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.

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. They’re categorized based on “freak out” level. The younger kids will probably enjoy our lowest freak out factor while more ambitious teens will probably go for the highest fear features!

Chucky is one  of the stars of Universal Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights, the wildest of California haunted houses. Photo c.Universal Studios.

San Francisco & Bay Area Halloween Freakout Fun for Teens

San Francisco can be terrifying! Teens especially should appreciate the special evening cruise tours of Alcatraz Tuesday to Saturday nights. They leave from Pier 33 and cost more than daylight tours. Plus, it’s guaranteed to be cold and windy. 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 light tours, they offer a Family Ticket Special for two adults and two children ages 5-11 that’s worthwhile. Alcatraz is one of those bucket list items that won’t disappoint.

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Every weekend from late September through October, California theme parks drag out the cobwebs and ketchup to create truly terrifying Halloween environments. For example, at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Kids Boo Fest and Fright Fest are back. Hundreds of zombies and costumed little ones roam the park by day, but they’re kid-friendly. The scariest score here is that season ticket and day pass holders get to enter the mayhem free.

The Haunted House Add-on is the Six Flags’ adult-rated version (as if adults are less afraid than kids?) Grownups also have Oktoberfest through Oct. 29 so they can recover with a wurst and a craft beer. These special haunts include four haunted houses, five scare zones and night-lit thrill rides. It’s all just for fun, but if you’re afraid of bugs, ghosts or zombies (real or fake), don’t go!

Great Adventure Style Low Freakout California Haunted Houses

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

If you’re closer to Santa Clara, select nights between late September and October 28, California’s Great America theme park launches a PG-rated Tricks and Treats. The park is elaborately decorated with gentle themed scare zones and cobwebs in the Tricks zone. The Land of Treats includes two uniquely festive areas: Everfall and Sweet Tooth Acres. Pumpkins have their own special section throughout the park and there are a few live stage shows. Best yet, there is no additional fee to visit the park during this time of year.

All ages will appreciate that the park’s collection of thrill rides is open. Wait until dusk for Gold Striker, one of the coolest wooden coasters on the planet. It sounds like rattling skeleton bones each Halloween.

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, the Victorian mansion really shines over Halloween. Try the “Walk with Spirits” house tour (ages 5+), special events and a lawn full of trick or treaters. Seek out Ms. Winchester’s bizarre construction elements such as staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open to walls, and windows that look into other rooms. The seasonal, weekends-only “Unhinged Housewarming” is immersively horrible; beware before you buy. Winchester Mystery House, best seen with school age and older kids, is fascinating any time of year.

SLO Frights and Haunts 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, practice your paintball skills or go off-campus for an Airsoft Killhouse 3 event. 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.

Welcome Back Freaky Queen Mary, Hello to Gentle Long Beach Aquarium

Shipwreck fans can once again board the classic Queen Mary ship museum for a night of frightful fun on The Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor. Prior to becoming a museum, she served many years ferrying military to the Pacific during WW2 in addition to all her glamorous trans-Atlantic cruises. Imagine the haunted stateroom tales to tell. The amazingly elegant ship is a true California haunted house at sea, especially during Shaqtoberfest.

Shaqtoberfest promises all out fun and frights for an adult crowd. From DJ Reaper to ghost tours of the boiler room, Pirate’s Cove Bar haunted trail to the Looney’s Libations Carnival Themed Bar and much more, it looks pretty raucous. There are, however, carnival rides on the pier and ship tours for children ages 3 and older. Rates start at $29 and go up by date; book well ahead. If you can afford it, reserve a stateroom for a night onboard. Let us know how many of you are left to disembark the next morning…

The gentler option? Families with brave souls under 12-years will have a chance to try Scarium of the Pacific included with admission. This Halloween themed deep sea haunt takes place in nearby Long Beach at Aquarium of the Pacific for two days around Halloween weekend. For more than two decades, families have enjoyed a children’s costume contest, creepy coloring contest, a vampire magician, underwater pumpkin carving, and more.

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

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

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, cookie decorating, pumpkin decorating and the Calico Carnival Costume Cavalcade. There’s even original seasonal shows at the Camp Snoopy Theatre and some events require a separate ticket. 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. Expect twisted mazes, scare zones, thrilling rides and shows 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.

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. Disney does Halloween-themed décor right and to the max. Plus, guests encounter friendly Disney characters as well as dastardly Disney villains in their Halloween finery.

The Disneyland Resort rocks with magically made-over attractions, shows and rides included in admission. Book ahead, however, for the separate-ticket event, Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party showing over 25 select nights between Sept 5-Oct. 31. It’s already sold out, but so you know for next year, count on wearing Halloween costumes to enjoy special attractions lilke the immersive Villains Grove, food and beverages, treat trails and character sightings – plus the “Mickey’s Trick and Treat” show and “Frightfully Fun Parade.”  

Cars Land for Low Freakout Fun & a California Haunted House

At Disney California Adventure Park, Cars Land’s set transforms into Radiator Screams, Sept. 1-Oct. 31, 2023. As part of their Haul-O-Ween celebration, local residents decorate their establishments and don their favorite “car-stumes.” Our favorite Guardians of the Galaxy becomes Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark to thrill older family members.

At Haunted Mansion Holiday, Jack Skellington and his friends from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” take over the classic ride.

Additionally, Plaza de la Familia at Disney California Adventure Park honors Dia de los Muertos Sept. 1-Nov. 2 with Mexican cuisine and entertainment from Disney and Pixar’s Academy Award-winning “Coco.” Check out the special Hispanic-inspired treats on sale at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

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

Character from Dr. Oddfellow's Collection of Horror at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights.
The artistry in makeup, special effects and costumes seen in Dr. Oddfellow’s Collection of Horror at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights beats all the competition. Photo c. Universal Studios

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 eight haunted houses, six mazes, plus four scare zones and live entertainment. Watch out for some of the most infamous characters. They who are on the lookout for unsuspecting visitors.

Make your way through spooky California haunted houses and mazes, inspired by “Evil Dead” and “The Purge.” Catch classic horror icons ranging from 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. 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 gruesome details.

Freaky All Over:  Annual West Hollywood Carnaval

Some Halloween pics. #halloween #halloweencostume #westhollywood #weho #wehohalloween #wehohalloweencarnival #costumes #westhollywoodhalloween

A photo posted by Christopher J. Smith (@sonofsammie) on

Nearly half a million revelers will once again descend on Santa Monica Blvd. between Doheny Drive and La Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood for this year’s West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval. This legendary WeHo parade returns from 6pm-11pm for the first time since the pandemic began.

Heed the rules! Management recommends you leave pets and young kids at home to better enjoy the parade’s risque costumes to the max. No backpacks, camera bags or totes are allowed at the Halloween Carnaval. For everyone’s safety, please carry items in clear plastic bags. (Or, just carry an ID and credit card with you.) Additionally, plan on rideshares to get there (no parking) and food trucks (businesses close) to keep you sated. Expect a busy night ahead.

Gentler Boos in Los Angeles & San Diego

Meerkats enjoy Halloween season at the Boo at the L.A. Zoo events. Photo c. LAZoo
Meerkats enjoy Halloween season at the Boo at the L.A. Zoo events. Photo c. LAZoo

Look for smaller California haunted houses and more local ways to celebrate this year in Los Angeles and the SoCal region. Boo at the L.A. Zoo at the Los Angeles Zoo is a delight for younger children, especially the extinct animal graveyard. Special events take place the last two weekends of October.

SeaWorld San Diego hosts five haunted houses and five scare zones for the annual Howl-O-Scream. it is recommended for adults but don’t be scared. The fun runs from late September to Halloween. You’ll enjoy imaginative California style haunted houses, roaming haunts, interactive bars, live shows, and more. 

San Diego Zoo presents a family-friendly Halloween celebration, HalGLOWeen this October. Dress up and join their nocturnal animals for a night at the zoo. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday after 5pm, come for live music, a reptile show, stiltwalkers, bubbles, acrobats, and more. Zookeepers are on hand to facilitate your animal interactions.

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

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