13 Spook-tacular Destinations to Celebrate Halloween & Day of the Dead
The nights are getting shorter, the leaves are changing color and pumpkin patches are ready for harvest—that means the wait for Halloween is almost over! While Halloween festivities originally began hundreds of years ago as part of a Celtic harvest festival known as All Hallow’s Eve, today it’s a backbone of American culture. Cities from coast to coast celebrate the ghost and ghoul season with festivals, costumes, haunted tours and spine-tingling rituals that provide entertainment to revelers of all ages. For those who want to make the spooky season last a bit longer, Día de los Muertos (literally Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 2nd and has grown in popularity outside of Latin America in recent years thanks to its colorful parades, iconic sugar skulls, ubiquitous marigolds, fanciful costumes and fiendish face paint.
But how to choose from such an abundance of frightening activities? Don’t panic! Whether you want to frolic in an extravagant costume or summon the haunted spirits of the night, we've harvested the 13 best locations to celebrate the spookiest time of the year.
With its hoodoo and voodoo, New Orleans is one of the top destinations for Halloween. Visit one of the many haunted houses or book a cemetery tour to admire the gorgeous tombs of the city. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the oldest and most famous cemeteries in the city, is the final resting place of voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is featured in Anne Rice’s novels and is the location of the vampire Lestat’s fictional grave. Lovers of vampires can’t miss the Vampire Ball which is part of the Halloween festival Endless Night that takes place from October 28th to the 30th. The Voodoo Festival also takes place during the Halloween weekend, this festival is more about music and arts than the occult, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be magical!
The theme parks are usually the first to kick of the Halloween season, with Disney’s Magic Kingdom in the lead. Their Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party already started on September 2nd and will last right up until Halloween. The name says it all, this is a family-friendly affair and entertainment includes a "Boo-to-You" Halloween parade, an undead barbershop quartet, a Scream-o-Ween dance party and “Happy HalloWishes” fireworks. SeaWorld and Universal are other Orlando-based amusement parks with Halloween celebrations.
Pumpkins and Halloween are inseparable. In fact, it is hard to imagine that jack-o’-lanterns were once made of potatoes and turnips. There are many events that celebrate these smiling orange beauties, but the one you shouldn’t miss, is the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in Laconia on October 22nd. The festival started in Keene and holds the world record for the most lit jack-o'-lanterns displayed, at an impressive 30,581. In 2015, the festival moved to Laconia, which will also host it this year. Events include a pumpkin run/walk, a pumpkin parade, carving demonstrations, a pumpkin express, PumpCANALly and of course the pumpkin tower. You can even register your own pumpkin for the tower! Who knows, it might help break the record!
Many associate Halloween with witches, and when it comes to witches, there is no better place to go than Salem, home of the notorious witch trials. During the entire month of October, you can enjoy the Haunted Happenings which include the Annual Psychic Fair and Witchcraft Expo, the show Ghostbusted at the Haunted Dinner Theater, performances at the House of the Seven Gables, the Official Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball and a huge party on Halloween night. Of course there are also haunted houses, for example the Corwin House, as well as haunted walking tours, harbor tours and trolley tours.
For a long time, Sleepy Hollow was actually known as North Tarrytown. However, since 1997, the original name of the village, which was immortalized in Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was reinstated. Festivities last until November 13th and include taking a lantern-lit guided tour over Sleepy Hollow’s cemetery and visiting the graves of Irving, William Rockefeller and Elizabeth Arden. You can also visit the 300-year-old Philipsburg Manor for a terrifying evening with the Headless Horseman, vampires, witches and ghosts. In Croton-on-Hudson you’ll find another manor you shouldn’t miss—the Van Cortlandt Manor, where you can admire an amazing display of 7,000 illuminated, hand-carved jack o’ lanterns. This event is hugely popular, so make sure to reserve in advance!
The biggest Halloween event in the Big Apple is the Village Halloween Parade that takes place on Halloween itself. For a truly authentic experience, you can dress up and march along with thousands of New Yorkers in the 43rd edition of the parade, which runs straight up 6th Avenue from Spring Street to 16th Street. Of course you can also just watch this huge event from the sidelines, which includes hundreds of giant puppets, dozens of bands, artists and dancers. The parade starts at 7 p.m. but try to get there early if you want to watch. There are also several Day of the Dead celebrations in New York City, like the festival at Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Benedicta School on Staten Island on October 23rd, and the festival organized by Mano a Mano in St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, which takes place from October 28th to the 31st. There’s also a celebration on November 1st at SacredWaters in Queens. Every festival has an ofrenda, a traditional altar where you can leave photos of deceased loved ones, flowers and offerings.
Anoka, also known as the Halloween Capital of the World, is said to be the first city in the States to organize a Halloween parade. The organizers were sick and tired of the tricks the kids pulled during Halloween, so they decided to treat the youngsters to a large celebration to keep them busy. This was in 1920, and the festivities have only evolved since then. In Anoka, the Halloween season starts on October 14th with the Pumpkin Bowl, a traditional football game, and is followed by the Orange Tie Ball, pumpkin carving contests, a costume contest for pets, the Spooktacular Carnival, a bonfire and several parades including the final Grand Day Parade on October 29th.
Fans of Children of the Corn should check out the corn mazes near Chicago! Some open as early as September. With 33 acres, Richardson Adventure Farm claims to be the world’s biggest corn maze and will leave guests wandering and wondering for hours. Looking for something a bit scarier? Heap's Haunted Corn Maze is filled with ghosts and ghouls and can only be visited at night… enter if you dare! Looking for some downtown fun? Then head to the haunted Congress Plaza Hotel that will host the Haunted Halloween Ball on October 29th. On Halloween you can enjoy or join the infamous Northalsted Halloween Parade, which is celebrating its 20th birthday this year.
Everything is bigger in Texas and Halloween in Houston is no exception! The festivities start with the Museum of Madness and Mayhem Haunted House at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on October 21st and 28th. The HMNS is also the host of the family friendly Magical Maze and Goose Bumps Haunted House on October 22nd and 29th. October 29th is also the day that zombies will roam the streets during the Houston Zombie Walk. The same day, Something Wicked, a huge dance event with headliners like Diplo and Hardwell, will also commence. On November 5th, there’s a zombie charge at Tank's Paintball in Richmond and on December 3rd you can start celebrating Christmas with Krampus, and before you know it, it’s Halloween again!
Movie buffs can eat their hearts out at the futuristic EMP Museum during their 31 Days of Horror. Visit the exhibition Can't Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film and marvel at artefacts from horror movies like the axe from The Shining, the interrogation chair from Hostel and the facehugger from Alien. You can also watch horror movies in style with scary drinks, join Howl-O-Ween or go to the Fashionably Undead Prom with its ‘Under the Sea’ theme. For those who prefer to see some real sea creatures, check out the Seattle Aquarium. In the weekend before Halloween, you can also enjoy events like Underwater Pumpkin Carving and Ominous Octopus Feeding. Looking for a Halloween dance event? Then travel to Tacoma and visit the 20th edition of FreakNight on October 28th and 29th, with famous DJs Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren and Paul van Dyk.
Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Nights” in Hollywood is definitely not for all ages and certainly not for the faint of heart. Exclusively for the occasion, horror filmmaker Eli Roth created a new attraction, the Terror Tram, which will introduce guests to a murderous clown knows as “Hollywood Harry”. Additionally, there are scare zones and mazes based on horror productions, like The Purge: Election Year, Krampus and American Horror Story. Zombie lovers can visit The Walking Dead attraction. The Halloween Horror Nights goes until October 31, which is also the day of the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval, which takes place on the Santa Monica Boulevard.
Of course you could visit one of the many parties during Halloween weekend in Birmingham, but save some energy for the Día de los Muertos Festival by Bare Hands Gallery. On November 2nd, the 14th edition of this event will take place at Cahaba Brewing Co. During the event, the dearly departed will be commemorated with ofrendas. You can bring photos, flowers, pan de muerto, sugar skulls or candles for the altars and shrines, and there will be a memorial roll call. The festival is a happy celebration of life with good food, music, art and laughter, and the dress code is fiesta fierce, with bones and sugar skulls. Not sure how to do the make-up for a sugar skull? No problem! You can visit one of the face painters at the festival.
Being so close to the Mexican border, it’s no wonder there are so many Day of the Dead celebrations in San Diego. They start as early as October 20th with the Sherman Heights Día de los Muertos and last until November 2nd with the 21st Annual Día de los Muertos Festival at the Art Center. In between, there are festivals in La Vista Memorial Park, Old Town San Diego, Encinitas, South Bay and Oceanside. Many celebrations are traditional, with ofrendas, altar blessings, sugar skull decorating, music, folk dancing and traditional food. However, there are also art-making workshops, face painters, classic low rider cars, and several contests, like the altar contest and a La Catrina contest, where you can win by dressing up as this iconic elegant skeleton created by José Guadalupe Posada.