California Haunted Houses and Halloween Happiness

Discover ghosts, goblins and Halloween costumes along with ghoulishly fun frights at California haunted houses, theme parks and other Halloween venues. Since the fright industry has grown so quickly, both mild and terrifying fun are available throughout the fall. However, this is California. The Covid-19 terror still rages, so expect to show your proof of vaccination or recent negative Covid test before entering most of these attractions.

Snoopy and family
Family in costume greets Snoopy at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Spooky Farm Halloween event. Photo c.

We’ve found some great events (many of them free) in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Vallejo, Anaheim, Buena Park, Los Angeles, Long Beach and Hollywood and categorized them based on “freak out” level. The younger kids will probably enjoy our lowest fear factor while more ambitious teens will probably go for the highest fear features!

San Francisco & Bay Area Halloween Fun for Teens

San Francisco can be terrifying! Teens especially should appreciate the special evening cruise tours of Alcatraz Thursday to Monday nights. They leave from Pier 33 and cost more than daylight tours – just imagine how you’d feel if the boat pulled away and left you visiting this legendary prison after dark. If you are interested in day-tours, they offer a Family Ticket Special for two adults and two children ages 2-11 that’s worthwhile. Trust us; Alcatraz is one of those bucket list items and you won’t be disappointed.

Need a discount California hotel?

Every weekend through October, many California theme parks drag out the cobwebs and ketchup to create truly terrifying Halloween environments. For example, at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Fright Fest is back select nights from September 25-October 31. It is different yet scarier than ever before. Kids can join the daylight Harbor’s Halloween Bash at the dolphin pool or get treats at the Mikayla Oz Magic Show with Looney Toons characters. Hundreds of zombies are to be released throughout the park by day, but they’re kid-friendly and the scariest score here is that season ticket holders get to enter all the mayhem free.

The Haunted House Add-on is the Six Flags’ adult-rated version (as if adults were less afraid than kids were?) These special haunts are all just for fun, but if you’re afraid of bugs, ghosts or zombies (real or fake), don’t go!

Great Adventure Style California Haunted Houses

If you’re closer to Santa Clara, every Friday through Sunday of October until midnight, California’s Great America theme park runs their Halloween Haunt. The park is elaborately decorated with mazes, themed scare zones, live stage shows, and a gruesome themed attraction — and the park’s collection of thrill rides. Returning classics include Killer Clown Town, Tooth Fairy and Backwoods!

We love this park with all ages; there is the Great Pumpkin Fest for under-12s where you’ll find afternoon crafts activities, sweet Peanuts themed rides and shaded benches for the grandparents who accompany them to the gentle side of Halloween. Wait until dusk for Gold Striker, one of the coolest wooden coasters on the planet. It sounds like rattling skeleton bones each Halloween. This is a PG-13 event.

Peculiar Family Freak Out: Haunted Winchester House in San Jose

Winchester Mystery House
Free Trick-or-Treating at the Winchester Mystery House at Halloween.

For a century, the castle-like Winchester Mystery House on a quiet residential street in San Jose has mystified neighbors and thrilled fans of eccentric ‘folly’ homes. Built by Sarah Pardee Winchester, heiress to the rifle-maker fortune, it really shines over Halloween, when special events and a lawn full of trick or treaters add to the fun.

The immersively horrible “All Hallows Eve” tours run certain nights from mid-September to Halloween. All Hallows’ Eve features the Lost In The House Tour, an indoor theatrical paranormal investigative adventure and the family-friendly Jack O’ Lantern Trail through the Victorian gardens. (That toddler-friendly Jack O’ Lantern Trail can be bought separately too.) Winchester Mystery House, best seen with school age and older kids, is fascinating any time of year.

SLO Frights in San Luis Obispo

Yes! Go zombie hunting and axe throwing at Gladiator Paintball Park this year. The popular astroturf paintball space undergoes some wild transformation during October. Hunt for gruesome zombies, snack and sip hot cocoa and enjoy a sit-in outdoor movie themed to the horrible holiday. If you haven’t slain enough zombies, try your swing at one of four outdoor axe throwing lanes.

Not your speed? Let the teens join in on the mayhem while you try some wine tasting at local vineyards.

Goodbye Freaky Queen Mary, Hello Gentle Long Beach Aquarium

Shipwreck fans used to be able to board the classic Queen Mary ship museum for a night of frightful fun in The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor. It was the classic California haunted house at sea. Sadly, the event has been cancelled again for 2021.

The good news? Families with brave souls under 12-years will have a chance to try Scarium of the Pacific. This Halloween themed deep sea haunt takes place in nearby Long Beach at Aquarium of the Pacific for two days around Halloween weekend. For the past 22 years, families have enjoyed a children’s costume contest, creepy coloring contest, magic shows, underwater pumpkin carving, spooky storytelling, kooky crafts, and eerie animals in the Great Hall.

Extreme Low to Xtreme High (Maybe Explosive) Freak Outs at Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park

Halloween ghouls
Trick or Treat Maze at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Scary Farm Halloween event. Photo c.

The “Knott’s Spooky Farm” for ages 3-11 at Knott’s Berry Farm features adorable Camp Spooky. Little ones love the trick-or-treating, original shows, pumpkin decorating and the brand-new Calico Carnival Costume Cavalcade. Hop aboard the Grand Sierra Railroad to experience a one-of-a-kind adventure as riders travel with favorite Peanuts characters and spot 2D and 3D Halloween themed characters and effects along the trail. There’s even a seasonal “The Great Pumpkin Palooza” show at the Camp Snoopy Theatre. Trust us; if you’re only 36″ tall, you’re going to get a little kick out of this.

Then there’s Knott’s Scary Farm designed to terrify any age group with Southern California’s largest event, packed with hundreds of costumed and active participants, often members of the living dead. The special Halloween Haunt ticketed event for ages 13+ is open select nights between mid-September and Halloween. Even the rollercoasters and thrill rides increase their scare factor. Word to the wise: Watch out for the twisted tooth fairy stealing more than just teeth. Tickets start at $53 with Boo-fet food and Firght & Fast Lane add-on passes available.

By the way, the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel will lure you with their “Stay and Scare” packages that include overnight lodging, a commemorative t-shirt and more. Other hotels within a few miles radius of Knott’s Berry Farm are offering larger family suites, free breakfast and shuttles to lull you into relaxing. 

Gentle Freak Out at Disneyland in Anaheim

Mickey and Minnie Mouse celebrate Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort.
Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort will bring frightfully fun experiences to guests from Sep. 3 through Oct. 31, 2021; photo c. Disneyland Resort.

Of course, Disney’s two-park kingdom in Anaheim transforms with seasonal overlays on rides and attractions, Halloween-themed décor plus encounters with dastardly Disney villains.

The Disneyland Resort rocks with tons of fun from early September to Halloween. Magically made-over attractions, shows and rides are included in admission. Book ahead, however, for the popular, separate-ticket event, Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party showing over 25 select nights.

We love that this year, socially distanced meet n’greets are back. Nightly, look for the dreadfully delightful “Halloween Screams,” a supernatural projection and special effects show. Additionally, both parks feature seasonal Latin experiences inspired by the spirit of Día de los Muertos with entertainment from Disney and Pixar’s “Coco.”

High Freak Out Factor: Universal’s Halloween Horror in Hollywood, LA, California Haunted Houses and More

You don’t need to have seen Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” to know that Hollywood’s always a nightmare. Universal Hollywood hosts a bunch of Halloween Horror Nights from early September to Halloween night. Expect an awesomely high freak out factor, a variety of frightful experiences in six mazes, plus four scare zones and live entertainment. Watch out for some of the most infamous characters who are on the lookout for unsuspecting visitors.

Make your way through spooky California haunted houses and mazes, such as “The Exorcist.” Catch classic horror icons such as Freddy Kruger and Leatherface. Don’t miss the Backlot Tour via Terror Tram; it’s always got hidden frights so watch out on October nights.

Forget the general admission rates and go for the killer deals and discounts promoted on the website. Front-of-the-line passes are also available; rates will make you heart-sick. (For example, $329 gets you unlimited entries every night of the scare season.) No kid’s tickets are sold, since Universal doesn’t recommend this event for anyone under 13. Remember: No costumes or masks are allowed. here’s an HHN blog with more details.

Freaky All Over:  Annual West Hollywood Carnaval Cancelled

Zombie costume
Zombie gets into the act at the West Hollywood Halloween parade.

Nearly half a million revelers would have descended on Santa Monica Blvd. between Doheny Drive and La Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood for this year’s West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval. That was before the Covid-19 pandemic. For the second year, the famous parade that proclaimed itself the world’s largest Halloween street festival has been cancelled.

Look for smaller California haunted houses and more local ways to celebrate this year in Los Angeles. Boo at the Zoo at the Los Angeles Zoo is a delight for younger children, especially the extinct animal graveyard. Special events take place daily in October. The last two weekends of the month there is trick-or-treating, too.

Or, take your brood to Universal Studios Hollywood for Halloween Horror Nights or south to Disney and Knott’s Berry Farm for holiday fun. Or flee the city.

Find more Halloween fun at haunted houses for kids and spooky events around the country. 

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