California Haunted Houses and Halloween Happiness

If ghosts, haunted houses, goblins, and Halloween costumes are on everyone’s mind, there’s now something ghoulishly fun for all fear tolerances including California haunted houses, theme parks, and other Halloween fun. Since the fright industry has grown so quickly, both mild and terrifying fun are available throughout the fall.

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 about $7 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 that’s so worthwhile; Alcatraz is one of those bucket list items and you won’t be disappointed.

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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 at 1001 Fairgrounds Drive in Vallejo, Fright Fest is back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from September 21-October 31. It is scarier than ever before. Kids can join the daylight Monster Party live show at Harbor Stage or get treats at the Twick or Tweat Twail with awaiting 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.

Fright by Night is the Six Flags’ adult-rated version (as if adults were less afraid than kids were?); Carnevil, Death Under the Big Top pairs a horrifying clown with a sword-swallower whose weapons are still surprisingly sharp, keeping passersby very aware of their smoky surroundings. These special haunts are all just for adult fun, but if you’re afraid of bugs, ghosts or zombies (real or fake), don’t go!

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. 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, which 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 free trick-or-treat trail for children takes place October 26 and 27. The more adult, immersively horrible “Unhinged” experience runs September to November 2. Winchester Mystery House, best seen with school age and older kids, is fascinating any time of year.

Medium Freaky: Queen Mary Dark Harbor, Long Beach, California

Shipwreck fans can board the classic Queen Mary this month for a night of frightful fun, as it becomes “The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor.”

Families with brave souls over 12-years will find five haunted mazes placed throughout the Queen Mary property, including inside the deep bowels of the “haunted” vessel. According to vessel historians, guests, employees and paranormal researchers have witnessed unexplained sounds, voices, apparitions and other phenomena while aboard ship. In addition to cavorting with actual ghosts, you can face 120 “living” ghosts and 20-foot-tall flames, and then enjoy food, drink and entertainment aboard the beautiful ship.

The Queen Mary Dark Harbor is on Friday and Saturday nights from September26-November 2, 2019.  Admission starts at $20, depending on schedule and includes unlimited entry to all haunted mazes, live bands and dance parties; guest cabins start around $140 a night midweek, but are usually sold out on Halloween week, months in advance. VIP spookparties for ages 21+ with a hidden bar and more are noted at Queen Mary site.

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” at Knott’s Berry Farm features Camp Spooky for the little ones plus a fun field packed with Knott’s famous cornfield mazes and California haunted houses. Rides are decked out, vendors echo the Halloween cheer and your kids’ favorite Peanuts characters are costumed for the occasion. There’s even a seasonal “The Monsters are Coming, Charlie Brown” 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 more than 1,000 costumed and active participants, often members of the living dead. The special Halloween Haunt ticketed event for ages 13+ is open Wednesday through Sunday nights between late September and November 1st. 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 $42 for the Dark Ride, DJ in Ghost Town, Fiestas de los Muertos and much more.

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

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

Fiendish fun await guests at both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park from September 6-October 31, as favorite rides and shows become child-loving delights. Don’t miss the ever-popular Mickey’s Halloween Party. Additionally, both parks feature seasonal Latin experiences inspired by the spirit of Día de los Muertos.

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 has a bunch of Halloween Horror Nights with an awesomely high freak out factor, a variety of frightful experiences in six mazes, plus four scare zones including “Corpz.” 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 all new “The Thing,” and catch classic horror icons such as Freddy Kruger and Leatherface. It opens in late September and the fuzzy sort of fun continues until the weekend after Halloween, for another two nights of After Party. Don’t miss the Backlot Tour via Terror Tram; it’s themed to “The Purge,” so watch out.

Forget the general admission rates and go for the Killer Deal Night special discounts promoted on the website. Front-of-the-line passes are also available; rates vary based on day of entry. 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 Halloween Costume Carnaval

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

Nearly half a million revelers descend on Santa Monica Blvd. between Doheny Drive and La Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood for West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval, proclaiming itself the world’s largest Halloween street festival. Look for California haunted houses and more this year. Leave the kids and pets at home, alone if you dare. Beware: the October 31st festivities will start at 6pm and end at 10:30pm.

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

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