Halloween is always big in the L.A. area. Between our large-scale theme parks and home haunts that take months of preparation, you won’t find better production value — across so many different options — anywhere else in the country.
The 2020 Halloween season is a little more subdued than normal, thanks to a certifiably abnormal year of dealing with COVID-19.
But the good news is that Halloween is not canceled. It’s just a little different this year. The necessity of staying safe while we get fake-scared out of our wits has given rise to some incredible ingenuity and creativity in the haunt community.
Whether it’s established attractions and venues that are adapting to the “new normal,” or inaugural events that might become future Halloween standbys, here are five great ways to scare up some extra spooks this October.
1. Knott's Taste of Fall-O-Ween, Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park
Although Knott’s Berry Farm suspended its annual “Scary Farm” attraction this year because of COVID-19 concerns, the historic and family-oriented theme park makes up for it in spades with “Taste of Fall-O-Ween.” Running now through November 1, the event offers the opportunity to go inside the park’s gates while it’s decked out for Halloween and Día de los Muertos. Games, shops and food stands are fully operational; rides, however, are not. While there is no timed entry for the event, Knott’s limited the number of tickets sold per day and controls crowd sizes through signage.
“Tastes” of savory foods, desserts and beverages — many seasonally flavored (including with Knott’s signature boysenberry) — are available at food stands in the Ghost Town, Fiesta and Boardwalk sections, which offer outdoor seating only. Transactions are contactless, thanks to tasting cards that come with a scannable QR code.
While a face covering must be worn at all times — except when you’re sitting to eat or drink — you’re welcome to also costume it up for your visit. Keep an eye out for stilt-walkers, acrobats and other performers throughout the park — as well as lots of photo opportunities (where the pavement is marked to help guests maintain six feet of distance from one another).
Tasting cards are currently sold out — but Knott's Berry Farm Hotel is still booking Taste of Fall-O-Ween hotel packages, with special discounts for season passholders. And although nothing official has been announced, the success of this event — and its predecessor, Taste of Knott’s — bodes well for something similar to occur later this year, during the usual timeframe of Knott’s Merry Farm. To check the latest park updates, visit the Knott’s website.
No additional fee to park in the designated lot on Crescent Avenue. Follow the posted signs.
2. Hauntoween L.A., Woodland Hills, Los Angeles
Load up your car with kids from your quarantine bubble and head to the Westfield Topanga & The Village shopping center parking lot for the inaugural Hauntoween L.A. event — where you can drive through Halloween-themed immersive installations and scenic paths. There’s even a door-to-door “trick-or-treating” with costumed actors who keep a safe distance while doling out packaged sweets to those on the passenger side. (Bring a bag, pillowcase or pumpkin pail for easy collecting.)
Hauntoween L.A. offers a lot of stuff to look at — most of which is spooky but not scary. Very small children (and pets, which are welcome) may find some of the music and sound effects a little too loud, so be ready to roll up your windows as a bit of a noise buffer. No masks are necessary while your windows are up — but once they come down, the masks must go on.
Hauntoween L.A. is purely a vehicular experience — you’re not allowed to walk the set route or even exit your car. So, it’s about as safe as it can get. They’ll even sanitize a pumpkin from the patch before placing it in your trunk for you and sending you on your way.
Enter from Topanga Canyon Boulevard between Erwin Street and W. Oxnard Street, and follow the orange cones to the event entrance outside the Welton Becket-designed former Macy’s (and prior to that, Robinson’s) Department Store.
3. Urban Legends Haunt, O.C. Fair & Event Center, Costa Mesa
Open to all ages but recommended for those age 13 and up, Urban Legends Haunt makes good use of the sprawling space at the Orange County fairgrounds to create a Halloween attraction that’s part immersive theater and part haunted maze — experienced from inside your car.
Multiple setups loosely address the theme of “urban legends” (like Bigfoot and “Bloody Mary”), proving an atmospheric, slow burn of an experience. Your car crawls at a snail’s pace — and when you arrive at each one, you shut off your lights and your engine for both safety and to eliminate all distractions. There are some jump scares, but nothing that will truly terrify most teens and adults.
Make a night of it by ordering some “fair”-style food in advance, which you’ll pick up upon arrival. And bring any type of car you like — as long as it’s less than 18 feet long and 10 feet high. All passengers should be wearing face coverings while car windows are rolled down and sitting inside (and not in the flatbed of a truck). For more interactivity, try to get in one of the “side” lanes and rather than the middle.
Enter at Gate 2 at Fair Drive and Vanguard Way, across the street from Civic Center Park.
4. Spider Pavilion, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Exposition Park, Los Angeles
On the heels of the sold-out run of its Butterfly Pavilion, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County presents another outdoor event, just in time for Halloween: the annual Spider Pavilion, this year running Thursdays through Sundays from Oct. 25 through Nov. 29. (Members can attend preview days starting October 22 for free and, once the pavilion opens to the general public, gain access to special members-only hours.)
This unique open-air experience gets you up close with some creepy crawlies in an outdoor enclosure with limited capacity and timed entry. Arachnophiles will relish the opportunity to get up close and personal with several eight-legged species — like hundreds of orb-weaver spiders (and, presumably, the spiral webs they’ve woven), tarantulas, wolf spiders and jumping spiders. Don’t worry — they check you for “hitchhikers” before you exit the enclosure.
Advanced tickets, which are required for entry, include access to the museum’s Nature Garden — but not the museum interior, which is temporarily closed. Passes for NHM’s Car Park are available for a separate fee and must be pre-purchased online. Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, be sure to check the NHM website for the latest details regarding ticketing and timing (and for its COVID-19 safety protocols, which include touchless transactions and temperature screenings).
On Oct. 24, NHM is also hosting its first-ever Haunted Museum at Home on Zoom — including a virtual (and spooktacular) “Spider Q&A” with Forest Urban, the museum’s manager of invertebrate live animals. Members should reserve their free advance tickets ahead of time online. Non-member virtual tickets are also available for purchase online, for a fee.
Enter the NHM Car Park off Bill Robertson Lane, south of Exposition Boulevard, and check in at the green ticket booth structure before entering the Nature Gardens. Arrive early for a leisurely stroll, and leave plenty of time after to browse the pavilion gift shop.
5. Halloween at Descanso, Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge
In light of the pandemic, Descanso Gardens has been preserving the ability to distance safely by limiting advance ticket reservations for the general public — and October weekends are already sold out. But don’t miss the opportunity to explore this historic botanical garden on a weekday (or weeknight, from Oct. 26-30) for its special Halloween at Descanso overlay.
Besides the usual fall foliage and October blooms, the regular price of admission also includes the addition of several pumpkin-themed environments — arches, towers, totems and even a house — as well as a water dragon made of gourds and oversized insects crafted out of natural materials. Along the Promenade, look for bird boxes that have been hand-carved into wooden jack-o’-lanterns. Most of the displays are in the garden’s most popular sections like the Oak Grove and Camellia Forest — within a short walk from the main entrance.
While dining options are currently limited, The Kitchen at Descanso is offering some special seasonal selections for sale at a kiosk in the courtyard from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. And as part of the new Gourmet in the Garden program, you can order a sit-down meal (48 hours in advance) to enjoy onsite at outdoor seating on the Magnolia Lawn or at home.
Members can enter for free and without an advance reservation. Children 14 and under may wear Halloween costumes — and all guests must wear a face covering.
Bonus: Drive-In Movie Nights at Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Griffith Park
L.A. Zoo’s “Hair-Raising Halloween” celebration offers your choice of four different nighttime drive-in movie events on the Thursday through Sunday of Halloween weekend (Oct. 29 through Nov. 1). It’s the first event of its kind hosted by the L.A. Zoo, which has reopened with some modifications under COVID-19 restrictions (including timed entry and some facility closures).
Cars may arrive as early as 6 p.m. for pre-show entertainment, with the movie starting at 8:30 p.m. Concessions will be available for purchase, but you must wear a face covering anytime you exit your vehicle (including watching the movie from a truck bed) or interact with staff. You can also bring a picnic to enjoy in your car (as long as it doesn’t contain alcoholic beverages).
This drive-in event takes place in the parking lot of the L.A. Zoo. Follow signs to vehicle entry.
Top Image: Decorative jack-o'-lanterns at Hauntoween L.A. | Sandi Hemmerlein