knott's Scary Farm, one of the largest haunts on the West Coast. More than 1,000 live-action ghosts and ghouls are waiting behind every corner at the dozen-plus mazes, fright zones, and thrill rides. Mazes and attractions for 2022 have names like Bloodline 1842 and Carnaval du Grotesque. (Intended for ages 13 and up. Also, the park’s current policy states that visitors ages 17 years or younger must be accompanied by a chaperone who’s at least 21.)
Sept. 23–Oct. 30: Tricks and Treats at California’s Great America, Santa Clara
In between the rides at this Santa Clara County theme park, enjoy two distinct Halloween celebrations: the “Tricks” area (a zombie cover band, silent disco, and worms-in-dirt cupcakes) or the “Treats” area, with a candy-corn farm, a sweets-conjuring witch, and lots of trick or treating. Everyone can enjoy creative dishes such as seafood-themed Fritters from the Black Lagoon. Buy your tickets online for the best rates.
Oct. 1–31: HalGLOWeen at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego
The world-famous zoo stays open on select nights until 9 p.m. for partiers to enjoy music, bubbles, acrobats, and more—all aglow under spooky black lights. Runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during October.
Oct. 1–31: Halloween at Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy
The little kid–friendly theme park in Gilroy throws a party every weekend evening in October with the theme “Boo Alley,” based on the musical show The Great Big Boo. See characters from the show, such as Vinnie the Vampire and Wendella the Witch, and enjoy light displays, trick-or-treating, and special food and drink.
Oct. 21–30: Boo at the Zoo at the Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara
Come in costume to Santa Barbara’s zoo on weekend evenings (Friday through Sunday) for trick or treating, a Zoo Train ride, mad scientist experiments, and encounters with creepy-crawly zoo residents.
Oct. 22–31: Boo at the Zoo at the Oakland Zoo, Oakland
Explore Oakland’s zoo on a seasonal scavenger hunt and collect as your prize a limited-release animal trading card and an Oakland-made OCHO candy bar. Come dressed for the holiday—just no inflatable costumes, which reportedly scare the animals—and enter the costume contest by tagging the Oakland Zoo on social media. Contest winners will receive tickets to Glowfari, the zoo’s holiday nighttime event that runs Nov. 11–Jan. 29.
Oct. 29–30: Boo at the Zoo at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens, San Francisco
Celebrate the season at the San Francisco zoo during the last weekend of the month with a costume contest, treat giveaways, and a view of the resident animals enjoying their own Halloween goodies. While you’re there, enjoy the ZootoberFest celebration with a giant hay maze and German-inspired food, beer, and entertainment. Advance reservations are required when visiting the zoo on weekends.
Oct. 29–30: Howl-O-Ween at the Living Desert, Palm Desert
Kids can trick-or-treat among the creatures—including giraffes, kit foxes, and badgers—during the day at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in the Greater Palm Springs area. The 100-acre zoo will also feature a magician and special spotlights on different animals.
Select nights through Oct. 31: Unhinged at Winchester Mystery House, San Jose
October is prime time for this bizarre, 160-room mansion in San Jose, which has a creepy origin story: it was built by an eccentric heiress who was trying to ward off ghosts. “Unhinged: Nightshade’s Curse” turns the already-eerie house into a theme-park-style haunted house, featuring characters such as Headless Helena and the Swamp Witch. Catch your breath outside with diversions including a speakeasy-style bar and midway games.